When I returned from Iraq in February 1976, the immediate family was scattered all over the country. The eldest was in Bal Bharati Air Force School in her tenth standard. She could not be shifted till the end of the school term. The second and the third were with my mother and my brother in Bankura West Bengal attending a School with Bengali medium. School term ended there in December. Those two were thus free to move back to me. My wife set up a small household looking after the eldest and the youngest at New Delhi while I set up another House and brought the middle three children, Sukanya Swagata and Subir with me to Tambaram. Sukanya was all of 15 years old and promptly became the mother of the house.
Schooling for the children had to wait till the new school year began at the Central School Tambaram. I purchased a cycle for the son who had just turned seven. That kept him busy through out the day. The girls, despite their household duties, had yodels of time. Within the camp, we had an officer whose wife was an exponent of Bharatanatyam. She ran dancing classes for children at her home. I sent the girls to that school to keep them busy.
Swagata (AKA Mishti), my third girl, found this arrangement enchanting. She was an extrovert child with a good singing voice. She became very fond of dancing. Later that year, the station had arranged for a cultural show for the airmen where Dr Padma Subramanian, a famous exponent of Bharatanatyam was invited to perform. After her performance, she was invited for dinner at my home. This event was a life changing experience for Mishti. Throughout the performance and throughout the dinner event thereafter, she just could not keep her eyes off the Danseuse. A conversation with her on the art form she pursued fired Mishti’s imagination. A few days later, Mishti expressed her desire to become a Bharatanatyam Dancer. She wanted to join Kalakshetra in Adyar under Smt Rumini Devi Arundale. She was only 13 years old then. We had no difficulty in placing a veto on her sudden desire with the requirement of completing schooling looming large. Days passed. I moved to Delhi. Mishti completed the secondary and higher secondary schooling. My moving from Delhi to Jamnagar coincided with her coming out of class XII. Once again she pleaded to go to Kalakshetra and this time the veto came from her mother who was worried that the narrow focus on dance would not equip her child to deal with the world and therefore wanted Mishti to complete her graduation before moving into the specified field of her choice. There were no English Medium college in Jamnagar at that time. Mishti enrolled herself for a graduation in commerce with honors with the college of correspondence in the University of Delhi. Since now she had enough time in hand, she took in a four year course in Kathak in a dancing centr in Jamnagar and completed the syllabus in three years to get her diploma. My moving from Jamnagar to Wellington as a Chief Instructor (Air) at the DSSC coincided with Mishti’s graduation as BCom (Hons) from Delhi. Once again she wanted permission to join Kalakshetra. We now had run out excuses with which we could prevent her from following her desire.
We gave her permission and she set about the process for seeking admission. But a shock awaited her when she spoke to the administration…she had become too old they said. Training in Bharatanatyam must begin at an early age. Mishti that is Swagata was 19 by then and that by their standard was too late to start. We were mortified. The girl had set her heart on a dancing career form her childhood and had been prevented from following it solely due to our objections. Now, when we were ready to let her follow her desire, to be told that she was too late to start her training was an unkind cut. Mishti decided to write a letter to the College and poured her eight years of waiting into the missive. The move worked and she was called in for an interview. Leena and I took Swagata down from Wellington to Kalakshetra. Her consternation must have been visible on her face. The Principal Dr S Rajaram, a musician of repute, the grandson of Mysore Vasudevacharya, took pity on her. Can you sing my child? He asked gently. Mishti explained that she had had no formal training in music, but yes, she loved to sing. He took Mishti away and made her sing for a long time. She was then tested for aptitude in physical execution too. We sat outside and waited in concern. After some time they returned to where we were. Mishti had a big smile painted on her face. She had been accepted ! She joined Kalakshetra and spent the next six years there. By the time she was done, I had retired from the Air Force and had settled down in NOIDA. Mishti began a dancing career and started her own Institution of dance Kinkini Dhvani and was pretty successful. By April 1997 she was ready to spread her wings and perform out of India. It so happened that the GOI was then in the process of celebrating Festival of India in different parts of the world. Mishti was sponsored for a trip to Dubai by her friend Tripti and this was followed by a trip to Kenya and Uganda sponsored by the Bank of Baroda. She had a grand tour.
The trip to Dubai was related to the newly instituted shopping festival there. The performances went off well. Mishti and her friend Archita came back to India and she immediately left for Kenya and Uganda with her troupe of musicians. This was a much longer trip with multiple performances in both the countries. To start with they were in Nairobi for a week and then they went over to Kampala where they performed regularly for three weeks. As I said already, it was a grand success. At the end of their stay in Uganda, Our High Commissioner there entertained the visiting troupe to a dinner. Our High Commissioner at Kampala was a tall and handsome Sikh officer from the IFS. Polite and entertaining, he was sharp and erudite who could hold forth on politics commerce and Bharatanatyam with equal felicity. Mishti too is gifted with a wide grasp of subjects while she is gifted with the ability to speak well in many tongues. The two got along well. The subject of discussion ultimately turned to travel and tourism, something that Mishti could speak on for hours on end. She told how she had been to almost every corner of India. She told him how, while being born in Punjab of Bengali parents, she was educated in schools and colleges in Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Gujarat, West Bengal and Tamilnadu. She also recounted how she had toured and travelled from Jamnagar to Siliguri or from Ghaziabad to Wellington by car apart from many other trips to all sorts of places. As a matter of fact, she added, she had even visited Babylon, Baghdad and Tikrit in Iraq when her father was posted at Tikrit as the head of the Indian Air Force Training Team at the Iraqi Air Force Academy in 1974/75.
A twinkle seemed to begin playing in the High Commissioner’s eyes and a faint smile appeared on his lips. Holding Mishti with his gaze he asked her gently – So, you are one of five Sen children! Which is your sequence out of the five? – Mishti was dumbfounded. Yes I am, she said, and I am number three of five, but how do know? Mr Singh then told her that in 1974/75 he was a young officer at our embassy at Baghdad. He too was very fond of traveling. As a newly married young person he was keen to under take a camping drive through Europe. Since Mishti’s father (that is me) had just made two such trips in 1974 and 1975, he had come down from Baghdad to Tikrit to seek advice and help in planning his trip from me! ‘As a matter of fact,’, he told Mishti, I might still have one of his tents that I had borrowed from him lying around somewhere!
The world indeed is a small place.