Bharatnatyam dancer Yamini Krishnamurti’s relationship with her father, J. Krishnamurti, was more than that of a child with her parent. Till he was alive, Yamini was at her creative best. With his death, the dancer in her died. She became a recluse and abandoned the stage that she had reigned for almost two decades. Yamini says that her world disintegrated once her “pillar of strength” had gone.
Her father, a poet and a scholar, had given her the name Yamini Purnatilakam —‘brightness of the night’ — inspired by a love story, in which Princess Yamini was madly in love with a poet. But it proved too long a name for the stage. So, Yamini it became.
Her father was so protective of her that he would never let her ride a bike lest she broke a bone. Yet, she often sneaked away on a borrowed cycle, only to return home bruised. Though Yamini never possessed a cycle, she believes that they make the best gifts. “My nieces and nephews always get a cycle from me. I feel this is a karma that will pay dividend in my next life,” she says. Her message: gift cycles in the hope of possessing one when you are reborn.
She was also not allowed to sew since her father was fearful of the needle piercing her fingers. “Only learn music,” he would often tell his ‘tomboy daughter’, who was happier beating up boys in her neighbourhood. On one occasion, the agitated mother of a boy she regularly bashed up came after her with a handsaw to “finish her off”.
Yamini was the first in her family to train as a dancer. Till then, dance was held synonymous with devadasis. In fact, it was Gauri amma, the famous devadasi dancer, who taught Yamini how to “loosen her limbs”.
She left Madras to settle in Delhi and danced till her father’s death. Then, her sister, Jyoti, her main vocal accompanist, left the city to settle with her husband in Mumbai. The team broke up. “What could I do without a team. How could I fight without a weapon? It was best to take a back seat. I withdrew,” she says. “In 15 years, I achieved what people would take a lifetime to. Even today people walk up to me and describe a mudra that I performed in the 1970s.”
Her critics concede that “there will never be another like her”. This includes her severest critic, Shanta Serbjeet Singh, who was once rudely woken up by J. Krishnamurti at the crack of dawn because she referred to Yamini minus Krishnamurti in a review.
Today two notices dominate her dance institute: weekly schedule of the inauspicious ‘rahukalam’ and ‘Parents not allowed’.