Sitting in the corner of a dimly lit room, as Manish contemplates his next routine, Aashiq makes a few adjustments to Krishna’s mukut. And, amidst hordes of costume bags, ornaments and props, 16-year-old Jyothi gestures an Anjali Mudra with a smile that could capture the hearts of millions.
As these dancers get ready to set the stage on fire, one notices the crutches and wheelchairs accompanying them. Yes, they are differently-abled!
Unperturbed by the ongoing commotion, as the dancers gear up for their upcoming performance, their guru Syed Sallauddin Pasha pauses to remember his long journey with his students. Revered as the father of Indian Therapeutic Theatre for persons with disabilities, Syed tells us that his compositions are designed to heal the mind and body. “These dancers are often tagged as physically challenged artistes. However, I would like to point out that they have mastered the nuances of Indian classical dance with great ease. Their wheelchairs are their chariots and their bodies a mere vessel to execute movements and gestures in a harmonious manner. Today, there are 70 million physically challenged people in our country and most of them do not have access to education or employment,” says Pasha.
To construct new idioms in dance, Pasha has carefully composed the structures of Yogajathi (where advanced yoga postures are incorporated into Bharatanatyam moves) for his students.
Shifting from conventional forms, he has painstakingly created a new methodology that would enable his students to appreciate the art form better.
“It took me 15 years to conceptualise and execute it. And, to teach them, I had to become one with them and understand what they go through on a regular basis. I tied my legs to a wheelchair and practised for at least six hours every day. Soon, I was able to break the dance form down fundamentally and master its dynamics,” says the artiste.
Creating a revolutionary concept within the framework of Indian classical dance, Pasha has successfully merged dance-theatre with sustainable development and believes dance has the ability to transform lives and serve as a tool for universal progress. “It is not just enough that you are an artiste. It is more important to find out what you are willing to do with the art form. My girls suffer from hearing impairment and some of my boys require a wheelchair to move from one place to another. However, this has not deterred their spirit in any way. With every passing moment, they grow stronger mentally and spiritually.
I truly believe that dance can have a socially relevant message and can be transcendental for all,” says Pasha.