Rendevous with Rasshmi: THE AGE OF NO RETIREMENT!! Padmaja Kulkarni

Rasshmi Kansupada Sep 11, 2019 804 Views   0 Comments
Welcome to RENDEZVOUS WITH RASSHMI . A page dedicated to ordinary people of our community… yes ordinary, but with that Xtra ordinary talent, achievement and that inspiring Xfactor!!

Do you think that life ends at seventy and the fun is over? Do you think that after retirement there are only knitting and soap operas left? It turns out, that once you grow old, you have the spare time to actually do what you love, learn new skills, travel and follow your dreams. Above all, though, it's not age, but attitude that defines us.

My guest Padmaja Kulkarni at 77, is a calendar girl, model, actor, folk singer and dancer, all rolled into one. An epitome of grace and energy, Padmajaji has added many feathers to her cap at this age and she is still raring to go miles ahead. Her maiden name is Lata Damle, daughter of prestigious Damle family from Khanapur near Belgaum. As a youngster, she took part in Samyukta Maharashtra movement. She led a socially repressed life in a traditional joint family for over five decades. Yet she is surprisingly upbeat. You would wonder why till you realize it is precisely because of her suffering that she found a creative outlet and redemption in Bharud, a traditional art form that dramatizes social and familial issues.

Traditionally performed by men, and sung not danced, Bharud is a popular Maharashtrian folk art, which are songs first written by Sant Dnyaneshwar in the 12 th century and were made popular by Sant Eknath in the 16 th century. These songs have two meanings-one materialistic and the other spiritual. Despite opposition from the male bastion, at the age of 50 years, Padmajaji formed her own group of 15 women in 1994 to perform the Bharud folk art after surviving a major spine operation. Om Shri Maa Bhagini Bharud Mandal, as it is called, and which was formed by the encouragement of her Guru, Maltibai Joshi, is the country’s first all woman troupe of its kind and also has a mention in the Limca Book of world Records.

It has not been a cake walk though for Padmajaji behind her success. The idea to include women in society and to give them a status was the prime thought of her being drawn towards this art form. Her family was never keen on her interests and she often faced tussels. But she believed in always flowing against the current. Her initiatives broke several barriers, not only was she the first woman to dare to perform Bharud, but she was also the first one to add dance to the art form. Rather than lose heart because of the opposition, she used it all in her song writing. Her adaptations of the Bharud songs are laced with humor however the underlying pathos is evident, pointing to an era when women did not have a voice. That her performances draws large crowds of women even today is a reminder that our social fabric may have changed but superficially. She feels that things have changed today but women liberation in its complete sense is yet to be achieved. Her songs are also well known for their social messages such as tree conservation and fighting child marriages.

Not one to mince words, she is clear about her ethical stance. She has performed all over India and gone on tours to US and UK. One of her notable performance has been at Pune’s Yerwada jail, where after the performance all the women took a pledge to reform themselves and Padmajaji really felt accomplished that her art had been upheld. She feels that through this folk art, she can bring to light various issues related to women in society. She also composes powada popular Maharashtrian lok geet based on women of today’s generation and on great warriors like Tararani and Jhansi ki Rani. She wishes to spread the message of such brave women through her writings and performances. She has also written mangalashtakas, mantras recited during a wedding which again have a modern day touch. She recites palane which are songs sung to mark the birth on occasions like Ram Navami and Krishna Janmashtami.

Padmajaji has also been a very active social worker. As and when possible, she helps the students who are physically challenged, gives free tuitions to children and spread literacy among women living in the  slums. She has also helped women open bank accounts and take steps towards financial independence. She has received numerous awards for her social inclinations. She has featured in ads for popular brands such as Mc Donalds, Airtel, Dominos Pizza and has had her tryst with Bollywood movies too. She also savours the art of cookery and has featured in popular cookery shows.

Today too she practices for an hour everyday and focuses on teaching other female performers. She has already trained over 500 women in the art and hopes that the legacy will go on. Though unique in her abilities, she lives an austere life. Her youthfulness is showcased in her spontaneous acts in front of the mirror. Padmajaji believes that like Bharunda the mythical two headed bird that is believed to symbolize good luck, her life has been divided into two phases and the second has redeemed the melancholy of the first. Sobriqueted as African Damle, she has not only been a pioneer in safeguarding this age old culture but through it also restored and polished the old skills of social education and enlightenment.

The secret of a genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means NEVER LOSING YOUR ENTHUSIASM!!

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