PETALING JAYA: Three local Bharatanatyam dancers have gone above and beyond by turning their admiration for their teacher into a book.
“The Journey With My Guru…” was launched last month by Pertubuhan Kesenian & Kebudayaan SRFA – an NGO aimed at cultivating Indian classical dance forms – in collaboration with Jabatan Kebudayaan & Kesenian Negara (JKKN).
The charming autobiography was written by Teesha Nanthini Sukumaran, a first-time author who is also one of guru Nalini Rathakris’ dedicated students.
Divided into three parts, each section captures the memories and experiences of the dancers – namely Teesha, Nameetha Segar, and Mahalakshmi Sukumaran – who have studied under Nalini for years.
Speaking with FMT Lifestyle at the launch, 28-year-old Teesha revealed it had always been her dream to write a book.
“I mentioned this to Teacher Nalini around two years ago without thinking too much of it,” she recalled, saying she’d assumed she would only do this when she was much older – perhaps even after retirement!
But Nalini thought otherwise. “Within a year of sharing my aspiration with Teacher, she figured out how to make it happen and told me, ‘Teesha, come, let’s write a book’.”
This brief exchange is a prime example of how their guru has constantly played a pivotal role in their lives beyond the role of a Bharatanatyam teacher.
The first to share her story in the book is Nameetha, who began her journey at the Sri Rathakrishanan Fine Arts centre when she was just five years old.
“Teacher has always been like a second mother to me,” she told FMT Lifestyle fondly.
Mahalakshmi, whose stories feature in the second section, concurred, saying: “I’d initially thought this was just a place to learn Bharatanatyam. But as I grew older, I realised that Teacher’s intention was actually to build confident individuals, to help us find our identity in this world.”
Indeed, the real-life anecdotes woven throughout each chapter demonstrate how a selfless teacher can inspire you to achieve whatever you set your mind on – whether it’s Nameetha’s transformation into becoming the champion of a Bharatanatyam competition, or their guru’s caring check-ins while Maha and Teesha faced academic challenges.
As Teesha puts it: “Teacher doesn’t just show us the light at the end of the tunnel, she always follows us through the tunnel.”
Like any autobiography, this one is brimming with life lessons, with each chapter ending with a few lines of Nalini’s profound wisdom.
In fact, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to label this book a self-help guide, in light of quotes such as: “Change your inner world – thoughts, mind, behaviour; your outer world will eventually change.”
What makes this book even more interesting are the pictures on every other page. Including WhatsApp message screenshots in a book may seem strange; yet many of these conversations – such as Nalini telling off the young women, or reassuring them they would do well in their exams – provide an authentic and relatable glimpse into their student-teacher relationship. It’s sure to make readers smile.
“We didn’t beautify anything about our relationship in this book; we wanted to document it as is,” Teesha explained.
“It’s very difficult to compile all our experiences with Teacher in just a few pages. But we want everyone reading this to recognise why having this sort of relationship is important in one’s life.”
It would, of course, be remiss if FMT Lifestyle didn’t speak to guru Nalini herself. The warm teacher had this to share: “Nowadays, Bharatanatyam has become a form of entertainment. But for me, it’s a way of life.
“This is why I teach my students more than just dance, but also mindfulness.”
For those who’ve had an extraordinary teacher in their lives, “The Journey” is likely to bring back warm memories. It may even leave readers pondering: “Do teachers like this genuinely exist?” – the answer to which is a resounding “yes”!