From Odissi World
Two girls bedecked in flowers and ghungroos. Alta (a red dye) on their feet, hair buns at a angle.
After a performance by two members from Nrityagram, for which Surupa has invited a few guests, she asks for a critical evaluation. "It will help the girls," she prompts. Then unabashedly tells them: "I think both of you were very tense today, that's why we didn't see you becoming one with your movement."
Later, she adds, "There are so many factors that go intomaking a dance performance memorable, knowing dance is only 50 per cent of the process. You should be able to reach a point in dance when you stop thinking and the dance overtakes you. It has happened to me very rarely and those have been my happiest moments."
Surupa has over 150 performances to her credit and about 20-oddsolo performances (one of which was held on December 27 at Nrityagram) here and abroad, her last one there being in Washington for the World Music Centre. Interacting with other dancers, experts and artistes is important to Surupa but she also likes her space, some quietude, at the end of the day. "There are some dayswhen I like to be by myself, my thoughts, my books -- I'm learning Sanskrit these days, it will help me understand the music verses better."
Surupa admits she misses city life though, whenever she goes into the noisy other world, she comes back tired and invariably with a bout of "asthma". She misses her parents, her friends and "even a life very different from this," but quickly adds, "I chose this way, it was a well-thought out commitment which is lifelong for me. Dance is definitely my passion, my life, it's a way of communicating with my inner self."
Surupa's parents, Bengalis settled in Delhi, share mixed feelings about her career and life in Nrityagram. While they're extremely proud and happy she has taken up a creative art form, "It's a cultural thing with Bengalis", they also worry that "life is slipping by" and may be their daughter, unlike others herage, is missing out on marriage.
She smiles: "Dance is like a jealous husband, and it is extremely difficult to make another commitment. But if I meet someone for whom I feel strongly, I will take the step." As of now, she says firmly, "I don't have any boyfriends!"
It has been a question of choices. "I realise the pros and cons of every decision and move that I make, especially when it affects others," she says. Very unlike Protima, you remark and she laughs: "Though we're quite the opposite in temperament and personality, I share a great bond with her. While she's impulsive and wild, I'm more calculating, I take time over my decisions, moves, even my spontaneous ones. Gaurima has a great life, I'm more down-to-earth and I'm not prepared to pay for my mistakes more than once. I learn from them."
Darkness falls like a wet blanket. The girls, including Lynn who looks lovely in a white sari with gold border, invite the guests for a simple meal of pulao, dal and cauliflower curry.It's delicious, so is the night air.
Surupa speaks to a mixed group with an ease and confidence rarely seen in someone so young. Protima's decision to hand over thereins to Surupa has been wise. "Actually, I don't teach here," says Surupa. "There are hordes of gurus, dance companies and experts who come to Nrityagram to conduct workshops and seminars on the various allied art forms. It's a process of learning for me. We exchange notes, I rehearse the things I have learnt and share it with the group, we read poems one day, meditate another, learn languages on the third. I have been doing all these things since the past four years; only, it's become official now."
Surupa belongs to the first batch of students who came to Nrityagram with dreams in their hearts and fire on their feet. Out of a batch of six, only two have remained to complete the arduous six years of training. "In a land of 950 million, it's difficult to find one dedicated dancer who is willing to spend her prime time, her youth in a wonderful school like this. We don't charge any fees, rules are made through a consensu. If anyone has a problem,we put our heads together and evolve another that suits us --where will you get this kind of freedom?" she asks passionately.
It's quite evident that Surupa belongs to Nrityagram and, one day, Nrityagram may well become synonymous with her exquisite dance and spirited personality. For she confesses: "I don'tknow right now where I will be five years hence, but I think I will be here. This seems like my destination. Of course, I will perform more solo shows, but I also love teaching children and imparting whatever I've learnt to the younger dancers who comehere. And, through teaching, I learn. This place must not die, and we must not give up our spirit. I'll be here, searching, practising and learning."
The girls wave and mouth goodnights, some do a namaste. The cars screech out into the pitch darkness, away from the dark trees into civilisation.
With thoughts still on Surupa, I'm reminded of a Zen koan that seems to exemplify her state of mind, her dance:
Be soft in your practice. Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Neverlet it out of your sight. It will take you. (Sheng-yen from EssentialZen by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Tensho David Schneider.)