| Tejas. Telegraph picture
Ahmedabad, Oct. 25: For five days a week he runs errands, a lowly peon in the Surat share market.
On weekends too, his feet are never still — but they tap to their own rhythm.
On the stage, under the arc lights, in his costume and make-up, Tejas the humble worker transforms into an elegant Bharatnatyam dancer charming hundreds with his elaborate movements.
For a Harijan with no cultural heritage to speak of, Tejas’ life has been one long struggle. For six years, he worked as a sweeper in the city’s circuit house to support himself, pay the tuition fees for the art he was learning at Sarjat Nartan Academy till he was conferred the Arangetram, the highest degree in Bharatnatyam.
Despite the odds, he was able to realise his dream. But he also came to know the cruel realities of cultural life: if you have no mentor, you have to slog and there is no end to your struggle. Without a godfather, you remain a marginalised Bharatnatyam dancer, even five years after graduating.
Tejas does not complain. His early life has made him tough.
Born in Ujjain of illiterate parents, farm labourers who do not share his passion for dance, the young dancer who turned 29 this August came to Surat about 14 years ago to escape the grinding poverty back home. He put up with his elder brother, a class four employee of the Surat Municipal Corporation.
He took up a job as a peon-cum-sweeper in a school where a teacher, Chandrikaben, adopted him.
The teacher, whom he called aunt, died 18 months ago but not before she had helped put him on the road towards his dream. She took a loan of Rs 40,000 for his debut solo performance that was held on November 23, 1998, after he graduated from the dance academy.
In the diamond city, there was not a single philanthropist who came forward to sponsor him.
The young dancer is yet to repay the full amount that Chandrikaben had borrowed. He has also to cough up Rs 7,000 to pay the corporation-run auditorium at Gandhi Smurti Bhavan where the performance was held.
Tejas had even approached then chief minister Keshubhai Patel in the presence of city mayor Navneet Jariwala. He was promised that the state government would bear all the expenses. It turned out to be a false promise.
But Tejas bears no grudges. His life is his dance and he lives for it. In fact, the Class VII dropout lives the fullest only on weekends when he teaches dance in four schools in different parts of Gujarat’s second-largest city.
At times, he even has to skip lunch because of his punishing work schedule on Saturday — from nine in the morning to six in the evening.
Tejas has also performed in Delhi, Mumbai and Vadodara. He was part of a troupe that held cultural programmes to raise funds for Kargil victims.
Now he is in Bhavnagar to perform at a nine-day cultural festival organised by a popular Hindu religious sect, Swaminarayan.
Asked how he was inspired to learn Bharatnatyam, Tejas says it was a TV serial, Noopur, which starred actress Hema Malini. Then one day, some students from the Sarjat Nartan Academy came to perform in the school where he worked as a peon.
“I was so fascinated by their performance that I asked the teacher of the academy whether she would teach me the dance. The teacher said why not,” he says, recalling how he joined the academy.
Tejas now earns Rs 5,500 a month, hardly enough to survive in one of the most expensive cities of India, but he is not scared. Dance has transformed him and today, he exudes confidence.
He dreams of opening his own dance academy. Where the money will come from, he does not know.
But he hopes some day, his dream will come true.