Strikingly simple and the very epitome of dignity, Guru Rajee Narayan, clad in a fetching grey and red saree, welcomed me into her modest apartment in Sion, Mumbai.
She smiled gently as I congratulated her on her recent accolade the, Rajya Kala Puraskar. The award was conferred on her by Dr. P.C. Alexander, Governor of Maharashtra, for excellence in the field of dance for the year 1997, recently.
Born into a family where art is a way of life, it was only natural for her, to pursue a similar career. Her father Narayana Iyer was a poet, author and film-maker. Her mother Gangammal was an exponent of classical Carnatic music and was young Rajee's first music teacher. Elder sister Neela, a danseuse from the Pandanallur school took young Rajee under her wing, therein marking the beginning of a life-long journey.
After schooling in the Presentation Convent "Church Park" in Chennai, she obtained a diploma in Carnatic music from the Government of Madras. Further, perfecting the art form of Bharatanatyam, under the tutelage of K Lalitha, for more than a decade. Her tryst with the silver screen was rather early and brief. She played lead roles in Bala Bhaktan, Ekanthar and Sakti Maya and has also sung in them.
It is notable that as a young artiste, she sang at her dance performances, a rare combination indeed. Nevertheless, her transition into a "guru" is the most significant aspect of her romance with the art.
She plunged into teaching soon after marriage, however, she founded Nritya Geetanjali, her school in 1965 in Mumbai. She reminisces, "I felt the need to establish my own institution in order to create my own identity in a commercial city like Mumbai."
In her career as a guru, spanning nearly five decades she has conducted over 200 Arangetrams and her students in turn teach in India and abroad.
She further imparts training in Natyashastra, the art of Nattuvangam and classical Carnatic music, vital to those students who take a deep interest in art. On experimentation with the classical form, she opines "experimentation is fine as long as the classicism of the art is not sacrificed, it must be supplemented by detailed research."
Rajee's most poignant moment was during a performance in a camp for British and Indian soldiers, during the Second World War. She was deeply overwhelmed to see misty eyes among the wounded soldiers as she danced to a devotional piece dedicated to Lord Krishna.
"I have no regrets, I want to continue to teach dance until the very end." says Rajee with a serenity that is palpable.Going by her track record, it is certainly not wishful thinking. For the rest of her fraternity and most importantly, her audience, there is much in store from this one woman institution.
June 26, 1998. THE NAVHIND TIMES