Off stage, tribal dancer fights penury

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By OUR CORRESPONDENT in Bhubaneshwar
  • Published 7.02.08

Bhubaneswar, Feb. 7: At 68, Gurubari Mirdha is graceful even when she works in her hut in M-Ganpallai in Bargarh.

Chores over, she eagerly pulls out her most prized possession — a framed photo of her with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi — for The Telegraph team to see.

The aged woman may look ordinary, but Gurubari did something many dared not — she stepped out of the confines of tribal taboo and performed Sambalpuri folk dance and songs when public performance wasn’t “proper”. The artiste remains one of the pioneers of Sambalpuri dance form she made popular years ago. Unfortunately, the woman who hogged headlines in 1968 performing for and with Indira Gandhi, is in utter distress.

The pain in her joints no longer allows her to perform. Her sole source of income is artistes’ pension — Rs 500. Her physically challenged husband, Hrasha Mirdha, receives Rs 200 as pension. Their pensions are just enough to pay for the medicines.

Gurubari was one of the first tribal teenagers to step out of village and perform at cultural festivals. Shedding all taboo existing in tribal belts then, the teenager landed a chance to perform at the Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi in 1968.

Enthralled by her performance the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi went up to her and joined her on the famous Dalkhai (song). “That was the proudest moment for me. There were so many artistes and yet she dragged me to the stage and danced with me,” recalls Gurubari, with a wide smile. “People cheered around me and there was great applause,” she adds.

“Right now life is difficult. The pensions are irregular and I haven’t received mine since August,” she says. The local BDO, Sahdev Sadhya, blames the delay on “postal irregularities”. The government may have forgotten Gurubari, but her neighbours are still proud of her.

Several art aficionados also recall her with fondness and respect. The Orissa Sangeet Natak Akademi, Doordarshan and Koshal Shree Sammelani have honoured Gurubari. But only honours cannot help make both ends meet. “I am getting old and can no longer take up daily wage chores,” she says.

Gurubari made a career in song and dance in an era defined by orthodox ideas and she featured in the 1970 calendar of the tourism department. But times have changed, and so has Gurubari’s fortune. Fighting poverty, she has mortgaged almost all her household goods. Recently, she tried to mortgage her gold nose pin — her last possession.

Hope somebody will come in rescue of this renowned dancer of yesteryears. Sooner the better.