Visually Impaired Girls of Deepa Academy Exemplify Empowerment

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July 24, 2014

By Geeta Goindi

Visually impaired girls of the Deepa Academy in Bangalore are seen here with their teachers and dance coordinator, Shweta Venkatesh (center).  The girls performed Indian dances, including Bharatanatyam, at the Rajdhani Mandir in Chantilly, VA

July 24, 2014

By Geeta Goindi

Visually impaired girls of the Deepa Academy in Bangalore are seen here with their teachers and dance coordinator, Shweta Venkatesh (center).  The girls performed Indian dances, including Bharatanatyam, at the Rajdhani Mandir in Chantilly, VA

Chantilly, VA – “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.  They must be felt with the heart”.  American author and activist, Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, immortalized these words which resonated at a profoundly moving event, Saturday evening, in the Rajdhani Mandir where visually impaired girls performed Indian classical, folk and bhangra dances, much to the amazement of the audience.

These young artists, all eighth to tenth-grade students of the Deepa Academy in Bangalore, can’t see.  Yet, they danced with precision and grace, exuding abundant confidence and a disarming determination!

The goal of the Academy, founded in 2006, is empowering differently-able, blind girls via “quality education and promoting overall development with the guiding principles of self-help, interaction and involvement”.  The event at the Mandir embodied this objective; it was one of the finest examples of empowering girls!

Throughout the program, R. Swaminathan, the Academy’s group coordinator who is also visually challenged, reiterated the theme – empowerment of the underprivileged and deserving girl child.  He spoke with eloquence about the mission, and his own vision, of the Academy, striking a chord with the audience.

Shweta Venkatesh, a representative of the Deepa Academy based in Bangalore, regaled an audience, here in Virginia, with her mastery over Kathak

Swaminathan told the gathering, “At present, we have 150 visually impaired girls.  All facilities are provided to them, absolutely free of cost.  I have a dream to make sure that in the next two years, we should support 500 young girls.  For this to happen, we need support and we are doing our best to showcase their talents and create awareness among the audience.  Your presence here is absolutely vital for us”, he said.

The program raised over 5,200 dollars for the Academy.  The Mandir which hosted the event, deftly organized by Mr. Alok Srivastava, contributed 2,100 dollars and pledged to sponsor two girls for a year.

Sandhya Rani, senior teacher and committee member at Deepa Academy, informed us, at INDIA THIS WEEK, that it costs 500 dollars a year to sponsor one child; in India, it is 30,000 rupees.  She mentioned that the eight-member troupe here – four dancers, Sowmya, Lathamani, Rashmi and Suma, the coordinator Swaminathan, two teachers, and a dance coordinator, Shweta Venkatesh – are on a fund-raising tour for a new facility.  “We are housed in a rented building and every month, we have to pay 45,000 rupees”, she said.

Swaminathan noted that “organizing these performances – both for the temple and for us to come all the way from India and work on them – is such a rarity, and it is such a difficulty too.  It is always our endeavor in life that we overcome all the difficulties, look at the positive side of life, be optimistic and always hope for the best”, he said.  “More often than not, we are successful if we have an optimistic point-of-view, looking at the brighter side of life”!

This was no ordinary program at the Mandir!  The girls performed feats, the likes of which have seldom or never been seen in our area.  They put their heart and soul in depicting the various dance styles, so great was their need to integrate in mainstream society, and to be remembered!

Visually challenged girls of the Deepa Academy performing the fast-paced Bhangra dance in a program dedicated to the empowerment of the underprivileged and deserving girl child in India

Perhaps the only giveaway of their visual impairment was at the outset when they briefly underwent a stage orientation to acclimatize themselves to the platform.  The ghungroo (jingles) on their slender feet helped them to coordinate with each other and move in perfect sync.

The girls performed three dances in the bharatanatyam style: Mallari, an invocation dance similar to the Pushpanjali; Shatchakra from the yogic tradition; and Thillana dedicated to Nataraja, the Lord of Dance.

These were followed by fascinating folk dances of Karnataka: the Kolata, with sticks, known as the Dandiya in Gujarat; and Kansale with brass plates and cups.  The girls excelled in presenting these unique dances, not typically seen at shows.  They were adamant to “do all it takes to bring laurels to Deepa Academy”, and they did.

Sowmya told us, “We learn all kinds of dances like folk, Bharatanatyam and Kathak.  Our Guru is Dr. Suparna Venkatesh who is very courageous to teach us.  We are lucky to come here to the US to perform, representing our school”, she said.

On this tour, Dr. Suparna was represented by her daughter, Shweta Venkatesh, who performed two dances in the Kathak style, displaying her mastery over this form.

In the finale, a mesmerized audience cheered the visually impaired girls as they performed the fast-paced bhangra incorporating some incredible moves.

Sandhya Rani, senior teacher and committee member at the school, told us, “We, at Deepa Academy, are making sure that we foster young children who are vulnerable, particularly the girl child, in India, when she is under-privileged.  If she has a disability, conditions are even more difficult.  We want to make sure that we provide these girls with an education, boarding, lodging, training in performing arts, so that they can be self-sufficient, have justice, lead a self-reliant life with the help of our Academy.  They can also shine and be part-and-parcel of mainstream society”, she said.

Visually impaired girls of the Deepa Academy performing the Bharatanatyam dance in a program dedicated to the empowerment of the underprivileged and deserving girl child in India

Swaminathan told the audience, “Your support is our strength.  It is a shot-in-the-arm for me”.  He spoke about the difficulty in bringing a visually impaired troupe from India all the way to America, comparing it to scaling the highest mountain.  Albeit, he was undeterred.  “I just want to keep climbing Mount Everest”, he said, to much applause.

The group is here in the US on a three-month tour which began on June 24 and runs until September 23.  Thus far, the artists have performed in New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia.  They will be heading to Florida and Texas, then back to New Jersey for more shows.

If you would like to book a show in your city or support, sponsor, even encourage these supremely talented and deserving girls, please contact the Deepa Academy at deepa.academy@gmail.com or visit www.deepaacademy.org


Community Special by MYDOSTI.COM

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