I began to see it in myself. I began to look at myself and see a dancer smiling back at me. And that is the magic of a Guru. Someone who with one look, can take you from not even being able to imagine dancing in a classroom by yourself, to guiding you all the way through to creating your own production.

I never really liked kathak much. Rather, I never really thought much about it. It was just one of those Saturday morning classes that I routinely attended and then forgot about when I carried on with the more exciting parts of my weekend. I wasn’t particularly good at it either. I was the shy one, shadowed by all the older girls. I loved the thrill of performing though. In the annual academy day shows and the few other group performances we did at temporary stages around Singapore during Navrathri time.

Then one day, just around the time when I was entering my final year of high school, I was transferred to a new Guru. And I was terrified. I spoke only in English and he spoke mostly in Hindi. And that’s when I learned that dance could be such a strong means of communication. His choreography and teaching were so energetic and fast-paced and had something so unique to what I had previously been exposed to. Each movement that he taught was explained as though it was individually crafted to suit the student he was teaching. I loved the exhilaration of learning so much new material at such a rapid pace, and he had so much knowledge that he was eager to share.

Within ten days, he made me perform alongside him and another senior student at a major event, and then went straight into preparing me to perform a solo piece at student night. (Solo!! Me?!) But somehow in the confidence with which he was teaching me such intense, rigorous and complex technical pieces, I could see that he saw something in me. Something worthy of being showcased on stage, someone beyond the initial shyness that I project, and somewhere further for me to be rather than hiding behind other dancers.

The Gurukul Guru-Shishya Parampara system is at the core of Indian classical arts. It is where the student devotes a part of their life to learning not just the art form, but to observing and learning from the small nuances and subtle mannerisms of their Guru. For me, this was his devotion to his art, the way he presented himself, and the warm attitude with which he greeted everyone. But it is hard to maintain that same level of dedication to your Guru when you’re away from India where these values are much more prominent in your lifestyle. It is difficult when you’re a college student, a lawyer or a mother the moment you step out of the classroom. It is challenging to make the transition from simply attending weekly kathak classes to fitting kathak into your life as such an integral part. It takes the right Guru, who without even having to say anything can communicate to you the confidence that you need. They instill unwavering faith in you and in return you promise to always present their name with prestige, to honor their art form, and to stay true to their core teachings.

Having “Disciple of Guru Mulla Afsar Khan” attached to every performance that I give is not just a tagline or something to tick off. For me it means knowing that in each step and movement of mine that I present on stages across the world is his hard work, and his love faith and guidance. It means showing the world that I am proud to be his student. And most importantly, it means taking a small slice of home with me wherever I perform. It reminds me of those practices where I was too tired to move after the first run through, and still went for a second one, because it wasn’t just me, it was us as a team. It reminds me of those rehearsals where we did nothing but sit and listen to the music, in order to fully understand each emotion that I needed to bring out. It reminds me of a journey taken together and of a Guru who deserves each standing ovation that I receive.



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