Learnt music and dance at age three. Left her family in Kerala, India to be married in Singapore. Dancer and choreographer. Received a Cultural Medallion for contributions to dance in 1990.
“Mr [K.P.] Bhaskar had been living in Singapore since the early 1950s, and after three years he came to India to seek a bride who could dance. So coming to Singapore was my destiny, and I don’t regret anything. It was divinely decided that I was to serve here, and I am very happy about it.
Mr Bhaskar’s dance school started in 1952, but we didn’t have a proper place like what we have now. He held classes at the Ceylon Tamil Association on Kirk Terrace. We also travelled to Johore, Malacca, Muar, Seremban, Batu Pahat, Penang and other parts of Malaysia to teach dance. Singapore is small and it was not enough for us to make a living from teaching dance at that time. We would be asked to perform as well, but we didn’t make much money from our performances. In the early days, it was mostly Ceylonese Tamils taking lessons at our school. The local Indians were not so interested in learning dance or music at that time, but for the Ceylonese Tamils it was a need. For the girls, they had to pay a dowry to get married, and it could be a huge sum needed for a husband with an occupation like an engineer, a doctor or a lawyer. But if the girls learnt music or dance, they didn’t have to pay such a large dowry. Because of that, many girls learnt dance.
In 1958, Mr Bhaskar and I saw this Chinese movie The Butterfly Lovers. After watching that, we both thought that it would be a good idea to choreograph the story into a dance drama. I was around 19 and just had my first son. At that time, we had a lot of Chinese students learning Indian dance; we taught at Chung Cheng High School, Chinese High, Nan Hwa and Hwa Chong Secondary School. When we did The Butterfly Lovers, these Chinese students supported the show and we had one week of sold-out performances. We had Chinese costumes set to Indian music and Indian dance, and that was my first experimental work in dance. Before that, I had only performed Indian epics. I later had a Chinese dance teacher from Indonesia, and I learnt Chinese dances like the Scarf dance, the Sword dance. I also learnt Malay dance.
I really liked the multiculturalism that I found here in the 1950s. It was all about respecting each other’s cultures, living and performing together. I’ve been influenced by Chinese and Malay dance, as well as other dance styles like ballet. If I were in India that wouldn’t have happened, because I wouldn’t even have seen Chinese dance. I came to Singapore and saw the beauty of other cultures, I absorbed all of that and naturally my dance and choreography styles reflected that. Even my style of teaching dance has been influenced by Singapore. In Singapore, we teach according to the needs of the students, because they don’t have lessons every day. I cannot teach them like how I was taught in India. I’m very Singaporean in my soul and I cannot be separated into [different cultures].”