Delhi-based Bharatanatyam dancer Aparajita Sarma speaking to Natyahasini reveals that in today’s ultra-digital world, dancers are seeking newer and newer avenues to showcase themselves. “Reels, Shorts, Video Albums, Online production, Collaborations, stories, self-promotion, they are all out there. What is somewhat receding in the background is traditional Margams, hour-long productions and audience attention span,” she says. The Delhi dancer says that artistes must not give into this ‘2-min Maggi’ dance completely, but keep the traditional Margams and productions alive, with today’s perspective. For this, Aparajita calls for good impartial patrons and easy to apply Govt.-grants. “And since these are now very less to come by, it also falls on the Artists shoulders to bear some responsibility and work in the area of organizing good festivals and performances, albeit, ‘With Pay’. Whatever, lamenting and cliché the cries of artistes may sound, ‘Pay for Arts’ is a real and deserving cause,” she voices.
Hailing from a Tamil Iyer family settled in New Delhi for the past 34 years, Aparajita grew up with dance movements with her mother and Guru Kanaka Sudhakar being a dancer. “I grew up with dance movements, dance class conversations and travels for performances, all the time. But to become a dancer was my own choice. It was never assumed for me,” she clarifies. The dancer says that her mother has always taught to keep both relationships separate. “In class, she was ma’am, my teacher, and in home, she was ‘mumma’. She also made sure she kept both aspects separate. My father was also very supportive, even though he wasn’t a dancer. But he always took care of the technical side, maintaining data, and even keenly observing us as a Rasika and critic,” she says.
Natyam Chose Me: Remembering her entry into dance, Aparajita states that she took to dance like fish to water. “I am told that even when I was just three-years-old, if some Bharatanatyam music would play, I would get up enter with Anjali Hasta, Kulukka, smile on my face and dance on the full song and end at the exact required moment and gracefully exit the room,” she says, adding: “I think Natyam chose me even before I knew what it was.”
Learning from her Guru, who is also her mother, has been a fascinating journey for Aparajita, which still continues. “Guru Kanaka Sudhakar not just taught me to dance but she is a mentor in every possible way. I learnt what hard work actually means, under her. When I turned 14-years-old, she started my internship at Nrityabharati. I used to receive Rs. 500 as stipend and pay Rs. 250 as the fees. Such was her professionalism. I was never treated as ‘my dear daughter’ in the classes. I always had to prove myself,” she says.
Krishna Ganga Thumri
The Delhi dancer says that it was expected of her to excel, being ‘the Guru’s daughter’ and she has always worked hard to make that true. “In this manner, dance became my pursuit, passion and profession. But having said that Guru Kanaka Sudhakar, as all her students will vouch for, is a gentle guru. She never makes clones. She encourages individuality in each student. And so, I also got that boost once I finished my Arangetram. I was always encouraged to perceive Natyam my way. To make it my own. In 2020, just before the lockdown, I performed ‘Bhavayami Raghuramam’ with her for Mother’s Day special event,” she recalls.
Arangetram @ 15: Though Aparajita has been dancing, since a young age (dancing for the past 25 years), she states that she has only 18 years of professional dance experience as she made her Solo Debut when she was 15-years-old. “Being a performer has been a continuous struggle. It takes a lot of hard work, much more than Riyaz, to land a solo performance and even more if you want it to be a paid performance. Yet God has been kind to have blessed me with continuous performances over all these years,” she says.
Of the highs, the dancer would like to recall the time when they went to Chidambaram Natyanjali. “We were fortunate as we got the opportunity to dance in front of the ‘Garba Griha’ – The sanctum sanctorum. Our vocalist sang while three other students with me danced ‘Lingashtakam’. Such was this divine experience that I had tears flowing down my cheeks by the time I ended with ‘Lingashtakam idam punyam…,” she says, and misses having any record of this experience. However, the gutsy dancer says that moments like these give her the motivation to continue her struggle as a performer.
The Bharatanatyam dancer reminisces an incident when she injured her knee and had to undergo a surgery called arthroscopy in her early 20s, and she felt she may not be able to dance again. “I had to leave dance for almost a year and go through rigorous physiotherapy and exercises. That was a difficult time when I thought I would never dance again. I even wrote sad poems! But with the help of family and god’s blessings, I am dancing again and can even do 50 knee spins, with knee pads,” she says.
Explored Dance Forms: Being a natural and versatile dancer, Aparajita explored many dance forms like Folk, Western, Jazz, Contemporary and Creative. “But I never left my Natyam. In 2012, I was chosen by ICCR to represent my country as a Bharatanatyam dancer and a teacher in Bali, Indonesia for two years. It was then that I also learnt traditional Balinese Dances under the tutelage of Ibu Ni Ketut Arini,” she says. The dancer professes that Contemporary movement has always garnered her attention and she has experimented a lot with Bharatanatyam in this direction. “My first production was Mrigtrishna, Seeking Desires, in which I collaborated with my husband, Pritpal Singh, also a Contemporary artiste. In this, I used the language of Bharatanatyam to show the theme where we as humans have never ending desires,” the dancer says.
A complete performer, Aparajita Sarma was invited by Manish Mishra, Actor, director and NSD Alumni, to play the main lead in the play Caligula. “It was a very difficult role as the character was completely opposite to my nature. But my Bharatanatyam training helped me a lot for this role. For classical dancers though, the deepest challenge is to express naturally. Dancing the same piece in class again and again sometimes makes the expressions robotic and calculated. So, to come out of that box and emote naturally yet aesthetically, is the main work of a performer,” the multi-talented artist says. She says as Gurus and peers praise her for her abhinaya, she wants to delve into theatre more. “I have also played the roles of Jhansi ki Rani, Bangalore Nagarathanamma and Andal in Dance Dramas,” she says.
Deep Impact: An Economics Graduate from Hindu College, Delhi, who dreamt of becoming an IFS and serving the country, today is doing it in a different way. “As I joined college, my interest in dance, and academics related to it, attracted me much more. It was also at this time that I joined the Choreography Society of Hindu College where we made abstract dance choreography on a theme for inter-college competitions. This had a deep impact on me. So far, I had only used movements to depict Sahitya or dance on Swarams written by Maha Kavis. But now, here I was, using a similar body language to depict a theme, of today’s relevance, with no Sahityam at all. By the time, I wrote my last Economics paper, I knew my further life would be dedicated to dance and dance only. And it was also dance which fulfilled my dream of seeing the world too. I have travelled to nearly 15 countries now all thanks to my Natyam,” says the happy dancer.