When someone from the Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA) called Geeta Chandran to congratulate her, the bemused Bharatanatyam dancer hesitatingly asked, "Is it about the article I wrote in a newspaper yesterday?" Chandran had no idea that she had been conferred with the prestigious award, presented by SNA, the autonomous body of the Centre's ministry of culture, and said it took a good "10 minutes" for the news to sink in. "It came completely as a shock. Many knew about this meeting taking place at Guwahati about the awards, but I wasn't aware of it," she said. So when the call came some ago, she told herself to sit still, focus on breathing, take in the news. "And since then the phone has been buzzing with all the good wishes for which I am so thankful to everyone," the noted dancer told to PTI. But for someone who was conferred with a Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour awarded by the government, way back in 2007, did she feel the recognition from the academy came a bit too late? Chandran, who has herself served as a member of its award committee earlier, said there was "no seniority and juniority" in awards. However, she admitted that many of her friends were of the opinion that the award had come in late. "Some said, 'Oh, we thought you had received it before'. But one needs to understand that art is a very subjective thing. What you like I may not like, and vice-versa," she said. A committee cannot decide for everybody, she stressed. "Some get it earlier, and for some it is late. But I have to say this that when it comes, it feels very good," she added. With all the accolades coming her way, the dancer, who is also celebrated for her understanding of Carnatic classical music, gave a surprising answer when asked, if she were to start again, would she like to be a dancer or a musician. She paused, and then replied, "A musician". "I trained as a Carnatic singer for 20 years and at one point it was difficult for me to choose between music and dance.
But my music teacher didn't motivate me the way my dance teacher did -- and I went on to become a dancer," she said. The dancer agreed that it was not often these days to find artistes with an equal interest in and knowledge of classical dance and music. "In my academy there are only two students who are learning both dance and music," said Chandran, who has been running a dance school Natya Vriksha for over 25 years. Chandran, who recently performed Bharatanatyam in the traditional form in Vrindavan's Radha Raman temple, has pushed the boundaries of dance with the thematic performances that she started in 1999. It often created a controversy, with some holding that she was breaking with tradition. "'Kuch kar rahi hai, par pata nahi kya hai' (She is doing something, but we don't know what) was what everyone said in the earlier days. Then there were people who told me that I had turned into a 'contemporary' dancer," she said, laughingly. Agreeing that life had turned a full circle, she said some of the very people who opposed her went on to do the same. "Back then there was this element of jealousy. And today they are doing it because they know there is an audience for it and you get noticed. But in my case, I did it because I felt like doing it," said the artiste. 'Anekanta', inspired by Jain philosophy, and 'Gandhi: Warp & Weft', representing six key issues that the Mahatma engaged with all his life, are among her recent works. The 55-year-old Delhi resident said she enjoyed working in multiple fields. "I am performing, teaching, I create work for my students -- all this is mammoth work," she said. While she will soon be in Sweden, where she will stage a solo dance at the Stockholm festival in August, Chandran is also busy with her next book, on "re-inventing pedagogy". Her first book 'So Many Journeys' was a collection of her writings on her engagement with Indian classical dance.