It was noon when we reached the Sree Sankaracharya University at Kalady. On the bustling campus, some students were seen trying to get their Mudras perfect while a few young budding actors were seen brooding over something which only they knew about, a perfect set up for a conversation on art.
Usha Nangiar, who teaches ancient theatre, was waiting for us. After exchanging a few pleasantries, we soon got into our tete-tete.Within seconds, it was evident that the person sitting in front of us was not easy to fathom.
‘Trance’ could well be her synonym.Not only she goes into a state of trance while speaking about her passion but also lures the listener along with her. And, it is this attribute of hers that has left many of her listeners to ponder over the characters she performed.
After one of her performance, an admirer commented: “Enthina Kanna Poothanaye Konne?” (Why did you kill Poothana, Kanna). None other than noted writer K B Sreedevi confided in her that her heart aches for Poothana’. Ask her how she does that, Usha, winner of ‘Kalashree’ Award for Koodiyattom by Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy, says:
“Perhaps, I can sense the ‘I’ in every person. And, I do not want to hurt them”.
Perhaps, Usha Nagiar strongly felt that ‘I’ in Ahalya when she performed ‘Ahalyamoksham Nangiarkoothu’ for the first time during the last Kochi- Muziris Biennale. It drew a large audience. Immersed in deep thought, Usha says there is a life inside that rock.
“Ahalya could sense her world around. But, could do nothing. I thought about her travails while being trapped in a rock.”
When Usha decided to delve deep into her passion, she first sought the answer for how Koodiyattom, described by UNESCO as the masterpiece of the intangible heritage of humanity could be retained for the posterity?
“There are hurdles as this is an art form dating back to more than 1500 years. This will be my sole focus. For the time being, I am shoving off yet another pertinent question on why this art form was pushed to the oblivion for many years. I thought I would research into it when I am old.”
This great connoisseur who never wants to budge from the set format of Koodiyattom has never been against any change but there are conditions.
“There are experiments in every field. It has started knocking on the doors of Koodiyattom too. I am not against it provided it retains the classical character and the set rules of Koodiyattom. otherwise, it would just be another contemporary dance and will have a transient life,” she clarifies. At the same time, she does not forget to point out the fact that there should be a change in accordance with the times. “If not, it would push the audience to monotony,” she says.
Her life as a Koodiyattom artist was natural. She was the daughter of noted Mizhavu artist Chathakudam Krishnan Nambiar. To be ordained as a Chakiar or Nangiar, arangetam had to be performed. She too did the same. And, in 1980, she joined Ammannoor Gurukulam.
“I was the first girl student and there was no competition. I did get a lot of stages to perform,” she reminiscences. On her favourite performance, she says: “The story of ‘Lalitha’ gave immense scope’. Besides, I am also thinking something differently about Draupadi.
Her story gives little scope to experiment. But, I was thinking of her emotions when it comes to her marriage with her five husbands.”
Usha Nangiar is married to eminent Mizhavu artist V K K Hariharan. When asked about honours and recognitions she says: “I have never bothered about it. But, I always felt that if anybody needs a reference on Koodiyattom, put Ushan Nangiar on one side, that would weigh more than the other side. I don't know whether people call it as my audacity, but for me, that's my strong faith.”
Usha Nangiar recently, won the ‘Kalashree’ Award for Koodiyattom.
published in The New Indian Express