Thoughts on Guru Pournami
Om Sri Gurubhyoh Namah
My mother has often told me, a Guru is one who removes darkness. That is a beautiful definition, for all its layered implications. For someone to remove darkness, there must exist darkness, and there must exist something beyond the darkness. And, they must be present to remove it and have the ability to do so.
We, as the student, must also be willing to look into the light.
I have been very, very, very fortunate to always have teachers and mentors step in at every stage of my life and my dance journey, showing me the next step and lighting my path.
My first guru is my mother, Smt. Sarada Jammi. She may not consider herself a Guru, but she is, and will always be my Guru. She is the reason I'm on this earth today, she is the reason I know how to walk through life, she is the reason dance is in my life. My earliest memories are of her teaching me my namaskaram, and the first step. They are of her gently showing me each of the asamyuta hasthas. Some of these memories are from a time before I was old enough to know my age. How can you enumerate the ways your mother has made you what you are? I certainly cannot. The best I can muster is, I am what I am because of her.
The funny thing is, I did not seriously begin learning dance until I met Bhanu Aunty. I can vividly remember to this day sitting at the Kuchipudi Kalakshetra and watching while my mother and many other students were in class. Bhanu Aunty was conducting the steps class, when she looked at me and said "How long are you going to just sit there and watch? Learn dance." The ten-year-old me heard her command and got up to comply. I didn't dare talk back to a teacher. It is one of the best decisions of my life.
We were scheduled to leave India in a month. We were in the evening class and Hari Mastergaru was teaching class. I was the youngest person in class by decades - the class was for a handful for senior students, including my mother. All of the grownups were standing in line, hands ready for Pooja, when Mastergaru told me to get up there. I looked at him confused - I had only finished my first half jathis. "Go on, go stand behind your mother!" Mastergaru hurried me along. I scurried over behind her, when another uncle standing behind Amma playfully squeezed my shoulders. Someone fixed my hands - I was holding the hand gestures plate and the basket of flowers in reverse, having gotten used to watching from the front of the class. Over the course of the next few weeks, Mastergaru, Bhanu Aunty, and Amma made sure I finished the item before we were off to America.
In all of these cases, these people had the faith in me that I didn't have in myself - they lit the way and led me down the path to improvement. They still do so today. I wholeheartedly place my trust in them, that they will not steer me wrong.
I'm very fond of the photo that I've chosen for the cover photo, because I don't have many pictures of all three of them together, with me.
There's another person in the photograph who has been instrumental for my dance journey - Neelima Akka. I looked up to her from the time I was learning my steps in Kuchipudi Kalakshetra, and she always encouraged me. Even though I was a little kid, she spoke to me as a dancer. She would walk through her analysis of an item or idea for a concept as if I were knowledgeable enough to have an opinion. She would travel all the way from the North East to our home to help train me for my rangapravesam. She, and countless others, have also been lighting more lamps.
One of my most pivotal professors during my bachelor's degree redefined poetry for me - poetically. Prof. Simon Stow said (I'm paraphrasing now), that poetry is something that makes you see the world so differently that you can never see it the way you used to before. So, a Guru is someone who shows you poetry.
This Guru Pournami, I have gratitude for the many teachers who have changed how others see the world, and for the inkling of the Guru within all of us that allows us to shine a light in service of others.