By Yashvini Raveendra
“All of the dancers and the rest of the team made a vow. A vow to make Neila Maami proud and show people the talents that has been produced by Apsaras Arts. We do know for a fact that even though Neila Maami has left us, her legacy will never end. We will keep fighting for what she started and keep the spark of dance alive, ‘ says Yash Raveendran as he reminisces his memorable travel tour to Sri Lanka.
I was a blessed child to have grown up under the guidance of both Sathyalingam Mama and Neila Maami. I first started as Mama’s student, learning Carnatic music from the tender age of 5 and it was truly a sweet memory. I would remember frolicking into their house in Potong Pasir with my pink princess bag – the bag that Mama thought was bigger than me. I would then sit down on the carpet and lay down while he sang to his heart’s content and that’s when Neila Maami will come downstairs and laugh at our “singing” classes – which was just him singing and me playing around. And he would always argue back saying that I was always listening to him and from that, I would pick it up and become a great singer.
Neila Maami was such a beautiful woman, inside and out. She always made for me all kinds of food and made sure that whenever I came over, I’d have a plate of food. And we both shared a love for modakam, especially the ones made by the Ceylon Road Temple – Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple. She’d always make sure I had one or she’d pack it up and send it to me through my mother. She held me, fed me and took care of me like I was her own grandchild. She truly gave me a memorable childhood and a family that I can never part with. But most importantly, she showed me a beautiful art form that has impacted my life in so many ways. Neila Maami had also taught me life lessons and skills through this art form and her passion for Bharathanatyam has always inspired me. She was a person a lot of people aspired to be – a strong-willed woman with such elegance, intelligence and a smile that could light up a person’s day.
Our Sri Lanka tour meant the world to Neila Maami. Going back to her’s and Mama’s hometown brought immense joy to her. She told us to not come back, no matter what happened. She was upset that she could not join us but nonetheless, she showered her blessings upon us before our first show at Nelum Pokunar Theatre. One of the dancers even mentioned how calming it was to hear Neila Maami’s voice and it immediately washed away all their fears. And to sidetrack a little, Neila Maami always had that effect. She knew the right words to say and her voice always brought ease to others.
When the news broke, we were a wreck. It was hard to digest the fact that our guru has left us but we picked ourselves up and pushed on to give everyone a fantastic performance and showcase the talent we had in Apsaras. The talent Neila Maami nurtured and produced. People were impressed and I was amazed by the amount of passion and dedication our dancers had put into the performance.
The dancers performed at Jaffna Hindu College, one of the most famous colleges in Jaffna. The stage was beautiful, not very big but just sufficient for the production. Even the lighting was amazing and it helped bring out the magic of Alapadma.
Alapadma showcased the different Hindu mythologies in a more contemporary style. There was beautiful chemistry between the dancers and everyone looked simply stunning on stage. The energy was really great and the dancers gave their very best and all their hard work really paid off.
I felt so mesmerised and so at ease while I was watching them. It made my heart squeeze in joy as I knew Neila Maami was watching them from above and she was certainly very proud of the amount of hard work, passion and dedication they had put into Alapadma.
All of the dancers and the rest of the team made a vow. A vow to make Neila Maami proud and show people the talents that has been produced by Apsaras Arts. We do know for a fact that even though Neila Maami has left us, her legacy will never end. We will keep fighting for what she started and keep the spark of dance alive.