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Q n A with Dr. Padma Subrahmayam



'Om' and other signature moves of Dr. Padma Subrahmayam

Her mantra has always been 'show, don't tell.' So, it wasn't exactly surprising when Bharatanatyam dance exponent Dr Padma Subrahmanyam did a solo performance demonstrating the entire process of heart surgery onstage, to prove to a fan that Bharatanatyam wasn't just confined to a rigid set of moves or rules.
A student of the intimidating yet gentle dance guru Vazhuvur Ramaiah Pillai, Dr Subrahmanyam
has done extensive research in performing arts, especially on the Karana sculptures in the temples of Tamil Nadu and is known for having evolved a unique style of Bharatanatyam by incorporating outputs from her research in her dance compositions.
Currently President of Nrithyodaya, a leading organisation of the arts founded by her father K Subrahmanyam, Dr Subrahmanyam has won numerous accolades including the Padma Shri, the Padma Bhushan (2003), the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1983), the Kalaimamani, and the Kalidas Samman. In an interview, the dancer who has been signing autographs since she was in her early twenties tells us about the fan letters and the autographs now lost to oblivion

Do you remember the first autograph you ever sought?

I presented a short programme for a Rotary club in Mysore, When I was about 10 years old, for which His Highness Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar had come. After the show, His Highness left and was about to get into the car. With my bells on my feet I jumped from the stage and ran behind him and took his autograph, which he gave with all his blessings.

What's the most prized autograph or piece of signed memorabilia that you own?

As a child I was an autograph hunter and had opportunities to get it from many prominent personalities including Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Russian Ballerina Maya Plisetskaya and several others. But unfortunately I lost all that during the 2015 floods in Chennai.

What is your earliest memory of giving an autograph?

I have been signing autographs from my early twenties. So I do not remember.

At the peak of your professional life as a Bharatanatyam exponent, what was your fan mail like?

Most of the fan letters were admiring reviews of my concerts. But what I was moved by was when I received about 500 letters from children of then Soviet Union, after their reading the review of my ten-year-old Russian student Marina Ivanova in their “Children’s Bravda”, a special journal for children. I sent one common message of thanks to them through the same paper for which I again received a few hundreds of letters in Russian language. Some of them were translated by officials of the Cultural Consulate in Chennai. But I am sorry that I lost them too.

Did you regularly answer fan mail?

I never had the time to reply to fan letters.

Do you remember any conversations or interactions with ardent autograph seekers?

I did not have much time for such interactions after a performance.

 How do you generally sign autographs? Did you work on your signature?

The only message I give through my autograph is a Sanskrit Om and sign my name beneath that. If there are several fans asking for autographs I would just sign my initials along with Om.

Are you particular about what to say in the autograph?

I do not convey anything through my autograph.

Do you recall any strange or quirky requests from fans seeking autographs?

Many times I have been asked to sign on currency notes or on my own portrait for which I would quickly draw a lotus and a ‘Vel’ by the side of the lotus, signifying my name.

Your take on selfies? Any strange/recent selfie requests?

I am not particularly fond of selfies.

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