Text: Paul Nicodemus
Her soulful rendition of the art form is a treat to watch. Her beautiful and large eyes emote the right expression as she effortlessly gets into the role of the characters. She exudes grace in her angika abhinaya and satvika abhinaya. Her eloquent sense of rhythm and perfect mudras coupled with dedication and undulating spirit to triumph has made her into one of the finest Kuchipudi artistes. Sudagani Geeta Narayan has been training in Kuchipudi, the classical dance of Andhra Pradesh, under the tutelage of KV Lakshmi, principal and secretary of Nataraj Music and Dance Academy, Visakhapatnam, for the past few years. Her spouse, Ravishankar Narayan, IRS, has been a pillar of strength in her terpsichorean pursuit. Her story of embracing classical dance of Kuchipudi in her late 30s and the determination shown to emulate professional standards in a short period is an epic. Today, she stands as an inspiration to many aspiring dancers.
Geeta Narayan was born in Jangareddygudem of West Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh. Her father was a business owner, and she grew up in an affectionate joint family environment. It was a healthy environment with the presence of grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Her upbringing had an immense influence on her and she grew fond of humanity, flora and fauna. She studied at Subhash Vidyanikethan, the first English medium school at her place. After her 10th standard, she moved to Eluru in Andhra Pradesh and studied at CR Reddy Women’s College where she completed her higher secondary, graduation and post-graduation.
Right from her childhood, she took a liking for performing arts. “When I was studying in LKG, an elderly man enquired about students interested in dance and music, and I was the first person to raise my hand,” she recollects. Though she could not perform, the seed of dance got planted in her mind. When she was around 11 years old, looking at her cousin attending dance classes, they also sent her to learn dance. It only lasted for 6 months but within the stipulated period, she danced better than others and her dance teacher made her perform Annamacharya Keerthana, ‘Allo Alladigo’. It was Geeta’s first performance. She always wished for a Gajje Puja, one of the most important events in the life of an Indian classical dancer but that did not happen then. During Geeta’s Higher Secondary days, knowing her desire, her sister enrolled her name for a cultural competition. Though it was on brief notice, Geeta trained a friend of her sister to sing, recollected whatever little dance she learnt in her childhood and performed live on stage. They announced the results in the evening and she stood first in the competition. Thereupon, she took part in cultural programmes at her college. She always felt nervous before the performance but once on stage, it was a different story. But her desire to wear Gajje (anklet with bells worn by Indian classical dancers) and perform pure classical dance remained a dream.
Geeta hails from a conservative family and those days, they did not encourage girls from the community to perform on stage. Though she partook in cultural programmes at her college, it all ended with her graduation. “I always had a desire to learn and perform classical dance but never really could pursue it. ‘Swarnakamalam’, a Telugu dance film starring Bhanu Priya, inspired me a lot, and I used to dance to the songs in my room. Eventually, the CD got worn out,” she smiles.
On August 10, 2001, after her post-graduation, she got married to Sudagani Ravishankar Narayan, an IRS officer. As her husband was undergoing training at Nagpur in Maharashtra, she too moved with him. Right from her childhood, she mingled with people and it helped her when she moved up north. She always kept herself busy nurturing her creative interests in singing, interior design, painting and reading motivational books. After the training, her husband got posted in Chennai in Tamil Nadu and they moved again. In 2002, she gave birth to her son, Vishnu. Later, they moved to Vijayawada, and she stayed with her in-laws.
Human life is a combination of happiness and sorrow and Geeta’s life is no exception. “If all the joyous occasions and achievements are on one side of the coin, the struggles I faced filled the other side,” she says. An accident in which four members of her family passed away had a devastating effect on her. Right from her childhood, she had an affectionate relationship with her family and it had a traumatic bearing and made her slip into depression. It affected her health, and she struggled with pain in her ribs. Her husband and family had to take care of her like a glass doll.
Her life underwent a massive transformation after they moved to Visakhapatnam. In a chance meeting, BR Vikram Kumar, founder-director of Nataraj Music and Dance Academy visited her house to invite her for a dance programme. She shared her interest in dance and Vikram offered to teach her Kuchipudi if she was interested. It ignited a spark in her and made her revisit her dream of learning classical dance. She always wanted to dance on stage before her spouse. After that, it took almost a year before she attended her first Kuchipudi class. On April 8, 2016, at 36, she started training in Kuchipudi, the classical dance of Andhra Pradesh, under the tutelage of KV Lakshmi, principal and secretary of Nataraj Music and Dance Academy. Learning Kuchipudi proved to be a dawn of a new era in her life. She showed complete dedication and devotion towards training and learnt the nuances of Kuchipudi in a miraculous time frame. Within three months of learning, she completed training in Jathis. “I developed a deep passion for the art form and tried my best to complete the work given by the madam on the same day. I always maintained punctuality,” she says. Her spouse, Ravishankar Narayana and son Vishnu encouraged her to achieve her dream.
On January 2, 2017, she gave her first Kuchipudi performance as Gangadevi in a ballet. And the next day she performed a solo piece, ‘Oka Pari’. Her teacher KV Lakshmi believed in her and gave her an opportunity. “Though people appreciated the performance, I was not satisfied with it. I knew I needed to learn and practice. I believe in hard work and found joy in it,” she says. As months rolled, she refined her craft with every performance. She meticulously followed the instructions given by her teacher. “I never asked my Madam to teach me a particular item because I knew both Madam and Vikram Kumar knew what was right for me,” she says.
On September 28, 2018, she made her Rangapravesam in a grand ceremony graced by stalwarts like Padma Bhushan recipient Dr Saroja Vaidyanathan, Padma Shri recipient Dr Darshana Jhaveri and others. Reaching such professional excellence in such a short time that too in her late 30s is unprecedented. “My body did not support dancing for more than a year. I did nothing in a sitting posture. Whenever I watched children perform in the sitting posture, I felt that I was not doing justice to the art form. Then I did ‘Ashtapadi’ in a sitting posture. I took it as a challenge and succeeded,” she says. She went through excruciating pain for the first two years as her body was not conditioned to such demanding routines of the art form. Despite the physical hardships of training, she experienced great joy while dancing. Age never bothered her.
Over the last few years, she has given some scintillating performances at national and international dance festivals and received awards and accolades. She is the perfect Sathyabama when she performs Bhamakalapam and transforms herself into Goddess Ganga in dance ballets like Bhagiratha Vilasam. She has given many stage performances Some of them were Naatya Nandini award in Bharat Nrithyotsav, Naatya Tarang award in Naatya Tarang Yuva Nrithyotsav, Sathyabhama award in Sathyabhama Yuva Nrithyotsav, Amaravathi Vystha Nrithya Kelli Award in Amaravathi Nrithyotsav and Naatyashri award in Vysakhi Nrithyotsav.Geeta always had a special affinity towards children and old people and always desired to serve society. Watching philanthropic works of her father from childhood had a positive impact on her. The joint family environment she grew up in taught her human values and the importance of relationships.
Geeta Narayan is not only an accomplished classical artist but also someone who knows her social responsibility. She earnestly contributes her bit to society. She has played a pivotal and active role in many social service events ranging from relief to renovation. One of which was in the aftermath of Super Cyclone Hudhud in Visakhapatnam district. She, in association with KEN Foundation Society where she is an active volunteer, distributed essentials like utensils, rice, dal, blankets, clothes, etc., to the needy. Some of her social service activities with the due support of other volunteers include the donation of footwear to children at an orphanage, celebrating occasions like New Year by interacting at the homes for orphaned girls/boys, ‘Winter Smiles’, a programme conceived to reach out to tribal brothers and sisters in agency areas by providing rugs and warmers and construction of cupboards and provision of classroom benches. As a part of the women empowerment program, the Mighty Girl Group of the USA visited Visakhapatnam on March 14, 2015, and Geeta Narayan on behalf of KEN Foundation Society hosted them by arranging a productive and enlightening interactive meeting of all volunteers at her residence.
Many know Geeta Narayan as a dancer and a few know her as a social contributor but, apart from being these she has a hidden talent of Window Photography. She thrives to capture special moments of sparrows, squirrels, pigeons, parrots, etc., that venture into her balcony. She is a nature patriot who has been serving the voiceless.
As a woman, she always wanted to have her identity right from her childhood and it came to fruition with her dance and service. She has fulfilled her life’s ambition of being an example to motivate others. She is a Miracle Danseuse.