“I used to wear a wig, and one day it got too hot and I threw it aside.
I went to a conference bald, with a big bindi and big beads around my neck where everyone said, “Wow! You look really nice!”. One of them even asked me “ Hey, did you go to Tirupathi?” and I said, “No ma’am, this is chemotherapy.”
That was when I learned to laugh at cancer and through it all, I stuck with my passion, dance.
I was four years old when an elderly lady in a temple approached my mother and told her that I have beautiful big eyes and that I should learn to dance. That was the best marketing technique I had ever seen! Like every south Indian parent, I was put into dance classes and every hot summer, we’d go to an even hotter Chennai. On one such trip, my mother took me to Kalakshetra where I had the fortune of meeting the great guru Rukmni Devi Arundale – I bowed to her and childishly said – I want to be like you – . She asked me to join and I was taken aback but ecstatic. I was 11 years old then and convincing my father took some effort. I told him I want to practice dance in Kalakshetra. I was in high school at the time and I promised my father that I will study and complete my graduation too. I moved to Kalakshetra Chennai to learn Bharatanatyam. The thrill of it all was overwhelming. Kalakshetra was all about being a good human being and bringing art and aesthetics into all aspects of your life. I was a full time student and practised dance every day, even as I pursued my education privately .I completed my PG Diploma course in Kalakshetra and moved back to Hyderabad where I decided to teach dance – I was only 17 years then ! I also started to learn Kuchipudi during that time, from Pasumarthy Ramalinga Sastry.That was when I realized that I don’t have a cushioning, a stable job to fall back onto if something were to happen.
Because dance requires expenditure and I needed to fend for myself. So yes, chase your passion but first ensure your pension and then enjoy your passion. That was when I joined University to do a masters in history, culture and archaeology where I was first introduced to the UPSC exam, by friends. I topped the university and also passed the UPSC exam. I was the first lady officer then in the South Central Railway Traffic Service. I was excited but my mother was unhappy. She told me that I’m ruining my dance and that I shouldn’t give it up. I told her I would never do that. The fun part of my job was that I was a lady officer in an all-men club, so they would refer to me as ‘sir’ because it was all new to them! In 2008, when I came back from a US trip where my husband came to Mumbai to receive me, I was given the news about being diagnosed with breast cancer. It was sudden, but I made the choice to dance through it. And, I did. I even danced between my first and second chemotherapy!
Life is strange. It will always challenge us and through these challenges are the greatest learnings that happen. I didn’t know that, that day at the temple would be my entire life but here we are today. I knew what I wanted and I danced my way through it all because my feet won’t stop and I can’t stop dancing!”
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