My Guru Dr Maya Rao, My Mother, My Mentor On her first death anniversary which falls on 1st September 2015, I dedicate my work to Guru Maya Rao without whom I could have never made it this far. She is one person who dedicated her life to her students. I was very fortunate to receive her love. I grew and gained world recognition under her guidance and blessings. Only two weeks before her sudden demise, she attended my show in Good Shepherded School auditorium in Bangalore and blessed all my wheelchair-bound dancers. She always had time for me whenever I called her and made it a point to attend my new productions and give her insights. Some of her favourites were ‘Sufi on wheels’, ‘Yoga on wheels’, ‘Bhagavad Gita on wheels’ and ‘Bharatanatyam on wheels’. I remember in 2001 how she specially flew down from Chennai to attend my production of ‘Women of India’ performed by hundred hearing-impaired children at Chowdiah Memorial Hall in Bangalore. She was moved to tears.
‘Maya Didi’ as everyone addressed her fondly was my mother, guru, inspiration and my greatest supporter for twenty-seven long years since 1988. She always blessed me and encouraged me to carry on with my work. When I received my National Award for the empowerment of disabled people from Ministry of Social Justice and empowerment, Government of India, she said “Tumarah kaam samaaj ki soch ko badal raha hai, tum viklang logo ko zindagi de rahe ho, kuch bhi hojaye kaam math rokna, main hamesha tumare saath hun” (Your work is changing the perceptions of the society, you are giving life to the disabled. Whatever happens don’t stop your work, I am always with you).
I hail from an orthodox Muslim family where my parents always opposed my taking to dance. I studied dance with great difficulties since no one from my family knew about dancing and music. I was the first one to take up dancing as a career. After my pharmacy education, I took choreography admission at Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography (NIKC). When they got to know, my parents stopped me from continuing which resulted in my losing one year of my academic career. However, I joined again and this time lied to them saying I had enrolled in graduation in arts. They probably realized but just gave up on me saying I could do whatever I wanted as long as I didn’t ask them for money.
It was during these tough times that Maya Didi came in to support me. She gave me the strength to do whatever I wanted to and supported me through my academic courses in Kathak and choreography. As a student during this period, I choreographed several mythological, historical, Sanskrit and contemporary dance productions. She made me perform in many reputed national and international dance festivals in India, Iraq, Maldives, Bahrain to mention a few. She encouraged me to keep my mind open to see the world. I remember how she made us attend Merce Cunningham workshops, watch the work of Peter Brooks and much more. She wanted me be a complete artiste and I took everything seriously and was deeply immersed in understanding and achieving it. I learnt everything from lighting designing to making models of ancient Sanskrit theatre (Madhyama Manava Mantapa), to performing solo Kathak shows conducted by her, all under her guidance.
Maya Didi’s love for my special students was very deep. Whenever my students came to Bangalore and said “Guruji ke Guruji ko milna hain” (We want to see our Guruji’s Guru), Maya Didi made it a point to see them and feed them their favourite Mysore masala dosa. When one of my students won the Guinness record, she personally congratulated him with pride in his achievement.
Even after I graduated from NIKC and was very busy working internationally with persons with special needs, she always referred to me as an example to the students on how one can use dance and choreography to heal and bring out the abilities of the differently-abled. She lived for her students and she still lives with me in every step I take in the world where I deal with special people. I look back and think now. If I had to send a message to her, I would say, “I am absolutely fine, Didi! You were with me even in the most difficult times of my life. Today with my physically challenged girls, hearing-impaired girls, visually impaired and mentally challenged students it is one huge family taking care of me and we are hand in hand to show the world no one can stop my work.” On her first death anniversary, I dedicate my entire life work to her memory.
Syed Sallauddin Pasha is one of the senior students of Kathak Guru, Dr. Maya Rao. His innovative therapeutic theatre productions like wheelchair Bharatanatyam, wheelchair Sufi Dance, wheelchair yoga, Bhagawad Gita on wheels has been spreading the message of “socio-cultural equality” which is the need of the hour in the society…for both the differently-abled and able people. He has created a world of dignity-equality-empowerment to people with special abilities. He has effectively used arts to heal society over the last three decades. He believes in the philosophy of ‘Seeing is Believing’ – after seeing his artistes in performance, no one can ever use the word ‘disabled’.