Fond Memories of Bharata Kalanjali, Anna & Akka

Sruti Nataraja

I remember my parents’ concern when I told them that I had made up my mind to go to Madras to learn dance after high school, rather than head off to college with the rest of my classmates. At that time, there were plenty of people who dissuaded me from going, but looking back, I am convinced that my decision to go to Bharata Kalanjali (BK) was one of the best choices I have made in my life.

I told everyone I knew that I was confident and content with my decision. Inside however, I was scared for a number of reasons. First, I had not visited India for nine years; second, I had never been to Madras; third, I had no background in Tamil; fourth, I did not know where I would be living while at Madras; fifth, I was unsure if I would fit in well with the students, and finally, I was insecure that I would not be able to learn as quickly and thoroughly as the other BK students.

To my surprise, I felt very much at home in Adyar, and quite natural and at ease at BK. Many of the students made me feel as though I was a part of their own family and even involved me in their personal activities, from reviewing dance items to shopping trips. Some of my greatest lessons came from my experiences living with Anna and Akka. Each moment was truly instructional, if not for dance, for life. I treasured the late nights when Akka would conjure up different hairstyles for dance dramas, using my head as the guinea pig! Running behind her in the shopping centers was almost the same amount of exercise as the adavu class itself. I still smile when I think back on the time when Akka asked me if I wanted to do anything special for my birthday. My response was quite spontaneous, “an extra class with sherakal adavu combinations!” My request was immediately granted. I will always remember the enthusiasm that Anna showed in checking over my samskritam homework and his willingness to answer my most basic grammar questions at any time of day or night. It was this warmth and love that I valued most about my association with Anna, Akka, and the BK family.

On the dance front, everything seemed to naturally fall into place. I attended virtually every single class, every single day. During the times when I was not in class, I practiced on my own. I remember one particular day when I was wishing that Anna would teach my class since no other student or instructor was around. I tried to remember all of the corrections I had been given in the past as I practiced “Yen Palli Kondiraiya Sri Ranganatha”. When I finished reviewing the item and came inside the house, Anna came outside and gave me some new corrections; he had been watching me from his office room as I was dancing. I felt so blessed to have such thoughtful gurus, always trying to help me improve.

Growing up, I used to imagine what it would be like to dance on the same stage as Anna and Akka. During my summers in the Natya Adhyayana Gurukulam in Yogaville, I used to hear about all of the productions and the stories behind the sets. It never occurred to me that one day, I could also become a part of that team. During my time at BK, I took part in Thygaraja Vaibhavam and traveled to Konark and Delhi with the BK troupe. It was through those trips that I realized why BK students felt so close to one another.

Even though I have not been back to BK since 1996, a large part of my heart will forever be there. I pray that Anna, Akka, and all of the students at BK will always be blessed with peace, joy, love and light.