|"My Mentor and Guru Ramaiah Pillai"|
I started learning dance from my Guru, I would have been about 6 to 6.5 years of age. I
had previously learnt from Kannappa Pillai earlier). .Guru Ramaiah Pillai was a soft
spoken personality with a charming smile. He also possessed a good singing voice and a
proficient knowledge of music. He often spoke in broken English to us, to get to know the
language better which could enable him to communicate with foreign students and girls who
came from well-to-do families! This was fun and he would laugh at his own mistakes. He
always came home to teach me, in the very beginning by rickshaw and later by car, and
later on he was picked up and brought home by our car. When he came by his own car, Samraj
, his son would tag along, perhaps for a drive ! My master was impeccably dressed when he
came home . His basic approach to teaching was very practical and he did not believe in
teaching theory. However, he was not a conformist; he was far sighted and taught
Bharatanatyam to suit the times. He was an exceptionally religious person."
(Guru Kanappa Pillai has also taught Padma Bhushan Kalanidhi Narayan )
2 to 3 years, I had my arangethram, which was arranged at my grandmother's home at Adyar.
The arangethram was held in a huge hall that that was also used by the great philosopher
Jiddu Krishnamurthy who held his religious discourses in there. The arangethram was
attended only by my family and closest friends. Guru Ramaiah Pillai tied my red and gold
saree in katcham style that day. I was so young then.He had an ensemble of very good
accompaniments; Appavu Parthasarthy on mridangam, Sarasa or Rajarathnam
or Gopalkrishnan to sing and a clarinet or flutist to follow. My sister, Pappu sang the
"I had not met Balasaraswathi then, so my whole repertoire was Ramaiah Pillais including the padams in those years. As I could sing well he many a time insisted that I sing for my recitals. He would arrange for a hanging mike and make me sing while I danced the padams. I performed in noteworhy Sabhas in and outside Madras several times including thrice at the Music Academy apart from giving several benefit performances. Guru Ramaiah Pillai always conducted my performances.
"When I started learning padams from Bala he did not object. I remember doing "Krishna nee" which I learnt from Bala, many times for him and he thought it was beautiful. My performances included many padams taught by Bala to me and he was broad minded enough to let them be a part of my program. Master was also a connoisseur on dance bells. The set that I used through out the years were specially made and bought by him."
and.." When I returned about 25 years later around 1982/3, to relearn, update my knowledge and acquire the skills of teaching from him, I visited him in his house in Mylapore which also housed the 'Vazhuvoor School of dancing'. Everything was the same, except that he had become old. He moved about with a walking stick due to a stroke and his health had deteriorated. He wept seeing me. He spoke of my father being of the utmost help and getting him treated by specialists when he had a heart attack many years earlier. He was always grateful to my father. He was taken aback when I told him I was going to teach and had come to him to learn the skills of teaching and theory. We spent many hours together often having lunch together, just him and me, while his wife served. Master considered that women should never teach Bharatanatyam or do nattruvangam on the stage in public, but can participate in the home environment. Being with my master again was a most rewarding experience. It was only due to his great affection for me that he gave me so much of his time towards making me more knowledgable in the art of teaching, for which I am eternally grateful He was a store house of information. Apart from being a nattuvanar par excellence he was a superb choreographer and gave me ample guidance. He wished me all success in my new role and gave me his blessings. I wish I had more time with him."
( Notes on these 'reflections' ) :
1. An article in
Sruti magazine speaks of the car belonging to Hema's parents always picking him up.
This is not so as in the beginning he came on his own.