Women’s Day Special: Guru Jayanthi inspires PhD scholars at IISc

By: Dr Anantha Krishnan M
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When this Correspondent first met Jayanthi M Eshwarputhi at her rented house in Muthyalanagar near Mathikere in 2013, she welcomed me with a warning.

"Sorry ji. I have no chair to offer. Generally my students sit down. Hope you...," she was very polite in letting the truth known the journalist-visitor!


Two years later, our meeting happened inside the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) campus and this time Jayanthi jokingly said, "Today you need not sit down ji. I have reserved one seat in the front row for you."

It was the annual dance performance of her students of IISc. Interestingly, all her students at IISc are PhD research scholars, who have taken to various dance forms purely out of their love for arts and culture. Barring one male dancer, all shishyas of Jayanthi are women.

Their research hovers around fluid particles, nuclear magnetic resonance, molecular biophysics, surface temperature variability, protein folding/stability and algebraic geometry to name a few.

"What they study is definitely rocket science for me," admits Jayanthi, who took the brave decision to follow her guru, against her father's wishes.

"Yes, it was a tough call. No regrets. After all only a guru can be next to God," says Jayanthi, whose students at IISc are above 25 years old.


"You got to have the devotion running through your veins. You must eat, sleep, dream and breathe dance. You have to be a devotee in whatever you do," says Jayanthi, when OneIndia caught up with her for a special report on International Women's Day.

Jayanthi is hardcore disciple of Kathak legend Pandit Birju Maharaj. Some students call Jayanthi as Akka and the rest addresses her as Didi (both means elder sister) and she in turn treats everyone as her children. Post-PhD, Jayanthi's students hope to pursue dance along with their career.

"I was caught by my Prof practicing movements in the lab," says Sandeep, the lone male student of Jayanthi, hails from Hyderabad.

His PhD thesis is in the area of fluid-particle suspensions. When asked about his decision to learn dance, Sandeep said that he was always fascinated by the intricate body movements.

"But I never received formal training. I watched Akka's show at IISc two years ago and that left me awe-struck. I was particularly fascinated by Kathak because of its chakkars and sharp movements. I immediately expressed my desire to learn Kathak to Didi and she accepted me as her student," says Sandeep.

He says he has given equal importance to dance and PhD. "I have never considered it as a hobby. It's like a duty to me now, which I always worship," says Sandeep.

"It's on my mind to such an extent that I was caught many times by my professor reciting bol and practicing movements in the lab," Sandeep added.


Guru Devo Bhava

For Sandeep, Jayanthi has become an important person in his life now and he considers her more than a guru.

While speaking about Jayanthi, Sandeep says, "She is the one who reignited the passion for dance in me. No set of epithets can describe her. She always says dance can never be perfect."

"There is always a scope for improvement and it can be better with practice. Her classes are fun and she relates every movement with a real life example," says Sandeep, who has kept dance as a career option, after completing his PhD.

Vaishali hails from Chennai and her thesis focuses on structure and dynamic study of intercalated species within layered materials using solid state nuclear magnetic resonance.

Like Sandeep, she too is moved by Jayanthi's dedication towards dance.

"She is totally into the art form and respects the way it has been created. She does not believe in short cuts. Since we are all PhD students and this is the first time many of us are learning dance, it's not been very easy since we are not very flexible," says Vaishali.

Thushara Venugopal from Kerala is chasing her PhD dream in Oceanography and her research is on modeling of sea surface temperature variability in the Indian Ocean.

"Jayanthi Akka is one among the most successful Gurus I have had. She could change our concept about dancing, as she herself is a great example of a real artist, who respects the art form," says Thushara.

She said Jayanthi would often ask her students to start loving the pain so that everyone would move closer to gains.

"When pain becomes a habit, you will start accepting it with a smile. It will help you attain perfection, you will not feel any stress," Thushara quotes her Guru.

PhD stidents

Dance as acts as stress-buster

For Shruti Khare, a native of Mumbai, dance acts as a perfect stress-busting agent. Currently pursuing her PhD on computational studies of protein folding and stability, Shruti feels that going to the dance class offers her ‘a wonderful change from the daily routine.'

"For the time we are in the dance class we do not think about the demanding research and its deadlines. It definitely acts as a stress-buster."

"I get this immense satisfaction that I am finally able to learn dancing and that too from such a great teacher," says Shruti.

Echoing the same view was Samarpita Ray from Kolkata now doing her research in Algebraic Geometry.

Students dancing

"Dance certainly acts as a magical stress-buster. No matter how messed up you look by the end of the day, dance at once makes you feel beautiful from inside. It helps your mind to concentrate and develop patience, which is so very essential for researchers," says Samarpita.

Finally, it was Guru Jayanthi's turn for her parting remarks. "I am happy that Women's Day is getting lot of attention in the last couple of years. I hope now, women too will get some attention they truly deserve," says Jayanthi.

"And, I can borrow a chair from my neighbour next time when you come home," she directs one straight to this Correspondent, as the entire group bursts into laughter.

(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He occasionally strays away from his preferred beat and writes on general issues as well. He tweets @writetake.)

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