Kavitha Ramu is a shining example of how a young educated Indian girl can pursue two careers with equal efficiency

Meet Kavitha Ramu Govt officer by profession Bharatanatyam dancer by passion
Features Sunday, May 01, 2016 - 08:06

Balancing a career in the arts and administration is a tight ropewalk. Very very few have survived. Indian classical arts are a full time profession. The demands are high and returns, delayed and few. One doesn’t have to go into the details of how demanding the government administrative services in India can be. But there have been artistes who have managed to successfully handle both these with grace and dignity.

This is the story of one such artiste. Kavitha Ramu from Tamil Nadu is a shining example of how a young upwardly mobile educated Indian girl can pursue two careers with equal efficiency. Straddling two different worlds with ease, people like her give hope to many.

Born in the temple town of Madurai to M Ramu and Manimegali, Kavitha got attracted to dance at a very young age. Her father was an IAS officer and her mother worked as a professor of economics before marriage. Little Kavitha began training in dance from Guru Neela Krishnamurthy in Madurai. Neela is the sister and a longtime Nattuvanar of the famous dancer Padma Subramanyam. Both the sisters were students of the great Vuzhavoor Ramiah Pillai. Kavitha trained with Neela for half a dozen years. Guru Neela got Kavitha to perform at the fifth World Tamil Conference held in Chidambaram in 1981. Kavitha was only eight years old and impressed everyone with her dance. Her father’s job being of a transferable nature had Kavitha shifting nine schools during her early years of education. Finally the family decided to migrate to Madras and settle down. Guru Neela recommended Kavitha to another Guru in Madras. 

Kavitha’s family went to Guru K J Sarasa. Guru Sarasa  yet another star student from the same Vuzhavoor tradition. Seeing her talent in wielding the cymbals, Guru Ramiah Pillai encouraged her to pursue that instead of performing. She became one of the finest lady Nattuvanars in the history of modern Bharatanatyam. Sarasa established her institute ‘Sarasalaya’ . Some of her students turned out to be stars. The current chief minister Jayalalithaa, the famous feminist writer Shivashankari and many more trained under Guru Sarasa. It was to this school that Kavitha joined in 1989. 

(Kavitha with Guru Sarasa)

A quick learner that Kavitha was, Guru Sarasa conducted her official debut or Arangetram. For Kavitha’s Arangetram former president Venkataraman was the guest and he heaped praises on her saying she was a promising talent to look out for.

After moving to Chennai, her parents enrolled Kavitha into the Anna Adarsha School. She graduated in economics and ranked sixth in the university. Being smart in academics, she pursued her Post Graduation in Public Administration and stood out as the university topper! With a successful career, both in academics and arts, Kavitha went ahead to write the Tamil Nadu State civil services exams in 1999.  With an IAS officer for a father, it was but obvious that Kavitha would also follow suit. She wrote the exams and got through them and from 2002 has been a full time officer working in the State administration services.

Meanwhile her dance career kept flourishing successfully. She also took training in Nattuvangam from Guru Indira Rajan in Chennai. She began performing extensively in and outside India. She received rave reviews by some of the leading critics. “As to dance, a young star has been sighted on the horizon – She is Kavitha Ramu, a disciple of the great Guru K.J. Sarasa.  Kavitha took up the famous varnam of the Tanjore Quartette “Samee Ninne”.  While describing the Temple environment, she almost took the audience to the sanctum sanctorum.  The Adavus were graceful and executed with flair.  She got applause for every round of Jathis.  The Guru embellished this exercise by incorporating graceful postures, pirouettes, neck and torso movements.  There is no doubt that she will make a mark as a Bharatnatyam dancer”, wrote the great Subbudu in The Statesman.

P V Subramaniam who wrote under the pen name ‘Subbudu’ was one of the toughest critics of the Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam dance scene in this century. Getting words of appreciation from him meant a dancer was of the highest standards. Kavitha’s managed to impress him and many more with her performances. On another occasion, senior dance critic Leela Venkataraman wrote, “Kavitha Ramu has the advantage of a stately presence and the poised non-frisky demeanor on which compositions of poet Tyagaraja sit will. There is a dignified image of the Lord with a Sculpturesque quality to her dance, Kavitha’s Bharatanatyam has a beautifully articulated ‘araimandi’. It is in the tranquility and reposeful character that Kavitha’s dance creates an impact.”. Many such reviews kept flowing in, closely tracking her growth in her dance career.

Her actual day job and profession kept her no less busy. After passing through the State Civil services, Kavitha became the deputy collector and served as a revenue divisional officer in Vellore. After a term of that she became the Assistant commissioner in the civil supplies and consumer protection department and later excise supervisory officer in the MP breweries in Chennai. For her impressive work in administration, Kavitha got promoted in her cadre to the level of district revenue officer or a DRO. As a DRO she served as the joint commissioner for relief and rehabilitation in the Tamil Nadu road sector project popular as TNRSP. She also served as the DRO for Stamps and Registration Department and later as a DRO for the Chennai district. She is currently the General Manager for the Tamil Nadu State Tourism Development Corporation.

One would think that her day job wouldn’t give her any breathing space. But her passion for dance kept her going! With over six hundred stage performances, a handful of choreographic works and thematic presentations to her credit, Kavitha, is one of the most talented dancers of the Vuzhavoor tradition. She is also an ‘A’ Grade artiste of Doordarshan, India’s official public service broadcasting and an empanelled artiste with the ICCR. The Sabhas of Chennai were quick to recognize her merit and Kavitha was honoured with several awards and titles. Among the prestigious ones are the title of ‘Nadanamamani’ from Karthik Fine Arts, ‘Yuvakala Bharathi’ from Bharat Kalachar and the ‘Balasaraswati, K N Dandayudhapani Pillai and Kalakshetra Peria Sharada Teacher Endowment Awards’ instituted by the Shri Krishna Gana Sabha.

Kavitha Ramu is a shining example for the 21st century idea of a successful progressive woman. Balancing her profession and her passion, she has managed to be a role model for many youngsters. She has proved that where there is a strong determination and will, there are many ways to make things work. As we celebrate yet another ‘World Dance Day’, we must be thankful for committed passionate artistes like Kavitha. The dance world and the Tamil Nadu State services are equally fortunate to have someone of this standing. Despite all the stories of corruption and political scams we hear, stories like that of Kavitha’s give us hope. These are ordinary people living extraordinary lives. More power to them!

(Veejay Sai is an award-winning writer, editor and a culture critic. He writes extensively on Indian performing arts, cultural history, food and philosophy. He lives in New Delhi and can be reached at vs.veejaysai@gmail.com)

Images – Chella Vaidyanathan, R Kannan, Krishnamurthy

Correction: An earlier version of the article said she is an IAS officer and it has been corrected.

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