Author: - Rekha Hegde , Director, Shantala Natyalaya, Belgaum
My fond memories go back to the year 1994, when I first came to know about Guru Dr. MAYA RAO of Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, through Nirupama Rajendra. Nirupama was my senior in Bharatnatyam at “Shakuntala Nrityalaya”, where I learnt under Guru Smt. Narmada. Then, I visited Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, where I met Guru Maya Didi for the first time. When I performed for the interview, I remember Didi’s words of appreciation, saying “Well Done Rekha”. I then began my journey with Didi in this field of art. Till then, I was only a Bharatnatyam dancer in a closed shell, unknown to the world.
It was Guru Maya Didi who released me out of the shell and unfurled me to this world of dance. As long as I was a student of this institute, in most of her creations and productions of her students of NIKC, I was given a prominent role. This gave me immense confidence, knowledge and experience. The name in Bangalore as a good performer and choreographer- in this creative challenging field of art is all because of the knowledge gained by my beloved Didi, Guru Maya Rao from the opportunities given to me by Didi.
More than a college, it was a home away from home, where we all danced, shared our joys and sorrows together. I used to enjoy and adore Didi’s sessions. She used to throw on the spot creative topics and ask us to perform immediately on that topic to bring out the creativity and hidden talents in us. I was confined to only Bharatnatyam until I entered this institute; during my tenure in this institute, I could explore dance holistically. I had the opportunity of understanding different forms of dance, communicating with dancers of different styles and gained lots of knowledge. I owe all this to Maya Didi .
In the year 2011, God bestowed me with a unique opportunity to choreograph and train 750 children under Maya Didi’s guidance in Vishwa Kannada Sammelana, Belgaum. She visited Belgaum inspite of her ill-health. She said “Rekha, I came to watch your students performing”; these inspiring and touching words will ever remain fresh in my heart.
A year later, when I approached her for scholarly help for my post graduation in dance, she really took time off from her busy schedule to offer her expertise, patiently clarifying my doubts. She herself took my book and drew the sketches of stage and explained everything about choreography.
I was as comfortable as I was when I was a student of the Institute in 1990’s. When I was about to leave, she said “wait, I wish to give you something Rekha” and then blessed with a pack of nuts. It seemed she wasn’t satisfied; she presented her biography book titled “Guru Maya Rao, Pioneers of Indian Dance Series”. I was speechless and became emotional with tears; I consider it as a great blessing from my revered Guru. It is one of my pride possessions all through my life.
I used to call her on Gurupoornima every year to offer my pranams; she used to enquire not only about me but also about all my family members, especially my husband (she calls my husband as “how is your big boy”) and my chikki (aunt). She was so happy to hear from me that I have started my regular practices after a long gap. She advised me to practice regularly and maintain the body appropriate to dancing and not to retire from dancing in the near future. I remember her always telling that a performer should maintain a befitting body.
My respectful invitation to her to be the chief guest and her team to perform during the forthcoming 25th Anniversary of my Dance Institute “Shantala Natyalaya” in December 2014 remained my last words with her. Didi had replied – “still a long way to go Rekha, let’s see whether I will be alive or not”. Disagreeing to this, I said -”please don’t say that Didi”.
She told- “I have lived my life’. It is unfortunate that the very words came true. Now, that creative emotionally-attached world of dance with my most respected and most lovable my Didi is empty without her; it is difficult to fill the void created by her sad demise. I will carry her values, discipline, the way she brings the in-built talent, creativity, knowledge, and the caring love that a guru and shishya shares all my life.
I received a call from Natya Institute on the morning of 1st September 2014 informing that Didi’s soul had left her body; I rushed to Bangalore with my husband from Belgaum. Didi was having her long perpetual sleep in a glass box. I was eager to touch her feet for the last time to have her blessings which was facilitated by the pujari who had come to perform the last rituals. That was the last time I could touch her feet and feel her motherly love. Respectfully I picked few petals of the flowers showered on her body as the body was being carried for the last rites and kept them in my book as her blessings.
“This is my humble tribute at your lotus feet Didi.”
Every word I wrote above makes me feel that you are besides me forever; your smiling face is always an inspiration to me and all the dancers Didi.