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Jai Quehaeni: A Princess of Bharatanatyam

Jai Quehaeni

Text: Paul Nicodemus

She is a passionate young dancer and her sublime beauty compliments her artistic skills. She is a sought-after Bharatanatyam soloist who also brings added presence and energy to the ballets. Jai Quehaeni, who is named after a mythical princess from the Kalinga border, is indeed a princess of Bharatanatyam who excels in other facets of life. She has completed her Bachelors in Film Technology specialising in direction and holds a Diploma in ‘Theater Arts for Holistic Development’.

Jai Quehaeni was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. She hails from a really loving and supportive family. Her father S Rajasheakar Reddy is a businessman and her mother Indra Lakshmi is a nutrition and dietetics doctor. She has three siblings – two elder brothers and a younger one.Quehaeni officially started learning dance when she was about 6 years old. Bharatanatyam was the dance form she learnt. “I think it all began with my grandfather. We used to sit together and watch old Tamil movies like ‘Vanjikottai Valiban’ and ‘Thillana Mohanambal’ and I was blown away by the grandeur, the costumes, the jewellery, the makeup and how beautifully the leading ladies danced! I wanted to dress up just like them and dance as beautifully…that probably was the seed,” says Quehaeni.She says she has been fortunate as everyone in her family have been supportive. Her grandfather has been a pillar of support and encouragement.

“He was the one who would take me to dance class, wait there patiently with snacks and he did all of this being a cardiovascular surgeon,” she reveals. Her father has always been a constant boost and her mother is the reason for all that she is today.

“My mother has so selflessly put her needs behind and travelled with me and majorly helped me and continues to do so,” she says.

She experiences a sense of pride talking about the significance of Bharatanatyam in the cultural fabric of India. “It has been an infinite pleasure to have drowned in such an art form that is so refined spiritually and where it is not just about the physical discipline but it connects with you in a holistic manner. To know that it comes from such a culturally rich heritage from Tamil Nadu, being written by Bharata Muni, the whole history of this art form gives me a unique sense of blissful pride,” she says.

Her inspiration to dance and choreography comes from her guru Chitra Visweswaran. Apart from being a legend, she is a humble and fantastic human being from whom Quehaeni learnt not just dance but also a lot of ethics. Her guru has a beautiful approach, and she often tells her disciples, “Don’t think from the head.”

“She has always taught us to perfect the basics first and then move towards the poetic beginning of the dance. There is nothing called perfection in any art form but something close to that,” she says. Quehaeni’s creativity is lured by poetry especially of Mahakavi Bharathiyar, Meera, Rumi, Christopher Poindexter and many more. “Yes, poetry is where I draw my creative inspiration from and nature, the movement in nature and its intricacy is fascinating,” she shares.

She also reveals that she loves to imitate animals in dance and when she sees a mountaintop or a river bed or the graceful movements of the waves, she visualises herself dancing on them. “Indeed, words aren’t enough to explain that euphoric feeling,” she says.

Her dance journey started as a kid with her mother. With the little Bharatanatyam that she knew, her mother taught her to dance. “We had these cute sessions where she would choreograph for me and I would dance around and that’s how it all began for me, the love for this art,” she shares. Quehaeni’s first official Bharatanatyam teacher was Madurai R Muralidharan and Chitra Muralidharan. Later, she moved on to intense training under Guru Chitra Visweswaran. She is a part of her guru’s dance school ‘Chidambaram Academy of Performing Arts’.

Her guru is her first role model. Apart from her, any artiste who inspires her transforms to being her role model. “More than role models I have inspirations. People inspire me, because each one is unique in their own way and I would always like to be away from the confined state. The ultimate purpose is being the ‘best version of you’. I believe in learning from every being with a boundless flow,” she explains.

Apart from the dance, she has been passionate about a lot of things. She is pursuing M.Sc. in Psychology. She has been a part of the organisation called RASA, where they work with children with special needs through theatre arts like drama, dance, music, art and craft etc. “Teaching gives me a lot of joy. I love animals, I am a huge pet lover, I love cooking while listening to soothing music (It is truly therapeutic), and poetry. I’m devoted to any good poetry. I am fond of archery and MMA too,” she smiles.Typically, her day starts early morning with a little exercise which considers a treat to her body. She enjoys jogging and few floor workouts. She prefers a light breakfast or a healthy juice before going to her class where she spends 4-6 hours every day.

She does not diet, but she knows of what she puts in her body. “Frankly, I love food! I usually tend to go to bed late and the routine revolves again. I’m just someone with a fairly normal routine,” she says.

Quehaeni prefers to keep short-term effective goals like staying fit and learning and mastering her art. “I tell myself and focus on ‘to do better than the day before’ as life is too unpredictable to plan for something way far ahead,” she says. She is someone who lets life take its course and tries to give her best every day.According to her, life is made of challenges, tiny ones, some mid-variants and some extremely challenging ones. “I think as an artiste you feel everything deeply, you relate to things deeply and because of that things might affect you deeply. There are those days when you question yourself ‘Are you good enough?’, ‘Are you doing justice?’, ‘How do you sustain?’,

‘Do you keep depending on your parents or someone else?’, these moments are challenging because sustaining becomes essential too, without letting go of the passion. I feel sometimes my anxiety gets the better of me but a good dose of music and dance steers me back on track,” she shares.

The young artiste’s career has many exciting moments and when it comes to dancing, she recollects two incidents. The first incident happened when she had a performance in Malaysia, where she was not particularly in a great condition physically, yet she still tried to give her best. After the show, an old lady walked in slowly with the help of her walker and told her “You were so beautiful” and handed her some Malaysian ringgit and asked her to buy something for herself.

“That moment was so overwhelming. To see that I could touch someone that way with my art form, was a special feeling. Though my words can’t express enough, the memory will always be a treasure,” she says. 

 The second incident happened when she performed at a village called Ravana Samuthiram. It was a humble setup with a tiny stage but surrounded by welcoming hearts. “I did this particular padam called ‘Ariya Paruvam’. After my performance, a tiny little girl, maybe 5 or 6 years old, came up to me, held my hand and told me in Tamil ‘Akka neenga romba azhaga aadneenga, enakum ungala maari aadanum! (Sister, you danced really beautifully. I want to dance like you too!)’.

That moment, that twinkle in her eyes, that innocence in her voice, somehow gave me the sense of satisfaction that I was on the right path and that I was doing justice to my art, my life and me as a person. That, just felt genuinely good!” says Quehaeni.

She thinks it is important to stick to both tradition and contemporary trends. “It is almost like how we need people to preserve the magic that already exists and people to create more magic,” she explains. She has not dived into fusion but has no quarrels with the artistes who do fusion.

According to her artistes, in general, are sensitive and when people tap into their sensitivity, the humanity in them shines through and that in turn helps in building a far more successful and caring society where one doesn’t just care about his or her needs but learns to lend a hand to the ones in need. In her experience, children with some sort of artistic exposure turn out to be really well-rounded individuals.

Some awards and accolades she received include ‘Spirit of Youth’ from The Madras Music Academy in 2014; ‘Dharmavarappu Seetharama Anjaneyalu’s Endowment Prize’ from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai, and more recently, ‘Swayam Prakasha Narthaki’ from Sarasalaya School of Bharatanatyam, Chennai.

Quehaeni performed at distinguished Sabhas in Chennai like The Madras Music Academy, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Bharat Kalachar, Narada Gana Sabha, Karthik Fine Arts, Mylapore Fine Arts, Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha and Brahma Gana Sabha. She also presented her art form in countries like France, Germany, Luxembourg, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, The United States of America, The United Kingdom, Bahrain, Muscat and Spain.

Jai Quehaeni, with her elegant and poised stage presence and matured outlook towards art and society, stands as an inspiration to aspiring artistes.