Holi, the festival of colours, was just around the corner. I was commuting back from my work at TCS, my first job out of college, in Delhi back in 1995. The bus journey back from GulabBhawan to Gurgaon required me to take a DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) bus from ITO to DhaulaKuan, and then board a Haryana Roadways bus from DhaulaKuan to Gurgaon, each about an hour’s journey, depending on the traffic.
I used to observe the differences in the interactions of the people in the two sections of the journey. The Haryana Roadways bus would be filled with older middle-aged folks typically used to the long commutes, and who seemed to know many on the bus. One of the middle-aged men would take out a couple of decks of cards and lay out his briefcase between the seats as a tray and a few of them would start playing their card games amongst chit-chat and entertaining jokes. It had been on one of these commutes that I had struck up a conversation with a co-passenger, a lady I saw regularly reading a book on Buddhism. Something about her aura had me asking her questions about the book, and we ended up having some good discussions. After a few chats, she had invited me to their Buddhist SGI group meeting and a couple of months earlier, I had attended one of their meetings and found their resonant mantra chanting to be a powerful source of connecting deeper. In fact, more recently I had started waking up early to chant for an hour or so and somehow would find that on those days, things would just fall into place and somehow I would be in rhythm with the universe.
In contrast, the DTC buses would be filled with people who had shorter commutes, each busy and lost in their own world, mostly avoiding any substantial conversation with their co-passengers. Not to mention the riff-raff crowd that would regularly harass the women on these buses, in a city that was infamous for ‘eve-teasing’ even 20 years ago.
On this particular day, there was a man standing right next to where I was seated, leaning in more closely than required, making me quite uncomfortable. I was still in my early 20s, a tad shy to create a huge hue and cry, but did tell him in no uncertain terms to stand properly (it was a super crowded bus, with no leg-room but one could perceive the unwarranted brushes). Even after a few sharp remarks, this man continued to push and shove and take every opportunity to rub up against me. At this point, I just started chanting my mantra in my mind and just zoned inwards, as the bus still had a good half hour or more to reach my destination. As guided, I requested my Higher Self to annul any karmic equation between this “unknown” person and me, seeking forgiveness for any past karmic negativity on my part and sought help in this situation.
The bus was moving at its regular Delhi DTC speed, the breeze flowing in through the windows, which had a couple of bars across them and I was just tuned inwards. The most amazing thing happened next! Splaaaash! A wet, plump, water-balloon came flying in through one of the windows (missing the bars across a moving bus) and slapped across this man’s face, getting him all wet! The physics of the path of that balloon as well as the math of the probability of it landing on his face are mind-numbing! All I remember is his mumbling something incoherent and getting off the bus at the very next stop. This was during Holi, and somehow a balloon, some kid had thrown at some other kid, had become the missile that launched my heart into steadfast faith for the rest of my life!
My God!Yes, I use that term so lightly without realising how close my God is to me. The one who has so many galaxies to attend to, looking after me, hearing my sincere, inward plea, a teeny-tiny soul in the vast cosmos of creation. Imagine!No less than the story of NarasimhaAvatara (which I now teach as part of a Dashavatara dance piece to young dancers), where God could no longer take the atrocities of an arrogant father towards his own son and stepped out of a stone pillar, from an intangible form into a living, breathing form to protect the boy and his steadfast faith.
I believe God is willing to help out, as long as I own up to my mistakes and am willing to grow and learn from all the drama that happens around me.A humbling but mind-boggling experience for me at an early age that formed a foundation of Faith, that has been tested many times since. And there have been times, when I was disappointed momentarily or wondered why I had to deal with certain situations with seemingly no help from the Higher one. In most of these cases, however, a few years down the line,when I looked back in retrospect, those very challenges where I did not get the help I asked for, were the ones that helped forge my next growth arc.
Even my current full-time job/mission of teaching classical Bharatanatyam (an Indian classical dance form) and something that I enjoy so much, has been a result of multiple challenges that were thrown my way. After working in software technology and product management for about 15 years including 3 years at TCS, 7 at Oracle and 5 at Yahoo!, when I was laid-off unfairly (or so it seemed to me) by a man I had myself interviewed and hired into a position before going on maternity leave, only to come back after the break to find my work being continuously undermined, partly I believe due to some feeling of insecurity, it had seemed like a big blow. Though in part, I was relieved because with two kids including an infant, I had been spreading myself thin with early morning calls with EU and late night calls with the Bangalore office, with diminishing time for the family. Even so, without a full-time job, life seemed incomplete.
I decided to go with the flow, and start an Indian after-school program, based on what I felt was needed for my son, who was in third grade then. My Masters degree and education in Entrepreneurship from Stanford came in handy and gave me the required impetus as well. The advice of my Professor Tom Kosnik rung in my ears – “When you want to start something new, don’t wait till you get it all perfect – just start somewhere, and things will evolve in the right direction!”.
I put together a creative program (the first Indian after-school program in Bay Area, thankfully many have started since 2008), with wholesome snacks and multiple classes including Hindi, Vedic Math, Yoga, Indian music, Bollywood dance, Bharatanatyam, Spelling Bee, Science Bee etc during the after-school hours so kids could spend more time with their parents on the weekends. This ran very well for 5 years and I had 25 kids attending classes from 3pm to 6pm daily, in a rented space with 3 rooms. In particular, I started enjoying teaching Bharatanatyamdance classes, as my mother and Guru had been performing (an AIR A-grade artiste) and teaching for over 30 years, while for many of the other subjects, I hired other instructors.
Then God struck again with a different water-balloon! Disaster or challenge is just another name for God, I say. Just before the summer break, five years into running SarvaGuna, my printer which I used to use to print worksheets for the kids broke down; the projector we used to use for presentations stopped working; the rental space came up for leasing and the landlord wanted to only lease for a period of 3 years minimum. I was feeling bogged down by the operational logistics of running an after-school program (including the pick-ups of students from various schools etc.) but in contrast enjoyed the time spent in creative choreography and found teaching dance to be truly fulfilling. I decided to listen to God carefully and check if he was guiding me on to my next step. Stepping back, I realised it was teaching dance that I enjoyed the most, and the hours would just melt away in dance classes! I realised that whenever I am dancing or teaching dance, every moment is spent right here in the present – there is no band-width for the past or the future, so every minute dancing was a minute of meditation for me.
Having just moved into a new home, I decided to be courageous and not risk-averse. I took a leap of faith, with just a handful of students to focus on teaching Bharatanatyam dance classes at SarvaGuna, and built a dance studio in our home itself. I told myself that as long as I am doing what I am passionate about and good at, other things will take care of themselves. And they did! Everything just fell into place like it was meant to be. I enjoyed the time choreographing new pieces, especially those that helped me connect with my God in various shapes and form. Soon students just came by word-of-mouth and I started earning enough for a decent livelihood; we started doing very well at local competitions and now my summer Arangetram (solo debut recital of 3 hours) students have started performing beautifully! A few months ago, Indian Raga approached me to choreograph a piece for a collaboration. (Here is the Hanuman Chaalisa I enjoyed choreographing and dancing to: http://youtu.be/eWaRWqb5FNs
We have 4 summer Arangetrams planned for this summer. In late March 2019, at a competitive Bharatanatyam competition (only Bharatanatyam entries were evaluated exclusively), SarvaGuna students won awards and placed in top three across all categories!
While my Faith has come a whole circle back to appreciate the depth of content in our Hindu texts, my spirituality continues to let God intervene as and when needed in my life. In different life situations, when one feels like one just got dumped with a bucket of cold water, it is perhaps the Universe’s way of nudging us along a different direction. I know my own story is incomplete and there may be more surprises, jolts and nudges to come my way in this roller-coaster life. All I can do is hang on and have Faith. Let us all pay attention to those nudges (or jolts), seek courage for travelling down untrodden paths and we may just discover new joys and lessons come our way…
With a masters in Entrepreneurship from Stanford University and a background in Computer Science Engineering (Birla Institute of Tech, Ranchi) prior to 2008, Mohana spent the early part her career focused on product management in the software technology world.
Batch of 1989
Mohanahas also trained in Bharatanatyam from a very young age under the able guidance of her mother and teacher Guru Smt. Usha Narayan, who is a renowned dancer and AIR A grade artiste from New Delhi. Smt. Usha Narayan, has passed down a deeply ingrained sense of aesthetic values and awareness of clean lines and angles of movement and a natural gift for heart-felt abhinaya or expression. Mohana has performed from a very young age along with her mother in many performances and dance productions in India and abroad. She has assisted in training young students for over 20 years now.
Mohana enjoys teaching dance as well as formulating unique choreographies. She has presented various thematic productions over the years including recent ones such as Navavidha Sambandham, Andaal Anubhavam, Sri Ramanuja Vaibhavam, Nruttya Nikshepa Atma Nikshepa, training hundreds of students for these large productions with a creative flair founded on pain-staking attention to detail. Mohana trains students of various age groups with an eye for detail and focus on one-on-one attention promoting individual strengths.
As the founder of SarvaGuna, which has since 2008 conducted many workshops, classes, and student performances, she has worked with students of various age groups and enjoys bringing out the best in each individual. Mohana’s forte is understanding, utilising and enhancing stage dynamics’s whether it be in solo or group performances, as well as to seek out the divine, magical element in literary compositions. While her primary training in classical dance has been from her mother Guru Usha Narayan in the Pandanallur style, she has also trained with other instructors and Gurus of the Tanjavur, Kalakshetra and Vazhuvoor styles. She continues to train and learn from senior Gurus at every possible opportunity. She incorporates the most dynamic of these aspects in her own choreographies. In addition, she continues to train post-arangetram students in new items for a second margam to advance their skills and finesse in this beautiful artform.
Mohana lives with her husband and two children in the Bay Area of California, where she has been residing for over 20 years now.