To be in the presence of a great artist is a feeling of trust and awe, that with every note, every step, every stroke, you’re slowly becoming a part of their art.
I got an opportunity to watch a dance performance by Mr. C. V. Chandrasekhar, 82, in a theatre in Vadodara. He performed for about an hour and a half without breaks! Such performances must require the utmost level of discipline, I can only assume the level of his diligence and resilience with the art form to be able to pull off such a feat at this age. His wife, Jaya Chandrasekhar, also a dancer, was supporting him by reciting classical tunes on the stage. Much to my own honor, the next day, I got a chance to interact with him personally.
“I belong to an orthodox Tamil Brahmin family. Dance was something which wasn’t very acceptable in our family.”
His father was a great connoisseur of music and just before his father’s retirement, Chandrasekhar was sent to Kalakshetra Madras to learn music. Chandrasekhar’s mentor Rukmani Devi took the initiative and asked his father if his father would allow him to be admitted into the dance classes.
“One fine day, when I returned from my summer vacation, I was told by the office that I had to pursue dance classes as well as music classes. This was back in 1945, and back then it was unheard of for a boy from Delhi going to Chennai just to study music and dance.”
He lived in Chennai for 9 years on the campus of Kalakshetra and was one of the first ones who received a diploma in music and dance in the first convocation of the academy. Inside his heart he still didn’t believe that he would pursue dance as a profession, and he completed his Masters of Science in Botany.
“I further wanted to pursue Ph.D. and also didn’t want to rely on my father’s income and hence started teaching Bharatnatyam in the schools in Madras”, said Mr. Chandrasekhar.
After 7 years, in 1965, an opportunity popped up from the Banaras Hindu University for the post of lecturer in dance in Baroda. This was also during the time he got married and she was also offered a position in Banaras. It was a very tough decision as we were happy with both jobs.
“It was a very tough decision on her part, to leave out on the opportunity she was offered in Banaras and this was the first of many sacrifices that she made and that was leaving behind her own career opportunity.”
They have been married for 54 beautiful years now wherein they’ve had their own set of bumps and hurdles which they together have courageously overcome while ensuring that their love bond grows stronger by each passing day.
“Maybe the times have changed but in the time that we lived, a marriage of five years and 4 months seemed like a big deal, let alone 54 years”, he says.
Up until this point, Jaya Chandrasekhar was quiet.
“I would never say that I have made any sacrifices; rather, adjustments. ‘Sacrifice’ is a strong word. When I got married I didn’t know whether I would be able to continue my dance. I was only happy when I learnt that I can continue my dancing after marriage”, says Jaya Chandrasekhar.
Back then daughters could pursue dancing but daughter-in-laws couldn’t. But over and above that they valued and cherished building a family, a life together. They were ambitious but grounded.
“I think initially we weren’t much career oriented as compared to what we see in the present generation. We loved dancing and we learned it; we loved music and we learned it; we never had intentions to make money out of it. Our artistic journeys together were always more important to us than our individual journeys”, she adds.
However, ascending the heights of dancing hasn’t been an easy ride for the Chandrasekhars. Mr. C. V. Chandrasekhar spent around 17 years in Vadodara. He retired as a head of the Faculty of Performing Arts in 1992. He admits that while he was serving as a teacher, not even once did he care about his own personal growth as a dancer.
“After a point it became very frustrating when people would come to me and ask whether I could dance or not’’, he adds.
Four years after his resignation from Baroda University, he and his family had to vacate their house as there was a sheer dearth of funds for running their livelihood. Fortunately, they had a house in Chennai and it was their daughter’s choice who insisted them to settle down in Chennai.
“Our move to Chennai rekindled a new fire of dance in us. By God’s grace we were welcomed with many opportunities once we moved to Chennai. People started inviting us to conduct dance workshops abroad.
They started their own dance academy.
We didn’t have enough luxury to rope in other artisans. We could never dance together. Though she never told me this but I knew that she always felt this need to continue” he adds.
He has won one of the highest honorary, Padmabhusan in 2011.
“Till today I don’t know how that happened as nobody even asked me for my Bio-data. The day I received the news of being awarded the Padmabhushan. I was traveling in the train by myself. I got a call from my nephew stating that I have been awarded the Padmabhushan and I scolded him for making up jokes in the morning. When he confirmed it as an authentic news, it was a moment of immense elation for me. That was the first time when I felt a sense of professional recognition” laughs C. V. Chandrasekhar.
Even at this age, C V Chandrasekhar says that he does household chores on his own and always lends a helping hand to his wife.
I tried to draw some guilt upon myself to get myself to be half of what they are today! I asked him how he has kept himself so fit at 82.
“We just do our work. We don’t have servants at our home. We aren’t bothered whether our maid comes to our house regularly or not.”
This interaction with the extremely talented and down to earth couple was truly the dose of inspiration that perhaps our present generation needs.
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