Dreaming about Asian countries with their ancient cultures, and getting to know and marrying Mr. Simanta Kumar Nandi from Dhubri brought Erika Nandi to Assam, all the way from Germany. Today she is one of the most devout followers and practitioners of Bharatnatyam in the Northeast. “I do feel lucky in India, a country with a rich philosophy and most colourful and intricate culture,” she says.
To Erika, dance means ‘rhythm’. Learning gymnastics and ballet at an early age, with the constant support of her mother, Erika’s fondness for dance got a different spur, after her relocation to India. “Reaching Dhubri, my first expression was dancing arati at our family’s Durga Puja mandapa in 1969 (until now).” In 1971, she discovered Bihu, watching a performance and getting totally mesmerised by the ‘exciting and ever increasing Bihu tempo with its intricate patterns and sweet songs’. She became restless to learn it and finally managed to let herself go at the beat of the dhol, even when she hadn’t yet figured out what the lyrics meant. “By and by, I learnt more about the setting of a complete Bihu dance, and with it, grew my respect for this complete art form. I feel Bihu has a rather classical setting, as one can see it now, in the dance competitions. As Sangeet consists of song, instrument and dance, so every Bihu dancer is a complete Sangeetkar!” She was even asked to perform at Dhubri’s Assam Sahitya Sabha in 1972 for which a poet from Sivasagar, Late Sri Sonaram Dutta, presented her with an instantly composed elaborate poem. “10 years of performance all over Assam carried me around, where I observed ever new styles,” she adds.
But while she loved Bihu, she wanted a classical dance style to keep her busy throughout the year. In 1975, she got introduced to Kathak, something that she hadn’t heard of till then. But the dance that had already taken her heart in Germany, Bharatnatyam, came with an opportunity only three years later. She realised that the best way to keep in practice was by teaching. So two years after beginning to learn Bharatnatyam and Kathak, she started teaching students, with the permission of her Guru. She has a dance school by the name Erika Nandi School of Dance. “In Dhubri, there was no kind of classical dance culture, and I may take pride of having it introduced to this part of Assam. At that time, I brought bags full of theory books and ghungroos for my students, whenever I came back from the classes in Kolkata. Gradually, by 1981 my students appeared for the exams under Lucknow’s Bhatkhande University, Allahabad’s Prayag University and Kolkata’s Sarba Bharatiya Music University. I was called to surrounding towns like Bongaigaon, Dhaligaon (Natakachal), Kokrajhar, Bilasipara, as well as to educational institutes like St. Helen’s in Kurseong and for three years to The Assam Valley School. Since 2009, I confined classes to my residence, where about 70 students are being trained. Many of my senior students have taken to teaching, of which, at least five have their own number of students in Dhubri itself.”
Erika’s dancing repertoire got leveraged by different experiences, while interacting with people, performing dances across the towns and also learning new forms now and then. In 2000, she joined a three-month workshop of Sattriya by Guru Bijoy Krishna Goswami, which added another feather to the cap. The fascination that dance has on her, can be seen in the extension of herself into its spiritual league. “I don’t see any better workout for body and mind as divine as dance, be it classical or folk. One not only gains control over the body, but also expressions. It is an aesthetic experience which also boosts one’s confidence.” Erika’s personal experiences after practicing these art forms have been so profound that it soon started sending out its vibes across countries. “Since two years I visit my mother and my son in Germany, where I found a few friends who are interested to learn and perform, which they have also done, and it gives me great pleasure to satisfy their curiosity about the Indian culture (sic).”
A teacher is forever a student and Erika’s devotion to perfecting her dance, reaffirms this all the more. “My students should know that there is no end to the perfection of any art. Anything learned and passed, does not end with a certificate. Provided persons are intensely interested and talented, there is much to achieve under the great gurus. I pray that the Indian culture, as well as all cultures of the world should be preserved by practicing and spreading it tirelessly. Only then, can order be maintained and countries be respected for their identity.” Much as she follows and reveres the teachings of the ‘great gurus’, Erika also acknowledges that the trends of the new age are a lot different. But she does not fail to observe, “Certainly fusions are the practice of the day, but these will mushroom up and be forgotten as fashions do. Yet, it is only good that mankind can choose the way of moving, experimenting and motivating each other, which many times brings them back to their own roots.”
Erika’s lifelong passion has always been dance and as she herself says, “I cannot think of anything more fulfilling than dance, because it contains rhythm as its heartbeat, music as its soul, lyrics as its philosophy, drama as its life and movement as its painting brush on the canvas of the cosmos.” Well in her 60s now, Erika Nandi’s vigour for art and life is commendable. For a daughter-in-law from Germany, she did quite a lot to preserve the cultural heritage of her husband’s nation, which is currently more than her own.