A beautiful smiling face, sparkling eyes and a warm welcome sum up the endearing personality of 85-year-old Sharadini Gole, the seniormost disciple of Pandita Rohini Bhate, the well-known Kathak exponent.
For Sharadtai (as she is fondly called) dance is life, and has always been so since she started learning at the age of seven. “I come from a music oriented family. My father, who was a doctor, sent me to learn dance just to keep me occupied as one of the nurse’s three daughters had also enrolled,” says Sharadtai. She learnt from two or three different people some basic and very limited movements. However, that was enough to fuel her interest in dance forever. Around the age of 15-16, she started learning from Babytai (Rohini Bhate) and then there was no looking back. “Under her watchful gaze and training, I was able to hone my dancing skills. Her all round and comprehensive personality in terms of dance, music, literature has been solely responsible for shaping my dance,” she says.
She recollects how during her Fergusson College days, whenever there was free time between lectures, she used to go to the class just to watch and observe Babytai practice. Also, she never missed her daily riyaaz. “Babytai had novel ideas of expanding our knowledge of all three arts — dance, music, literature,” explains Sharadtai.
Babytai’s tremendous knowledge and encouragement has been a constant source of inspiration for all her students. This is very much evident in the number of branches being run by Nrityabharati students who themselves have achieved fame and recognition. The seeds of Kathak sown by her laboriously have grown into a huge tree now. As Sharadtai reminisces about those days when Maharashtra lacked any kind of dance culture and it was looked down upon, she says, “My grandfather was against my learning dance so I used to stealthily sneak away from his gaze to attend classes.” The happiest moment came when, along with Babytai, she danced at a family function and her grandfather actually liked it and accepted that dance wasn’t such a bad thing after all!
According to Sharadtai, the reason for this is that Maharashtra doesn’t have a classical dance form exclusive to its name. “However, times have changed now. You can witness many dance programmes on a regular basis,” she feels. This is obvious in the numerous classes that have proliferated, particularly in Pune. Both, Babytai and Sharadtai were fortunate to have broad-minded parents who encouraged them to take up dance not only as a hobby but also as a career. Sharadtai has been teaching at Nrityabharati for many years and also started her own classes. “I set up my class mainly as my humble contribution to Babytai’s humungous work in the field of Kathak,” she says modestly.
Sharadtai has been fortunate to have had a supportive and encouraging husband in Late Prof Damodar Gole whom she married at the age of 36. “To know your own calibre and to gain confidence, you must become financially independent. This was his belief,” says she.
Slowly and steadily, with her passion, dedication and hard work, Sharadtai built her dance career which is still going strong. Her old students still come to learn from her and, as always, she is only too willing to teach them. “All my life, I have only known dance and never once in my life have I felt like giving it up,” she says happily.
Sharadtai has given many solo and group performances, notably at Sawai Gandharva festival around 1970-72, at festivals held in Jaipur, Delhi etc. Kathak Kendra, Delhi has invited her to hold workshops on numerous occasions. Sangeet Natak Academy have also done her archival recordings wherein Sharadtai recorded seven Kathak items in four hours. In October 2012, she became the first recipient of Pandita Rohini Bhate Puraskar instituted by the Pune Municipal Corporation and NrityaGaurav Puraskar 2016 given by Kalasiddhi Nrityalaya, Saswad.
What does she feel about the scenario today? She has a very positive outlook. “There are many good dancers today but lack of time is the biggest constraint in terms of presentation of a performance. Earlier, Kathak performances saw beautiful progression from slow laya to reaching a crescendo. Today due to lack of time, many performers begin in the madhya laya itself,” she opines. Also, for any art to improve and be carried forward, creativity and choreography within the realms of tradition are absolutely necessary. To achieve this, every dancer should possess sound knowledge of taal, laya, music, literature combined with an aesthetic sense, minimum stage presence, and most important — exemplary love and passion for dance.
Sharadtai showcased her creative talent by taking up unique topics for dance compositions. The credit for creating two taals, one of nine and a half matra and the other of 11 matra, goes to her. Her choreography of Mandavi, the wife of Bharat (Lord Rama’s brother) was very much appreciated since it was very different from the regular Ashtanayikas. “I took up two very unusual topics for composing ballets and they were jatra or a village fair and the other was Geetopadesha,” explains Sharadtai.