As a dancer who has performed for close to two decades in the presence of a varied global audience, I decided to pause and ponder about some of the most interesting people I have met during my performances. Some of the best connoisseurs of Classical dance and knowledgeable members of the general public have graced my recitals. Among the international audience, there have been very handsome, charming men and a sizable number of women as well, who had promised to keep in touch through letters, even after my return to India. A few of them stand out, as they kept up their word. In today’s age of mobile apps, e-mails and social media, the world has been compressed into a zipped file. Today I receive photographs of my performances from a number of people on my e-mail. However, nothing quite matches the power of letter writing and photographs (prints), the real expression of feelings. My memories go back to photographs that were shot in far off Manila or nearby Bulandshahar, and the prints packed neatly and sent to my residential address by registered post. Each packet signified the special effort taken by a member of the audience to reach out to a dancer, knowing well that he would perhaps never meet her again. There were even a few foreign male ‘admirers’, whose ‘love letters’ would be delivered almost a month later. The friendly neighbourhood postman would stand at my door saying, “Foren se letter aaya, Air Mail”, and wait for a generous tip. The letters would often be sprayed with some perfume and written with colourful sketch pens. My ‘girlie’ friends would secretly read these mushy letters. I felt like a diva. It sure felt heady having a tall, fair, handsome and strong Serbian or Austrian guy writing these love letters to me and requesting a reply. The shy young woman that I was, I did not reply to any of them. Today I laugh at my cagey disposition. With age and some wisdom, I think that it was the woman dressed up in a traditional Indian dance costume, impressively made up (flowers adorning her hair, hands and feet decorated with ‘Mehendi’, all decked up in jewellery), dancing and emoting on stage, that these attractive men fell in love with - in spirit and letter. I must admit that it stills feels good when I (re)read these letters. Two of them, from the 1990s, are special.
The first occasion was in Brazil. I was joined by some local Brazilian dancers on stage. As I was teaching them some Indian Classical dance moves, I was ‘noticed’ by a very tall, handsome and rugged man of Portuguese origin. After the performance he walked up to me and handed me a marker pen. I was startled when he craned his neck towards me and requested me to sign my autograph on his neck. Though I initially refused, for I had never experienced something like that in conservative India, I eventually obliged. He then scribbled my address on a piece of paper and promised to keep in touch. The second occasion, in South Africa, was similar. After one of my performances, a South African man of South Indian origin approached me. He must have been in his twenties. Though he was a bit over-weight, he had a very attractive face. He said that he appreciated my dances and had attended my recitals in four different cities. He wished to know me better. He promised to write to me. When I returned to India, I was surprised when letters from South Africa and Brazil began to come to me regularly. The two men had kept their promise. They kept writing to me for a long time, despite receiving no reply from me. I still chide myself for the discourtesy of not even penning a few words in return. I can only look up to the sky and pray for their well being today. I have never spoken about these beautiful memories to anyone. But today I understand the value of each gesture, and I thank those two wonderful men and scores of others, for making me the dancer I am today, for it is they who gave me the confidence of being talented and perhaps worthy of love and adulation - even though I never met them again. I have preserved these beautiful letters for my daughter, for her to read when she grows up. I am sure she would chuckle, just like my girlie friends. I wish to make her realise that every woman needs to know that she is special. More so a professional dancer, who looks longingly at the audience for applause and the cry for an ‘encore’.
The writer is a renowned Kuchipudi danseuse and choreographer