The country’s first transgender Kathak performer, Devendra S Manglamukhi, started learning Kathak before entering her teens. And today, at 29, this transgender rights activist is fighting hard to gain recognition for her community, through her dance form and her dance performances.
Born to a father who served the Indian Army and a homemaker mother in Rajasthan’s Dholpur district, Devendra is a post graduate in English Literature from Rajasthan’s Maharaja Surajmal Brij University. She now plans to enrol for a PhD in the same subject. Devendra credits her mother to have triggering an interest in art and culture. Though she has a younger brother, Devendra no longer has any relations with him. The Kathak danseuse recently performed at Pracheen Kala Kendra’s 15th Web Baithak with the idea to break all barriers, all biases.
Excerpts from an interview with Saurabh Tankha:
Decision to be a dancer
It was after watching a performance of Kathak maestro Kapila Rajji (Sharma) at Sant Gadge Auditorium in Lucknow, the director of Lucknow Kathak Kendra in Lucknow. I was 10 then. I found love with Kapilaji and Kathak and that was day I decided to learn the dance form. Another reason was the beauty, grace, costume, nazaaqat and nafaazat of Kathak that I always admired.
First guru and learning experience
I have learnt from Acharya Kapilaji of Lucknow gharana of Kathak. Lucknow is the king of Kathak dance. The grace, beauty and elegance of this gharana is simply outstanding with abhinaya and graceful footwork being the highlights.
Most inspirational person in life
Famous transgender activist Acharya Mahamandleshwar Laxmi Narayanji has inspired me no ends. She has done a lot for the entire community of transgenders. But there have been Pt Lachhu Maharajji, Acharya Kapila Rajji, Nahid Siddquiji and Fasih-ur-Rehmanji whom I revere a lot.
First onstage experience
To be honest, I was nervous to begin with but I gave my 100 per cent and by the end of it, the audience was applauding and appreciating my performance.
Perception of people towards the community changing
Though there has not been a sea change of difference in the attitude of masses towards the transgender community, I and my community are optimistic that it will change for good one day. When, no one knows?
Performances inspire talent from LGBTQI community to exhibit skills to a larger audience
It does to a large extent as they gain confidence that our talent and our hard work is slowly but steadily getting acknowledged. Also that the transgender community is proud of our achievements.
Challenges of being a queer performer
There have been sweet-bitter experiences, especially when it comes to the reactions by the organisers towards me and the community. But then these experiences in your life teach you a lot.
Views on reality dance shows
These shows don’t have a future when it comes to Indian classical dances because these artforms are devotional. Dance reality shows are not for classical dancers.