-Krishna P Unny, I Year B.A. History and Tourism
Image Source: Kalakshetra Archives
It all started the year I set foot in Chennai. Coincidence or not, in my first two years, 2015 and 2016, Chennai has seen more crises than it has ever seen in its past three hundred and odd years. If I were living in my home when these happened, things would have been irreparably depressing and scary. The credit for making even the gravest of situations enjoyable goes to the hostel and the institution that made it all possible.
Two years ago, when a nervous Krishna stepped into an institution called Kalakshetra; The Temple of Arts, with butterflies in her stomach, and messy hair (thanks to the effective blow drier that the Chennai Mail is), never had she imagined how much the future held for her. Nothing can beat the excited pace in which she roamed about the campus like a nomad.
As cliched as ‘love at first sight’ can be, nothing else can explain what I felt in those moments. The Banyan Tree there bears testimony to the fact that art is immortal; these same old trees have witnessed the making of great artists, the birth of several timeless classics, enchanting choreographies and productions.
I fell in love with the sounds that emanated from the thattukazhis held by experienced gurus which like witches’ wands lured several young souls into a hypnotic trance, as their hands and feet moved in perfect synchronization, performing an art form as old as Jesus himself! I fell in love with the breeze that carried with it not just the sound of the sea but another divine sound, that of the tanpura which was in timed intervals accompanied by young lips singing krithis written by saint composers sitting in their riverside mandapas centuries ago. Time travel is possible, I thought. And how can anyone who has been to the place not write about the Padma Pushkarani– the lotus tank. The place where lotuses and lillies bloom with the imagination of the young dreamers and with its waters as placid as a determined dancer’s mind.
I didn’t have a hard time at all, adapting to this completely unfamiliar environment more than 500 miles away from home and blending in with my fellow hostel mates and classmates wasn’t a problem at all as we were all bound by our love for dance and music.
We never realised the gravity of the floods until we started running out of food and water and murky water filled our paths, with dead scorpions or worms occasionally crossing the way. Some of us found it quite adventurous, at least until we heard the sounds of falling roofs and rescue copters and thunder. Travelling home to escape this disaster was the most adventurous trip we’ve ever taken. We had to wade through flooded roads, travel to Bangalore as it was the only Highway that was in working condition, and then go to Kerala. Travel had also become my favourite pastime by then. From home to Chennai and back: preparation for exams, competitions, everything happened during these train journeys.
Late 2016 was more eventful year than the previous year. We got to visit a number of places including Hampi, Bangalore and Mysore among many others thanks to dance and music. As for hostellers, everything from the release of Rajini Murugan to the economic impact of Brexit and the Greek crisis to Arnab Goswami’s resignation were topics of intense debate for us.
Coincidence or not, it was when we were in Tanjore that the cyclone Nada struck the place. Layers of costume and makeup didn’t do much to protect us from the icy cold winds brought in by Nada. We reached Chennai and there you go, Nada subsided in Tanjore while Chennai got its very own visitor, Cyclone Vardah. This time, we watched the whirling winds knock down the trees precariously, one by one while we stood gaping out of the windows as if it were a show on India’s Biggest Disasters airing on the Discovery channel.
Trump’s unexpected win, Jayalalitha’s failing health and the innumerable times she was declared dead, until the official declaration was made all turned out to be more fodder for news in the hostel. This resulted in 3 days of holidays. After this, the Jallikattu issue grew from a spark to a wildfire. Be it the protests or the cyclone or the floods, our close proximity to the beach, where it all began, made it all the more thrilling. It all came to an end with a crescendo. The 12th boards. Pre exam blues, parting words, farewells, slam books being exchanged.
One conclusion that I’ve derived from all this (apart from the fact that I am a harbinger of disasters) is that life here is always in a flux. It is engaging, exciting and confusing. But amidst all this stands the haven for young Martha Grahams and Mozarts. Under its Banyan tree, life seems to be at peace with itself. As if it is made of nothing else but musical notes and rhythmic beats.