On the 17th October, 2015, i attended a seminar organized by the central Sahitya Akademi, on ‘Nári Chetna’ in which six eminent ladies who have earned name for their performance in the field of art like classical dance, vocal music, short story-writing, poetry etc. were invited to speak on their muses. One of my favourite Odissi danseuses, Guru Aruna Mohanty, was among them.
She started her talk with an explanation that as a performing artist, it was easier for her to ‘speak’ through her limbs like ‘mudras’, eye-movements, silent lip-movements, foot-work etc. but it was not as easy to speak by using the lips and tongue. However, she did speak wonderfully.
Her first muse was her mother. As a child, she had seen her mother worshipping, morning and evening, the basil (tulsi) plant on the chaura at the entrance to their house. The devotional and peaceful expression on her face was permanently etched in Aruna’s mind. So was the warmth of her pallu when Aruna as a child, used to snuggle close to her mother in evenings. She used to go for dance-class and whenever it was late in the evenings for her to return, her mother was there, waiting for her. Aruna shared that this ingrained feeling about her mother in her mind expresses itself on her face when she portrays on stage, the role of mother Yashoda of Krishna.
Her second muse was an old lady who used to sell berries outside the gate of her school. One day, the old woman did not have the change to return when after buying some berries from her, Aruna gave her a currency-note. So she gave back the note asking Aruna to pay the next day. Aruna was a little reluctant to accept it back. “What if i don’t come tomorrow or day after tomorrow?”, Aruna put the question. To this, the old woman replied, “By looking at the eyes of a person, i know whether i can trust him/her.” Aruna recalls this expression on the old woman’s face, while portraying the role of Shabari in the tale of Rama. (I have written about this tale in my post 'Teen Deviyan' of Odissi Dance dated 17.09.2016.)
There was an elderly man who used to put up a table near her house and iron the cloths of people in that locality. He had befriended her. Whenever she had a tired or grim face while returning from school, he used to ask, “What is the matter? Did you have a hard day at school today?” Or, “Did you not do well in the examination today?” One day, she had a fall and was limping. Seeing her in this condition, he carried her inside her house and handed her over to her mother. Aruna still remembers the expression of concern on this man’s face on such days and wears it on her face on suitable occasions on stage.
One of her friends had lost her seven-year old child and was heart-broken. This grief goaded her for long. Aruna met this friend after a couple of years. By that time she had regained her composure while Aruna still felt sad for her. This composure on her friend’s face inspired her to move on.
Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, who coached her the minute details and nuances of Odissi dance, has a lasting inspiration behind her achievements.
When she got married, she was afraid that her passion for dance might get curtailed by mundane matters and family-responsibilities. To her delight, her father-in-law told her on the first day that since dance was like breathing to her, she should never flinch from her first love. Equally supportive, are her husband and – later – her daughter. They show their confidence in her that like the bird who flies afar but never fails to return to her nest in the evening, she might give the full play to her career as a leading danseuse but would never forget to come back to them.
Aruna added at the end that the greatest muses to her were the lyrists like Jayadeb who composed classics like Geet Govind which provide the backbone to her dance-numbers. She particularly mentioned the Odia poet the Late Mayadhar Mansingh whose lyrics she gives shape in dancing.
To me, her narrative seemed like a well-knit poem.
Recently, i chanced upon a video-recording of this programme in You Tube. Here it is: