A Bharatanatyam dancer, illustrator, branding & communications manager and a children’s author, Neha Khaitan is an inspiration to many who think it’s too late to learn something new. Born and raised in Kolkata, after finishing her graduation, she moved out for a job and landed in Hyderabad.
“When I was a child, my mother used to encourage me towards fine arts, but I had little exposure to south Indian art forms. Once I got the opportunity to attend one of the shows that my guru Hemamalini Arni organised. I was impressed by the Bharatanatyam art form and expressed my wish of wanting to learn the dance style, and she accepted me wholeheartedly. Since then, my Bharatanatyam journey started,” says Neha, who started learning Bharatanatyam at the age of 27.
Neha feels lucky that she was accepted by a wonderful teacher as a student. “The knowledge transformation happened at its best and my ma’am was not at all commercial, she was in the Guru-Shishya parampara and used to take classes at her residence,” says Neha who gave performances pan-India and abroad as well.
As Bharatanatyam is more popular in south India, most of the kritis (songs) will be in Sanskrit, Telugu or Tamil. Though Neha comes from West Bengal, she has learnt the language and understands the meaning of each word and presents it with the right expression, which shows her love and passion towards achieving perfection.
A few years after she started learning the dance form, Neha got married and shifted to the USA, and her guru too stopped taking classes due to her own personal reasons. But, when guru Hemamalini revived her classes, which Neha got to know through a friend, she had a “strong urge to learn classical dance and I wanted to move back to Hyderabad”.
“My family was shocked with my decision. I had never done anything in my life and was very much attached to dance; my husband’s support was rock solid and he encouraged me to follow my heart. I came back to Hyderabad all alone to continue the learning,” says Neha who has her own YouTube channel and created a platform called ‘A Flower Child’ in 2016, which engages with visual arts, storytelling and children’s books.
‘A Flower Child’ is a platform where she curates stories from various sources — written or rewritten from scratch — and offers children a unique insight into the art of storytelling to convey messages and also develop their emotive skills. “The stories are embellished with the elements of Indian classical dance – mudras or hand gestures, expressions or body language and abhinaya or enactment, if the stories demand. Every story is also accompanied by a title illustration of its own. Through this channel and on-stage storytelling performances, I try to make learning and expressing a fun, engaging activity for all children and their parents,” says Neha, who received critical acclaim for her storytelling sessions at prestigious platforms like the Kala Ghoda Art Festival, and Kolkata Empowerment Foundation, besides various Schools and NGOs.
More artistes like Neha are needed to carry forward the traditional art forms, which can be a great tutorial for future generations.