On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Vandana Udayan performed in Kochi.
Rhythm is of foremost importance in a classical art form and when it comes to dance, performing without two legs sounds next to impossible. Seeing Vandana Udayan dance allays all such apprehensions. The 27-year-old is a trained classical dancer and unlike others who confine themselves to the four walls of the house, feeling bad about their physical inability, Vandana has excelled in a career of her choice not giving anyone a single chance to sympathise. In Kochi to perform at Aster Medicity as part of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the dancer shares her journey so far.
Born with just one leg, the Thiruvananthapuram native was crawling for years until she managed to stand up. She was initiated to classical dance at an age of eight. Vandana attributes her fearlessness and confidence to the trust her parents had on her. “My parents have been my support system all these years. They have made me what I am. I was six when I started learning classical music, but was always interested in the dance class going on the next door. I used to watch children dance and dreamt of doing it and one day made by mind to ask the teacher if I could also dance. To my surprise, the teacher was very welcoming and allowed me to be part of a group that was preparing for an event. My parents had no inhibitions and encouraged me to dance,” says Vandana, for whom the decision to learn classical dance opened many avenues and gave her the strength to ‘stand on her own legs’.
Though music was always her forte, Vandana decided to learn classical dance out of the love for the art form and as a part of a conscious decision to break the nut that encapsulated her and restricted her movement. However, dance becoming a career was unintentional. Vandana wanted to become a doctor, but things didn’t work in her favour. As she puts it, “I don’t think if I could enjoy life to this extent had I been a doctor. I am very happy that I am able to perform at places where the crowd is different and new every time.
“People have a level of expectation from me and during the performance, when I am able to read it from their face that I am doing more that what they expected, it is an incredible feeling and it pushes you work even harder.”
Vandana, however has had her share of unfortunate events as well. Recalling one such event which became a life changer for her, she says, “When in school, I was declared the winner for regional-level youth festival for Mappilappattu. I even remember the judges appreciating me for my technique and hard work. But when my father went to my school to enquire about the district-level competitions, the authorities told him that I was not eligible as I had received only B grade and not an A, which was the qualifying grade. My father came home and went back with my certificate that clearly mentioned that I was the winner with an A grade. When the principal inquired about it to my teachers, they told him that it would be a disgrace for the school if a disabled kid represented them at a district-level competition!”
She did not fight and rejected the opportunity that was not given to her wholeheartedly. Then, Vandana took part in several competitions organised by clubs and institutes outside the school and requested her principal to give her those certificates on the same day other kids received it. “My teachers were literally spellbound seeing the number of certificates and prizes I had won and till date, I believe that they would have very much realised their mistake of not allowing me to represent our school at a district-level youth festival,” she adds.
Right after college, Vandana soon started receiving invites for stage shows all over the world. She has lost the count of her performances till date. Among the numerous accolades, the one she cherishes the most is an award from late president Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. “He is the humblest person I have ever met in my life. He came up to my make up room to congratulate me and when tried to converse in English and Hindi, insisted that I talk in Malayalam as he felt it was the most apt language a Malayali could converse in. I couldn’t have asked for more. It was a dream come true moment for me,” she smiles.
Vandana, who has started a dance institute at her home, gives the entire credit of it to her husband Udayan Namboothiri and stresses that the liberation of differently-abled should start at home. “If your loved ones start considering you equal to a normal person, society will start developing the same attitude. Bringing awareness and starting institutes for the differently-abled itself shows that we are discriminated. We are not disabled; we are differently-abled. We are capable of achieving everything we dream of,” she concludes.