Aditi grimaced at the needle point on her scalp; her mother was sewing the “tikka” in place. It was standard drill before a performance. Most Kathak dancers used a dab of nail paint to keep the adornment from flying loose during the “chakkars” but Aditi had a phobia of untidiness on stage. She gave herself a final once over in the full length green room mirror, checking for tucked in “ghunghroo” strings, pinned in plait and tightened waist belt.
The dance festival anchor had begun to announce the artist to the audience with a brief biography.
An outsider in the whimsy world of Kathak, dominated by the “gharanas”, Aditi had come up the hard way. Known for grammar perfect lines and velvety moves, she was an avowed traditionalist. “Improvisations take away from the classical core of Kathak” she had instilled the belief in her disciples.
The senior dancer lifted her costume and tip toed into the wings to await the curtain rising, “I must find my light, get into the spot right. The accompanists take too long to tune up their instruments” she rubbed her hands gently, sending up her customary silent prayer to her two gurus and Lord Shiva. “Strike the heels harder, it is characteristic of our gharana; the Benares and Jaipur schools are becoming too hybrid” her self-talk continued.
“Don’t you think innovation within tradition keeps Kathak relevant to the 21st century?” a journalist had asked her once. Keeping one eye on her swirling and sweating students, she had answered with time honoured conviction, “Young dancers are too impatient these days. It takes years and years for tayyari. They must first be masters of the pure form. If we keep diluting it with outside influences we will lose our legacy. Abhinvaya is dying out as it is”.
“Form with finesse”; “poetry in motion”; “sure footed and lyrically precise”; “living legend” were some of the epithets the country’s prominent critics had used to describe her.
She thought she heard a swish of the curtain rising. Fluffing out her costume one final time, she made to step out, halting mid-step in abrupt confusion. Someone had taken her by the arm, “This way Aditi Ji; your dance therapist is waiting in the hall. Let me settle that hair band on your head!”
“Dance increases cognitive reserve and builds new neural pathways in persons with dementia” the words were travelling down the corridor in a confident voice.
The iconic performer and her hospital attendant shuffled past a plaque on their way to session. It read “Alzheimer’s Society. Remembering those who cannot remember!”