The car halted for the fifteenth time barely covering a kilometre in the last forty minutes. At five in the evening, this was not unusual on the Road #1, Banjara Hills. Rukmini sighed stretching against her seat, glancing at her husband on the wheel. If there was an award for showing patience in Hyderabad traffic, Vasu would have been a permanent recipient. She smiled and lay a hand over his, perched on the hand gear. No amount of traffic would ruin her mood today. Winning the gold medal at the state level Kuchipudi solo competition had been a dream she had nurtured for years. The age limit for the participation was 25 and three months down the line, she would cross the age limit. This had been Rukmini’s last chance at the competition and to her delight and that of her family’s she had done it.
Bhaamane…. Satyabhaamane… The phone rang. Rukmini answered it reminding herself to change the ring tone. It was her mother’s favourite song and the very song to which she had performed in the finale of the competitions and won the award. But now, she did yearn for a break from the monotony as the song had totally occupied her life in the last couple of months.
“Amma!” Rukmini chirped. “Yes, we are on the way to Ravindra Bharati Auditorium for the prize distribution.”
“Wish I were there Ammulu.” Her mother’s voice sounded forlorn. “Aren’t they streaming it on any Youtube Channel?”
“One month in the US and you have developed way too high expectations.” Rukmini chuckled. “I’ll try and get a recording Amma. How is Vishva doing? Katya is due in the next month no?”
The conversation continued about her sister in law who was expecting. Meanwhile, the traffic on the road showed no mercy. Rukmini felt thankful to Vasu for insisting that they start early enough so that the delay does not make them late for the event. She was about to hang up when her mother suddenly asked. “Rukku, did you share the news with Radha?”
“I put it up on Facebook no, Amma. She liked and commented on that.”
“You should have asked her to come to the function today.”
“How will Radha come with her baby Amma?” Rukmini retorted and immediately bit her lip hoping that the conversation would not go towards her having children now.
“At least tell her to restart dancing. I still remember how nicely you both used to dance…” the voice trailed away for a moment before her mother muttered a hasty goodbye citing a domestic excuse and hung up.
“Radha was your dance buddy in Vijayawada right?” Vasu asked.
“Hmmmm” Rukmini nodded. The traffic only seemed to worsen as they made their way towards the Dwaraka Circle. Ravindra Bharati was a couple of kilometres away from there. A facebook message popped up.
“Wow, think of the…” Rukmini exclaimed. Devil wasn’t the word she preferred to use for Radha. “Look what I found…” The message said followed by a couple of attachments. “Vasu! look at this! Radha sent me now!” Rukmini thrust the phone before him. Vasu’s smile became more pronounced seeing the picture. “You both were like 15-16 years old? That Krishna’s costume suited you.”
“Fourteen. In Std 9.” Rukmini replied looking lost in the memory. I remember as I behaved like a sore loser after this performance.
Vasu had an amused look and hauled his brows. “What did you do?”
“Well, typical adolescent jealousy. Radha’s mudras, poses and transition between varying rhythms, everything had finesse. She was a natural. You know, Amma was almost like her fan. And I was a bit tired of the constant comparison. This was one performance where I snapped.”
“Were you both performing Madhura Nagarilo?”
Rukmini nodded. Her glance hovered aimlessly fighting the sharp surge of embarrassment. “She played the role of Radha and there was this viewer who commented that the Radha commanded the stage so well that the Krishna seemed totally redundant. I snapped. Swore to my mother that as long as Radha dances, I am not even going to wear anklets, leave along dancing.”
Vasu’s surprise was palpable. So was some relief realizing that the girl he married seemed a far less fierce version of what she used to be. “And Amma listened to you?”
“Come on! It is Amma and her dream of seeing me become an accomplished dancer. She won eventually.”
“So Radha stopped dancing?” Vasu’s gaze showed that he fervently hoped that the turn of events was not as melodramatic as he feared.
“Friendship is stronger than jealousy, boss. We patched up soon after.”Rukmini laughed. But after that, we shifted to Hyderabad. The Senior Secondary School pressure gave me the welcome break from dance. But thanks to Amma’s ceaseless efforts, I rediscovered my passion for dancing, free of competitive pressures. So here I am.
Sadly, fate had different plans for Radha. Guess she achieved a pinnacle too early in life. Her arangetram at the age of nineteen ironically was her last major public performance.”
“Conservative family.” Rukmini sighed heavily with a slight shrug. Her parents did not realize the value of her talent. They married her to some US-returned guy when she was barely twenty-two and marriage sealed any possible opportunity of her return to dance.”
Either words failed him or the dense traffic commanded the bulk of his attention, Vasu remained quiet. Rukmini swallowed admitting to herself. Had Radha too taken part in this competition, she would never have won this prize.
(Picture Credit : Bhamakalapam from Kuchipudi Vaibhavam blog)
Sensing that they could not afford to feel sad just before Rukmini was to have her proud moments, Vasu reached out to the music player. Their car had a storage of discs full of old Telugu movie songs. Vasu was a huge fan of the yesteryear singer Ghantasala. Rukmini more or less shared his tastes. He blindly selected a disc and thrust it into the player.
Kaaru lo, Shikaarukelle Paala buggala pasiditaana
Bugga meeda gulaabi rangu ela vacheno cheppagalavaa
(O maiden enjoying the ride in your car,
can you say from where the rosy blush on your cheeks came?)
With an audible gasp, Vasu reached out to stop the song. Rukmini held his hand. “Let it play,” she chuckled. He gave in with a shrug. They had almost reached the venue. The song played on.
Ninnu minchina kannelandaru mandutendalo maadipothe
vaari buggala nikku neeku vachchi cherenu telusuko
(As the girls more deserving than you, suffer in the scorching sun,
the pink due on their cheeks found its way onto yours)
Rukmini held the mic close facing the audience, her other hand clutching to the prized trophy of the bronze Nataraja mounted on a wooden stand that bore her name with the title “Natya Mayuri.”
The screen behind her flashed selected scenes of her final round performance. She had indeed trained hard to give her best sequence of the complex jatis for the lines.
Bhaamane padiyaaru vela komalulandarilo, lalana, cheliya, maguva, sakhiya, Raamaro,
Gopaala devuni Premanu dochina Satya bhaamane Satya bhaamane
(I am that Bhama, who out of the sixteen thousand beautiful damsels,
managed to steal the heart of Gopala Deva, Mind you, I am Satyabhama).
The Video that carried the final sequence of Jatis earned a resounding rounding applause. The sound of claps tapered off as Rukmini cleared her throat to give a thank you speech. “Behind every successful woman,…. she paused and smiled before pointing her hand towards Vasu sitting in the first row, who for a moment became the centre of attention as the applause grew louder. Had he not taken care of the mundane chores in the last couple of months, believe me, I would not have been able to do that.
“Behind every successful woman, is a strong mother who believes in the potential of her child early in life. You all might not have believed. I had given up on dance, let alone giving performances, about a decade back and it was Amma who inspired and goaded me to test my limits and reach where I have come today.
“Behind every successful woman, are those scores of women who did not get the opportunity to be themselves. I remember a dear friend of mine who excelled me in every Kuchipudi performance we gave as children. Who knows if she had participated in these competitions, I might not have stood a chance. But…” Rukmini’s voice trailed and the audience waited for her to complete. Being the dancer she was, her expressions tended to be pronounced. Even more so as the feeling erupted from her heart. The scorn was palpable when she concluded. “Behind every successful Rukmini, there are those narrow-minded and conservative families which stopped their Radhas from having their due.”