Deserted by a father, raised by a mother who struggled to make ends meet and widowed while pregnant, the school of hard knocks couldn’t have given her more.
Slowly, but surely, Priya is finding her feet again to dance back to life, to feel the joy of a second coming. In the process, she’s been empowering a whole lot of women to come to terms with their personal tragedies and chart a new course of life.
Not many would swim through and survive the worst storms a human being could be thrown into. The swim has been anything but smooth, and the waves, battering and threatening to pull her down. But the young woman surfaced to share her story of survival with Onmanorama Women.
Priya is from Ramanattukara in Kozhikode. Her first tryst with a twisted destiny came when her father walked away leaving a young child with her mother who struggled to raise her. With poverty and deprivation as childhood realities, the little girl grew up and supported herself to find the means to pay her school fees. While just in class seven, she started tutoring kids from smaller classes to raise money for her school needs.
Around this time, she found she could dance, but a sophisticated school was out of the question. Hence, it was to small-time dance schools that she went, where the fee was affordable. Dance competitions in school too were out of her reach for the simple reason that she could not afford to have the back-up of an accompaniment, a troupe or an ensemble. She has several certificates in her kitty of the first prizes won at relatively insignificant stage performances, but not one to show off, of a prize won on a major stage. So intense was her life of lack.
Life turns around
A ray of sunshine streamed into her sordid life when she married Vijesh, the man she loved. Vijesh or Vichu, as Priya fondly called him, was also a native of her hometown. It looked like life had turned around in rosy hues for a girl who had seen only shades of grey. Four years of uninterrupted bliss gave them the very best of life. They went on to win the first prize for the Best Couple in a reality show hosted by a local TV channel. Priya joined college to continue her studies in dance and soon set up a dance school, Bhavana, close to Ramanattukara bypass.
Knocked out cold
For Vijesh, a postgraduate in journalism, photography was a passion. His camera was a permanent fixture on him. He never missed a photo opportunity.
On that fateful day, Vijesh dropped his wife at her dance school and proceeded for a wedding video shoot. A few minutes later, he called Priya and asked her whether she could spare a few minutes to be out in front of the studio. What could be the matter, she wondered.
A heavily pregnant Priya walked out of Bhavana just in time to see a beaming Vijesh, waving out to her from the side seat of one of the cars, a part of the marriage entourage. She happily waved back and the car moved forward. All of a sudden, a deafening sound shattered the calm around. The car had had a tire burst and the vehicle spun out of control. Apprehending imminent danger, Vijesh jumped out and fell on the road only to suffer a deadly head injury. He died on the spot.
Of the eleven people in the car, only Vijesh was fated to die.
Gowri the savior
Life was a blackout for Priya. She hardly knew what was going on. She was not even aware of the fact that she had given birth to a daughter. She refrained from looking at her baby. But one day, the baby’s feet caught her attention. They were exactly like that of her father. It was like a spark. She sat for long looking at the tiny feet and finally, turned to her face.
She named her daughter Gowri. But not once in the first two years after her husband’s death did she step out of the house, not even to the front yard. The years rolled by and the spark began to glow with a deep desire to take Gowri through her first steps of dance. That was the beginning of her second coming. She remembers taking Gowri to her dance class. The little girl turned around and said it was her mother she wanted to learn dance from and hugged her.
Priya decided to wear her anklets again, to dance, to forget her pain. She named her school after Gowri. That was how Gowrishankaram, the now-famous dance school was born. When Vijesh died, there were over 100 students in Bhavana, her dance school then. Children started pouring in once Gowrishankaram got going.
No ordinary school
Priya wanted to come up with something fresh. Dance should be a source of comfort. This was what prompted her to begin separate sessions for women. She decided to go in for an ad announcing classes for seniors. The response was overwhelming. Over 35 women joined the first day itself. Her yoga in Bharatnatyam is like a therapy now. Priya envisions dance as a balm for wounded souls.
Her dance therapy is much sought-after today. Homemakers started coming in droves. Chemo patients, women battered by domestic woes and those struggling to come to terms with grief and loss found solace in Gowrishankaram. Even a 70-year-old grandma finds comfort in dance.
Almost all her students are much older than Priya and they love her to bits. To Anitha, who lost her son in a road accident in January last, Gowrishankaram gave her a fresh lease of life. Anitha Sasikumar, a Malayalam teacher in Morayoor High School never thought she would live through the tragedy, so intense was her grief.
The distraught mother, who never thought she’d get her life back again, decided to give dance a try just a few months ago. She’s slowly gathering the strands of her life and making an effort to go on. There are several bruised souls in Priya’s dance school. Today, they all look forward to Sunday when they can forget the pain and agony of loss in the tap-tap of Priya’s dance steps.
With Priya, all through
The students are aware of the tragedy in Priya’s life. They prop her and cheer her up through their commitment to dance. They try not to falter, lest it should hurt the teacher, for they know how deeply into dancing she is. Priya is strict and disciplined when it comes to her mission. She is no indulgent teacher, but stern and disciplined at work. The students practise well before trooping in, for a misstep is sure to make their beloved teacher unhappy and that’s something they’d rather do without.
Though it’s been seven years since Gowrishankaram was born, Priya is yet to come out of her shell and perform on stage. And that’s exactly what her students are praying for. The spark is a glow now and it’s only a matter of time before it leaps into a fire. Priya herself has hinted at a second 'arangettam'. This, for the life-embattled young woman, is testimony enough to her will to overcome. Life, after all, is for leaping over that wall of setbacks, not being stalled by it.