Alarmel Valli Teaching

Photographing Alarmel Valli

There is not much of a garden left in Kilpauk Garden Road these days with its relentless traffic and a rapidly shrinking pedestrian realm. The graceful tree canopies that once lined most of these roads are disappearing fast making way for wider roads. The occasional stretches of sidewalk which sometimes seems more of relic raised on a foot and a half high pedestal is perhaps a collection of unmarked gravestones for those hundreds street trees sacrificed on the altar of urbanization.

The low point of my 6 month stay in India during the beginning of this year was going through a 2 month drill of applying for a replacement passport and missing my scheduled return flight to US with rest of my family. Perhaps the only upside to this expensive delay was that I finally had the opportunity to photograph the dancer-extraordinaire Ms. Alarmel Valli at her beautiful residence and studio in Kilpauk.

A few hundred feet from the busy main road, Ms.Valli’s residence and dance studio remains a welcome anomaly. A two story, single family residence and a classic example of mid twentieth century art deco influences in the city, its an oasis of serenity not too far from the madding crowd. Pavilions with stunningly beautiful life size bronze sculptures of Meenakshi and Sundareshwar with fragrant garlands of marigolds, tulsi and rose graces the front driveway and the path to the studio. As I make my way to the back porch, the sound of fast moving feet on polished terrazzo floor get louder as the new generation of dancers get trained by one of the very best. As human form momentarily transforms into fluttering butterflies, skipping antelopes and graceful birds, perhaps some part of the Kilpauk Garden are more alive today than ever!