Song of Surrender

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Shaik Dawood

Birthdays & Anniversaries


Shaik Dawood was born in Sholapur on 16 December 1916. His  prodigious talent in rhythm at the age of three  compelled his  father, Hashim Saheb, to buy  him a  tasha  (kettledrum) to play with. At eight, he started learning the rudiments of tabla from Anna Maharaj. Ameer Qawwal, who owned a qawwali group, took him as a tabla player and simultaneously initiated him into vocal music. Destiny brought Dawood to a  concert  where he was  completely mesmerised by the tabla of Mohammad Khasim, a  highly reputed tabla maestro  from Sholapur, a zamindar and  a  patron of classical and Sufi music. Khasim Saheb’s acceptance of Dawood as a student was a life-changing event for the lad. Over the next decade, Dawood learnt from him traditional classical tabla with its full range of kaidas, relas, chakradhars, gats  and  the art of  accompaniment. He was also taught the rare technique of playing  laggi  using the thumb to render  gamakas  on the dagga.

Khasim’s house was  always  a resting  place  for any  great  musicians journeying between Mumbai and Hyderabad. They performed  at  his house  while he accompanied them  on the tabla. Observing  young Dawood’s  dedication, hard  work and commitment, Mohammad Khasim gradually started  asking  him to accompany the visiting  musicians. Dawood  did full justice to his guru’s faith, sharing the stage with these  icons, impressing everyone with his art of unobtrusive accompaniment and humble demeanour despite the acclaim and appreciation he received. This was to become his hallmark in professional circles later in life. By the early 1930s, Dawood, although in his teens, was already the preferred accompanist for some of the biggest names in Hindustani music like Abdul Karim Khan, Faiyaz Khan, Bhaskarbua Bakhle, Sawai Gandharva and Wajid Khan. With  concerts  becoming frequent in  Hyderabad, Roshan Ali Mooljee, the producer of Deccan Radio, persuaded Dawood to shift his base to Hyderabad and join  him  as a staff artist. This opened a new chapter in Dawood’s life.

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Adyar K. Lakshman

Birthdays & Anniversaries
16.12.1933 - 19.08.2014

Adyar K. Lakshman, vocalist, nattuvanar, mridangist and erstwhile dancer, is indubitably a sangeetagna, the complete expert in all the aspects of his vocation. Over the years he has received prestigious awards and titles for his popularity and prowess as a natyacharya. Citations for Kalaimamani (Eyal Isai Nataka Manram - 1981), Padma Shri (1989), Sangeet Natak Akademi award (1991), Sangeeta Kala Acharya (Music Academy), Nadhabrahmam (Narada Gana Sabha), adorn the walls of his sitting room. The latest feathers in his well decorated cap are Natya Kalanidhi (ABHAI – 2010) and Natya Kala Sarathy (2011).

 77-year old Adyar Lakshman is one of Bharatanatyam’s foremost nattuvanar-s with a reputation for providing excellent support. As a member of the orchestral team, he has embellished the recitals of many famous dancers like Rukmini Devi, Kamala, Vyjayantimala Bali, Krishnaveni Lakshmanan, C.V. Chandrasekhar, the Dhananjayans, Yamini Krishnamurti, Sudharani Raghupathy, Lakshmi Viswanathan and the Narasimhacharis.

He is a prolific teacher. Over 300 students have performed their arangetram under the banner of his dance school Bharata Choodamani in Chennai, which has branches abroad.

Lakshman is also known as “the NRI guru”, as one of the earliest in his field to travel abroad to teach and conduct workshops. His disciples are spread all over the globe and many of them are famous. Notable among them are Kamadev (France), Anandavalli Satchidananda, Chandrabhanu (Australia), Ramli Ibrahim (Malaysia), Padmini Chari, Sudha Srinivasan (U.S.A.), Radha Anjali (Austria), Mavin Khoo (U.K.), Anita-Pritha Ratnam, Vasanthalakshmi Narasimhachari, Bragha Bessell, Jayanthi Subramaniam, and Roja Kannan (India).

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Friday, 15 December 2017

C Saraswathi Bai

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Saraswati Bai was one of the few women artists Bai And The Music Academy C. who performed at the All India Music Conference held in conjunction with the All India Congress Session of 1927. Her name, spelt as ‘C. Saraswathi Bhai’, appears in the list of artists.

The Music Academy arose from this conference and was established in 1928. Almost from inception, Bai took a keen interest in its affairs and by 1931 had become a member of the Experts Committee. In 1931, when Harikesanallur L. Muthiah Bhagavatar became the President of the Academy’s Annual Conference, Bai gave a detailed talk on the subject of Harikatha which was later published in the Journal of the Music Academy that year. She was to continue presenting papers at the Academy’s Annual Conferences for at least the next ten years. Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and K. Ponniah Pillai were to refer admiringly to the lectures she delivered in the years they presided over the annual conferences. A rare photograph in the possession of S. Thyagarajan, Musiri Subramania Iyer’s grand-nephew, shows Bai along with Bangalore Nagarathnammal and Mrs. S. Satyamurthy seated at the R.R. Sabha listening to Musiri Subramania Iyer speaking when he became the President of the Academy’s annual conference in 1939.

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Sakthivel Muruganantham

Musicians for Classical Dance
By Anjana Anand
Sakthivel Muruganantham is a well-known mridangist who has accompanied leading Bharatanatyam artistes over the past two decades. An artiste who believes that every performer, senior or junior, deserves the full commitment of the accompanying musicians,. Sakthivel has travelled across the globe performing for diverse audiences including the King and Queen of Norway and Prince Charles of England.
He was over the years conferred the Laya Sudaroli and Laya Vidhyadhara titles by Alarmel Valli, Laya Kala Ratna by Trinity Arts Academy and Natya Sangeetha Kala Bharathi by Bharat Kalachar.

What influenced you to become a full time mridangist?
I grew up in Papanasam and was surrounded by music. My father was a musician but did not take up music as a profession. He was very keen that I become a musician. My brother, Papanasam Sethuraman learnt the khanjira. My father decided to arrange mridangam lessons for me with Mridangam Vidwan Rajagopalan. Once, my brother and I performed in front of the Tiruvaduturai Aadhinam who suggested I go to Chennai to further my training.  I finished my studies in Papanasam and came to Chennai in 1985. The first musician I met was Madurai  Somasundaram.  I then started my tutelage under khanjira artiste Mayavaram G.Somasundaram. I lived with him and learnt mridangam in the traditional gurukulam style. After some time, Sir sent me to Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam to continue my training. I was with him for three years.  My decision to become a mridangist happened quite naturally once I moved to Chennai. I then joined the Music College and completed a diploma in music.
How did you start playing for dance?
When I first came to Chennai in in 1985, I remember watching a dance festival arranged at R.R Sabha by Vazhuvur Samraj, which kindled an interest in playing for dance. M. Balachander, a mridangist, was responsible for my entry into the dance field.
I started playing for Bharatanatyam in 1987. The first dancer I played for was Jayalakshmi Arunachalam, wife of Tanjai Arunachalam Pillai. I was introduced to the Vazhvur style of dance through Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam.
How did you adapt to play for Bharatanatyam?
 I learnt the technique from Balachander Sir and I am grateful to him for his mentorship. I learnt many things from the senior dancers that I played for. With Alarmel Valli, each performance was a learning experience, as I had to be attentive to a variety of footwork. When I played for Chitra Visweswaran, I understood the nuances of playing for abhinaya. Each artiste contributed to my learning curve over the years.
Who were some of the early stalwarts you accompanied?
I started with Alarmel Valli. In fact, almost twenty years later, I still perform with her.  Others include and Udupi Lakshminarayanan,  Chitra Visweswaran, Sudharani Raghupathy, the Narasimhacharis and Krishnakmari  Narendran.
You play for dancers from many different banis. What are some of the differences in style from a mridangist’s point of view?
After performing with so many dancers, I have come to appreciate the finer points of each style. For example, I enjoy the fluidity of the Vazhvur style. At the same time I admire the more structured lines of the Kalakshetra style. Over the years, I have found that each bani has something unique to offer.
It is interesting to see the way jatis are composed in each school. Earlier, it was easy to identify which school the dancer belonged to by just listening to the jatis! A mridangist has only one job and that is to support the dancer. To this day, I follow the advice Balachander Sir gave me regarding playing for dance: The mridangist has to follow the adavus and footwork of the dancer. The first instinct of a trained mridangist is to follow the composition and embellish it with intricate kanakku. When playing for dance, we have to remember that the dancer’s footwork has to lead us. Once we remember this simple principle, the performance becomes a combined effort.
When was your first tour abroad?
In 1990, I travelled with Pithukuli Murugadas to the US. My first dance tour was with Alarmel Valli to Europe in 1993. Since then I have travelled extensively mainly in Europe and the US. Now, I regularly travel to the US for three to four months for performances and arangetrams.
Is playing for dance a fulfilling experience?
Most definitely. I would not choose any other profession. I believe that we must give our full effort regardless of the level of the performer. I give my best whether I play for a senior artiste or for a student. The Bharatanatyam field is constantly changing and I have seen the margam evolve in different ways over the last three decades. There is always something new happening.
Bharatanatyam accompanists are much in demand for recordings. Is it stressful?
It requires a lot of focus and presence of mind to do a recording as most of the work happens in the studio .We have to understand the dancer’s requirements and choreographic vision in those few hours. I miss the earlier style of recording where all the artistes performed together. Although with click tracks and separate channels, recordings are faster and more precise, I still feel the music has a different feel when the artistes are recording together. It also gave us time to meet and interact with each other. That ambience is missing nowadays.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Seetarama Sarma passes away

Bhagavatula Seetarama Sarma, Carnatic musician, music composer, guru and nattuvangam artist, passed away on 9 December 2017 in Bengaluru. According to reports, he had gone there from Chennai to conduct an  arangetram  and suffered a heart attack even as he was tuning the tambura. He died in harness at the age of  80, becoming one with the eternal sruti.

Sruti  magazine has published a detailed profile on the multifaceted vidwan in Sruti 238 (July 2004).

Monday, 11 December 2017

M. Chandrasekaran

Birthdays & Anniversaries

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Subramania Bharati

Birthdays & Anniversaries

11.12.1882 - 11.09.1921
Subramania Bharati was a celebrated National Poet of India. He was also a good singer, composer, and enlightened critic. He was born on 11 December 1882 at Ettayapuram Of the scholars who have done excellent research on Subramania Bharati’s life and works, Prof. K.R. Rajagopalan (retd.) of Madras Christian College. prepared a statistical analysis of the ‘musical poems’ of Bharati in 1983. The monograph is in Tamil and is titled Bharatiyin Isaippulamai. It is in a mimeographed form and, to the best of my knowledge, it has not been published. (In the past, Prof. Rajagopalan had made similar studies on the kriti-s of Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar as well.)

Bharati was a born poet and a born singer too. He had a fine voice, as testified by those who heard him sing patriotic songs at the Marina, Madras. According to V.V.S. Aiyar (1881-1925), a revolutionary and a contemporary of Bharati, the poet possessed a majestic voice and sang his compositions with the pride of a composer. The poet’s younger brother C. Viswanathan has also stated that Bharati himself set the songs to music and that he sang them quite tunefully. “Aakkur Anantachari’s biography mentions that Bharati used to sing well and was particularly fond of Nata and Kalyani,” observes T.S. Parthasarathy.

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Friday, 8 December 2017


31 DECEMBER 2017

Chief Guest Sri Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director - IIT Madras

4.30 pm     Aditya Prakash (vocal)
                                   Nishanth Chandran (violin)
                                              R Sankaranarayanan (mridangam)

          6.30 pm:      V Navaneet Krishnan (vocal
           VV Ravi (violin)
                                          Trichur Narendran (mridangam
                                              Papanasam Sethuraman (khanjira)

Co-presented by Chennai Fine Arts and the N Pattabhi Raman family

Uday Shankar

Birthdays & Anniversaries

8.12.1900 - 26.9.1977

Amir Khan and the South I

By Thomas W. Ross


In The Sword and the Flute, an exquisite documentary on Indian culture told entirely with miniature paintings, the court and the temple offer clashing views of human experience. The dominance of the 16th-century Muslim Mughal emperor, Akbar, adopts a symbiosis with the Hindu Rajputs that is evident in Indian music even today. The lighter-skinned potentate stands respectfully while hearing the great Tansen sing songs that depict the cowherd girls sporting with a dark, flute-wielding god, Krishna himself. Thus the ascetic meets the worldly in a rich mulligatawny brew.

That courtly Northern master, Amir Khan, was in a similar stance to the Southern Balasaraswati family style. It was a case of mutual admiration, and Khansaheb always stayed with Bala when he had a concert in Madras. One could hazard that two minorities, the Muslim and the devadāsī temple dancer caste, were equally challenged to excel. Khansaheb’s father didn’t let him perform in public until he was 30; Bala’s and Viswa’s (T Viswanathan) performances, stellar though they might have been, were met only with fault-finding from their mother Jayammal.

The dynamic of North/South borrowing today retains the Mughal/Rajput imbalance: There are numerous examples of Carnatic musicians doing credible and even excellent renditions in the Hindustani style, but the reverse is not true.

Amir Khan, however, was an alert witness to the depth in the Balasaraswati style, where some of the most inventive and profound music could happen in friendly competition between Bala and Viswa while sitting around preparing the evening meal. Because Bala engaged even me in lick-trading at her house, it’s hard to imagine musical exchanges not arising with some frequency, on an Olympian level, between herself, Viswa, and Khansahab during his stays.

And yet the same Carnatic rāga Charukesi, from Amir Khan and, say, M.S. Subbulakshmi, reflects these contrasting world-views.

From the get-go Amir Khan diverged. He learned sāraṅgī from his father before settling on singing. He introduced a super-slow version of tālas for the dhrupad-like development of his slow khayāls. And he appropriated rāgas and rhythmic concepts from Carnatic music. I think these came especially from the family of Balasaraswati.

Without a gecko on the wall, we can only guess at the specific nature of Amir Khan’s musical exchanges with Bala and her family when he stayed with them in Madras. He surely kept his own twice-daily riyāz routine, as he did with me in my Calcutta flat. I remember the house scene in Madras as rāga- and tala-soaked, continually.

Here I’m thinking about Ranganathan, Bala’s brother and one of my first Indian teachers at Wesleyan. In addition to the special skills needed to accompany dance, like any good mṛidaṅgam player Ranga never stopped figuring out pieces, at or away from the instrument. In his final days, bed-ridden, he seemed to do nothing but. At odd hours, he’d call up old students like me:

Tom. This one’s in Khanda [5 beats]. Do you have a pencil and paper? Any number fits in this piece. They won’t get it because it’s anti-dramatic. [By “they” he meant the general Indian audience.]

Two people are talking. At each exchange, the first person (A) keeps his speed, while the second (B) talks slower. So it’s

A: x.
B: x.
A: x.
B: 2x. [Twice as slow]
A: x.
B: 4x. [Four times as slow]

This gives you 10 exes, so everything fits in five beats, regardless of the value of x. So for the tisra (3) version of this ingenious little piece (spoken simply as ta ki ta),
you’d have:
A: (3) ta ki ta
B: (3) ta ki ta
A: (3) ta ki ta
B: (6) ta - ki - ta -
A: (3) ta ki ta
B: (12) ta - - - ki - - - ta - - -

which gives 30, a multiple of 5. Try it with 4, 7, 9 . . . they all work!

Wow. I’m not a math person, but this is elegance itself. It’s really a paradigm for making more pieces, itself a model modularity.

Although Bala refrained from improvised swaras in performance (“too unladylike”!), the entire family were rhythm whizzes, and it’s very likely that such pieces as Ranga’s were aired while Amir Khan was a guest. In a rare interview, Khansaheb speaks of his rhythmic approach in the dhrut (quick) sections of his music. Without acknowledging the devadāsī family specifically, he rattles off the classic Carnatic  jatis (in the traditional order!): chatusra, tisra, misra, khanda, and sankirna, 4, 3, 7, 5, and 9.

Amir Khan was of course also a master of North Indian rhythmic approaches. There was, for instance, a legendary exchange of sophisticated pieces one evening between him and the great tablist Ahmedjan Thirakwa. But he obviously benefited from his stays with perhaps the most eminent music and dance family of the South.                                          (To be continued)

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Subbaraya Pillai

Birthdays & Anniversaries

My mother Savithri Sabanayagam took me as a four-year old to the illustrious Pandanallur guru Chockalingam Pillai and his son Subbaraya Pillai to learn Bharatanatyam. Their dance school was in a corporation school beneath the Egmore bridge. My first memory is that of holding my nose when I entered, as the school toilets were at the entrance, shutting my ears as the sound of the trains passing by created a racket, but my eyes were wide open as I watched many children dance. Like the lotus that blooms radiant in muddy waters, one of the purest and most beautiful styles of Bharatanatyam was being taught there by very simple, great masters belonging to the illustrious lineage of the Tanjore Quartet.

As soon as the corporation school closed for the day at 3.30 pm, the main classroom benches would be piled to the side, the masters would supervise the sweeping of the room and the class would start at 4 pm. Chockalingam Pillai was known as Peria Master and Subbaraya Pillai as Chinna Master. When we entered the school at 4 pm we had to first pass the Big Master who would be seated on a tinnai or pyol outside the classroom – with his walking stick and chewing betel leaves. He would greet every child – tick them off if they were late – enquire, if they had eaten idlis and drunk their milk. Small Master would be taking the adavu classes and Big Master would come in a little later and both would conduct classes which would go on until pm as the seniors came in. They taught with great dedication and commitment to the art – gave it with so much generosity laced with the choicest of abuses and witty remarks.

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C. Saroja

Birthdays & Anniversaries


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Kalanidhi Narayanan

7.12.1928 - 21.2.2016
Birthdays & Anniversaries

Kalanidhi's parents, Sumitra and S.V. Ganapathy, decided that their child of seven years should learn Bharatanatyam. In making this decision, they had the personal encouragement of E. Krishna Iyer, even as Rukmini Devi had it when she, after witnessing a Bharatanatyam performance at the Music Academy by two disciples of Pandanallur Meenakshisundaram Pillai, asked Krishna Iyer whether she was not too old (at 32 years of age) to learn and perform the dance.

Kalanidhi's dance guru-s were Mylapore Gowri Amma for initial training and thereafter Kanchipuram Kannappa Pillai for nritta and Chinniah Naidu for abhinaya. Kannappa Mudaliar or Kannappa Pillai as he was known, was related to Kanchipuram Ellappa Mudaliar. Naidu was a renowned Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit scholar who had deep knowledge of dance.

Kalanidhi also studied music from Manakkal Sivarajan. Later she learnt pada-s and javali-s from Kamakshi Ammal, daughter of Veena Dhanammal.

She gave several performances on the stage between 1938 and 1943, which is when she covered the time measure between the age of 11 and 16. Virtually all her performances were in support of one cause or another, until she got married and exited the field. By then she had earned an important distinction as a dancer: she was among the dancers presented on the stage of the Music Academy as part of Krishna Iyer's campaign for the renaissance of Bharatanatyam; and, furthermore, she was the only brahmin girl in the brigade recruited and assembled under the banner of the Music Academy to demolish the antipathy towards the dance that had threatened the virtual extinction of the art-form.For the record, she danced on the Academy stage in 1939.

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Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Kadri Gopalnath

Birthdays & Anniversaries

In classical music, the young aspirant encounters many hurdles barring the way to fame and fortune. Talent and application to the art are by themselves not enough. It is vital for the aspirant and his or her guardian angels to enter and remain in the good books of organisers in order to procure concert opportunities amidst stiff competition ; acquire impressive concert techniques ; muster friends and relatives to achieve decent audience turnout; develop a fan following without alienating purists or critics ; secure press coverage by pleasing key persons ; and in general maintain positive feedback loops that sustain the momentum of progress. Many a time, a good performer gets defeated by all the behindthe- scenes activity.

In such a competitive situation where merit alone is not enough, the adaptation and mastery of an instrument quite alien to the native music tradition confers distinct advantages on the aspirant concerned. The novelty value attracts curious listeners, thereby bestowing much needed attention and recognition on the innovative artist. The marriage of U. Srinivas and the mandolin offers the best illustration of this aspect, although Srinivas' musical genius is such that he would have succeeded possibly with any other instrument as well.

Kadri Gopalnath of Karnataka has carved a niche for himself in Carnatic music by taking up the saxophone instead of his family's traditional instrument of nagaswaram. He has been on the concert stage for about 11 yearsnow and has won both attention and recognition. 

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Ritha Devi

Birthdays & Anniversaries


6.12.1928 - 30.12.2006
Birthdays & Anniversaries

In the 1960s, she stopped performing Bharatanatyam to become a writer, poet and a human rights activist. Many of us saw her in her earlier avatar and watched in fascination as she evolved into an original thinker and creator in Indian dance, inventing a new, contemporary idiom, rooted in several synergistic Indian traditions that went beyond dance.

It was when she rejected the devotional elements of dance and explored the potential of the human body through a new stylistics based on rigour and precision, that we sat up and took notice of her. Often dubbed a maverick who fused Bharatanatyam, yoga and Kalaripayattu, she gradually found a devoted band of loyal students, when she moved away from solo performances to produce brilliantly orchestrated group productions that stressed the importance of teamwork. With each new production, more and more controversy surrounded her, as she experimented with form and content.

1985 was a turning point in her life as a choreographer. She started work on Angika, said to be a milestone in the history of Indian dance, in which she first combined Bharatanatyam and Kalaripayattu. Performing at Kalakshetra, she shocked most of the audience unused to ‘modern’ dance, with the explicit if artistic depiction of man-woman relationships.

Her work Sri, on the theme of equal rights for Indian women, was shown in the House of World Cultures in Berlin in 1992 during the India Festival there.

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Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Kartik Fine Arts Festival


Isai Peroli - S. Mahathi
Nadanamamani - Bhavya Ramachandran (nee Balasubramanian) 
Tamil Isai Vendhar -  N. Vijay Siva (see Sruti 285, June 2008)
Isai Chudar -  Anahitha & Apoorva  
Natya Chudar -   K.R. Manasvini
Best Cultural Organiser - S. Ravichandran, Secretary, Brahma Gana Sabha 
Madura Kalamani Award - Sheela Unnikrishnan
Uma Memorial Award for Upa-Pakkavadyam - Srirangam S. Kannan (morsing)

Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Festival


Lifetime achievement awards

Kadri Gopalnath (saxophone)
O.S. Arun (vocal)
Sailaja (kuchipudi)

Brahma Gana Sabha festival


Gaana Padmam - T.V. Gopalakrishnan  (see Sruti 363, December 2014)
Natya Padmam - Nandini Ramani

Vaadya Padmam - M. Chandrasekaran (see Sruti 258, March 2006)
Nataka Padmam - B.M. Purushothaman (Augusto)

Damayanti Joshi

5.12.1932 - 19.9.2004
Birthdays & Anniversaries

Born in Mumbai on December 5, to Vatsala Joshi, Damayanti was "adopted" by the wellknown scientist of the times, Col. Sahib Singh Sokhey and his famous dancer-wife Madame Menaka as their own. Menaka had lost her daughter earlier and thus took to Daman as her own. A rather weak child physically, Daman got attracted to the sounds of ghungroos emanating from Madame Menaka's classroom where Pandit Sitaram Prasad of the Lucknow gharana taught. He was a direct disciple of Bindadin and taught many girls in the neighbourhood. Kathak then was very popular in Bombay.

A re you her son?" asks her maid when I announce my presence in Mumbai, December 2002. "Yes, sort of," I quip and this thought is true because Damayanti Joshi was the first person who saw me when I was born in Maharani Shantadevi Hospital in Baroda, on a rare day like the 29th of February. Damayanti called on my mother M.K. Saroja and saw me as an hour old! and blessed me before even my father, the venerable Mohan Khokar, took time off from his university classes in the evening, to come to see his third-born son. Thus, I have always held Damayanti to be a motherfigure, in addition to being a great Kathak exponent. I was in Mumbai documenting veteran guru-s on a Ford Foundation pilot project and chanced to land at Damayanti (Daman's) home on 5th December, a special date because it was her 80th birthday too! Like all great dancers, she claimed it was her 60th birthday but what's a few decades between friends? That digital recording perhaps remains the last-ever footage of this dance great. 

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