~By Pavan Nagaraja
Feats of accomplishments against odds have long defined success in humans. In a manner of speaking human progress is very often the continuum of such success stories. Regardless of where such stories happen, and in what context, we always tend to box them into the usual tropes of superlatives – the biggest, the bravest, the tallest, the smartest and so on — but there are local stories of admirable courage and motivation that often go unnoticed and worse, unappreciated. The purpose of this write-up is to highlight one such achievement right here in Milwaukee.
Varsha Nandakumar is a 19-year old smart affable kid. She has the same interests as those of kids of her age. She likes music, likes to be on Instagram and loves social media. She started learning Bharatanatyam, the South Indian classical dance form, from the Natyarpana School of Dance ever since she was five. Bharatanatyam like any other classical dance is a complex layered art that combines elements of rhythmic footwork, aesthetics of graceful dance, and pantomiming of characters and situations mostly from Indian mythology. It takes many years of disciplined, rigid training before the student gets ready for her first performance. This first performance called variously as Arangetram or Rangapravesham signifies the coming of age of the artist ready to unpack her craft to the world; a joyous moment of a Pupa transitioning into a butterfly. After more than 10 years of training, Varsha had her Arangetram under the guidance of her teacher, Mrs. Kripa Bhaskaran on Saturday, Aug 10th at the New Berlin West School auditorium . She gave a memorable performance and is now ready to be an artist in her own right. Any dance connoisseur in Milwaukee will testify that Natyarpana has trained scores of artists and many of them have gone on to complete their training with their Arangetram. They too like Varsha started young and underwent rigorous years of training. They too like Varsha were well nurtured in their craft by their Guru Kripa. They too put in a lot of hard work and were regular to their classes with minimal tardiness. However, they did not have to deal with mental illness, did not have to deal with cries in the dark, and did not curl themselves in bed for fear of getting up. Varsha who was diagnosed with severe depression disorder faced these challenges bravely even as she engaged herself with the daily demands of school and her training. It was a daunting endeavor by any standard.
After almost a 2-hour rigorous performance, Varsha capped the evening with an astonishing act of courage: she spoke to the audience about her illness and urged them to support mental health causes. And then the curtains fell on Natyarpana’s best Arangetram, ever. In Kripa Bhaskaran’s words, ‘One of the more important ones.’
The author expresses his gratitude to Madhu Gorur, Nanda Kumar Belur and Kripa Bhaskaran for their support.