BENGALURU: As a child, while travelling in Mumbai’s locals, she was often amazed by the sense of ‘sur’ and ‘taal’ of children who would sing and dance in the train for a living. “There was this very strong feeling to do something for these children who were then of my age or even younger because I saw immense talent in them,” says Dr Padmaja Suresh. That desire became a reality when she moved to Bengaluru 25 years ago.
Today she is a renowned Bharatanatyam exponent, teacher and research scholar whose rivetting performances, talks, dance presentations and papers are appreciated not just in India but across the globe. But amid her busy schedule, Padmaja has also been quietly ensuring that Bharatanatyam isn’t perceived as elitist. She has strived to bring the classical dance form closer to the lesser privileged across the country.
In 2003, Padmaja began a project, Kalachaitanya, where she identified 45 underprivileged children from a government school in Bengaluru and gave them free training in Bharatanatyam. Under Kalachaitanya, Padmaja has touched the lives of around 3,000 children till date. She and her students travel to far-off places like Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, Kheragarh in Uttar Pradesh, Anaikatti in Kerala and others to identify backward children and train them.
A lot of young lives have been transformed as Padmaja takes them to various cities to perform before large audiences. “The children gain in confidence and discipline. They become local heroes in their villages and slums and this inspires other children to look at the brighter side of life,” she says. Padmaja also focuses on children who want to take up dance as full-time or part-time career. “There is a girl who recently did her arangetram and also works in my institute Aatmalaya. It is a way to show how dance can help you earn your bread and butter.”
Her contributions haven’t gone unnoticed as she was honoured with the President’s award. “My biggest motivation has been the direct feedback that I have got about transforming lives of some children. There is this divine power which continuously motivates me to do something for them,” says Padmaja.
Padmaja has also worked with The Asha School for Autism where she has taught Bharatanatyam to autistic children. She also conducts a programme on Sankara TV where she identifies rural kids and provides them with a platform to showcase their dance skills to a larger audience.
There is no stopping for Padmaja as she plans to visit a few more interior places across the country before September and identify kids whom she can train and transform through dance.