Have you ever seen beads breaking off from a string and falling one by one on the ground, galloping happily, going and hiding in the places that you often find difficult to reach? Cinematic imaginations have done this both in speed and slow motions in order to highlight both love and violence. A pair of sensuous parting lips in the medium range shot and slightly out of focus, and in the tight focus a stream of beads falling one after another accompanied by the tickling resonations of sitar strings; that is love or love making. When the same shot set in a different sonic ambience and torrent of beads ends up in a drop of blood, the scene could be an act of violation. Beads are like that.
Cascading beads from an accidently broken string could take you to a different plane of sensation. I would call it a spiritual sensation. That’s what exactly happened when Madhu Gopinath, one of the lead dancers of the Samudra Dance Group from Trivandrum, let his necklace break and the beads spill when he was performing with his identical pair Sajeev Vakkom, an exquisite performer and choreographer at the Tagore Theatre in Chandigarh. I was in the second row from the stage and I could have a better view of the dancers as if I was seeing them caught in a permanent zoom in mode.
The necklace broke and the beads fell one after another, at times tracing out the body contour of Madhu Gopinath and at times like truant school boys running away from their teacher, uproarious in their own mirthfulness. Finally the locket, gold plated and made out of thin metal sheet with embossed symbols fell on the wooden platform of that wonderful proscenium stage. Sajeev was flying like, if I use the expression that Vandana Shukla of Tribune was using sitting just behind me, ‘a flamingo’. I have seen migratory birds flitting across the sky during their roosting time at twilight. They make godly formations of aerodynamics. Sajeev, Madhu and their troupe members were doing the same.
(From their production, Jalam)
They were like flamingos; but flamingos not permanently floating in the air. They came down on the ground, stamping their feet to the rhythm of music and percussion. I saw the beads moving on the stage and the metal locket lying down there. The dancers stamped and jumped, they floated and flowed like thick fluids thrown into a differently lit large container that the stage was. The moved like the spangles of light in a electrically lit lantern. They moved as if they were the embodiment of movement itself.
But I was in throes. I was watching the movement of the beads and the locket. I knew the landing of the dancers’ feet was so subtle and momentary that an accidental stepping on one of them could have thrown them out of balance. While Madhu and Sajeev rolled on the stage like waves of water, making their brown complexion to merge with the lacquer of the oak panels on the floor I thought the beads would hurt their body. I moved and sat at the edge of the seat as if I were witnessing a suspense thriller. I was feeling the pain on my soles and I was feeling the pressure on my shoulder muscles. The pain was akin to the pain that Maria had experienced in ‘Eleven Minutes’ when she walked barefooted on sharp pebbles submerged in ice cold water. And lo.. to my surprise I found the beads moving on their own away from the body of the dancers. They were behaving as if they had their own lives and they wanted to save the dancers from the pain of accidental collisions and collapsing on the stage thanks to them.
“I shiver and goose pimples come all over me,” says Madhu Gopinath, when I meet him on the next day of the performance. I was there at the Nek Chand Rock Garden, feeling myself like a tourist. Madhu, Sajeev and their team were also there seeing the wonders in the sculpture garden. When I narrated my spiritual experience while looking at the beads and their bodies moving over them, Madhu said something that made me happy about my own conclusions: “There have been a lot of breaking of ornaments on stage in our dancing career. But till date they have never hurt us.” Sajeev Vakkom endorses the fact. Madhu says that the necklace was hurting his neck like anything as the locket had a rough edge which he could not polish before he entered the stage. “And I thought it was necessary to get rid of it. So with a covert movement I broke it,” Madhu tells me.
(Madhu Gopinath and Sajeev Vakkom, a few years back)
I hug them. And I take a photograph with them. I had gone to the greenroom on the previous night after their performance. The performance conceptualized and choreographed by Sajeev and Madhu is titled ‘Jalam’ (Water). It shows how water has emotions like human beings. How water gets happy when people live one with nature and how it gets angry when it is exploited and curbed through damming. And the meeting at the greenroom was an overdue meeting. I hugged Sajeev and Madhu and spoke to the rest of the team.
There is reason when I say the meeting was overdue. Ten years back, when Sajeev and Madhu from my village (Vakkom and Chirayinkeezhu respectively) established their dance troupe, ‘Samudra’ in Trivandrum, they had called me for my blessings. I did not know what I could do for them. They told me that they expected an article written by me on them. I had agreed but I could never fulfil their request or lovable demand. So the meeting now was a sort of atonement. However, I have been following their programs through internet and newspaper articles. I was so happy to meet these two young dancers in an unexpected place and fashion.
Sajeev and Madhu have travelled all over the world. Perhaps they are the most famous contemporary dance troupe in India today. Perhaps you would not believe that the opening ceremony of Commonwealth Games and Venice Biennale were choreographed by these two young men from my village. They have also choreographed for a few movies.
(Madhu Gopinath, JohnyML and Sajeev Vakkom at Nek Chand Sculpture Garden in Chandigarh)
The journey for these two village boys was not so easy. During their school days (we studied in the same school) itself they were learning Bharatanatyam. Then they learned Kalarippayattu and many other traditional dance forms. They went ahead to learn contemporary ballet and choreography from several world masters. And you should know all these while they also learned plumbing and fitting as their parents insisted. They did not believe, fifteen years back that these boys could eke out a living by dancing!
They globe trot these days. But when you see them they are not jet lagged. They don’t throw their weight around. I was shocked when Sajeev and Madhu told me the following: “Brother, we need to sit with you and discuss a lot. We don’t know how to go about with offers. We get a lot of offers. You should advice us.” I was humbled. I hugged them again. I am no authority to advise this internationally known choreographers. Still, the love and confident that they showed towards me brought tears into my eyes. “Whatever I could do, I will do for you,” I told them.
(Madhu, Sajeev and two other members of their team striking a pose for me)
Before I close this short note on my favourite dancers from my village and its neighbourhood, let me tell you one more thing. Sajeev and Madhu look identical twins. But they are not. They are from neighbouring villages and do not have any blood relationship. “Wherever we go people ask us this question whether we were brothers or twins. But god destined it to be like this. We met in one of the dance competitions and ever since we are together,” says Sajeev Vakkom. And both of them are happily married to their wives with kids.