“Sometimes, you end up using certain things as coping mechanisms without even realizing it. I’d been dancing since I was 5. While in my head my life was absolutely perfect, in retrospect, I realise that Bharatanatyam had been my escape while growing up. While that escape grew into a passion and today is my profession, I cannot deny the fact that it was a personal form of denial at first.
When I got a call to join the Daksha Sheth Dance Company in Trivandrum, I left immediately. I was so eager to explore movement, test my limits and understand who I was outside of Bharatanatyam. Working with this group completely changed my concept of movement while reinforcing the importance of understanding my body and mind to move in harmony. My mentor always said “it’s not about how you look when you dance, it’s about how you feel”, something I remind myself of even today.
However, during this process, I was living alone for the very first time and began noticing how I had conveniently ignored all the telltale signs of my mental health deteriorating. In retrospect, the patterns were right in front of me. It was around this time that I had a major identity crisis. Being someone that was always in the public eye, be it newspapers or television, I had inflicted so much pressure on myself to live up to that image. In the process of not wanting to let anybody down, I had ended up letting myself down. It finally took quite a bit of therapy for me to be able to humanize myself, stop comparing myself, and allow myself to not have to be perfect for people all the time. I’m glad I took that step, and I continue going to my therapist when I feel the need to even today.
Last December, I had an annular tear in my spine. I guess that’s what I got for not giving myself a break. I was bedridden for four weeks, and only then did I realize how much I had actually overworked myself. For me, this lockdown couldn’t have come at a better time. It has made me respect my body a lot more and it has also made me embrace fear on some level. It’s good to know your limits and respect them. It has also given me a lot of time to connect, which is how I realized that literally everybody has got these issues that they’re struggling with. This understanding is what led me to conceptualize ‘A Brighter Place’.
‘A Brighter Place’ is a dramatic illustration depicting the struggles that come with mental health. In particular, I wanted to depict the struggle we went through during the lockdown this year. All artists that I worked with put forward their personal struggles – ‘chaos’, ‘questioning’, ‘realisation’, peace’, – it was incredible to see them express themselves so beautifully with the music just stitching the story together; and even more so that we managed to create it without even being in the same place! It premiered on World Mental Health Day as our token of understanding and solidarity to everybody struggling with mental health. Ironically, while creating the piece, it caused me a great deal of anxiety, self doubt and nervousness, but in the end, I knew all I had to do was put my soul into the piece, and then put it out for others to take what they could from it.
I think it’s very important to accept and at least attempt to understand yourself. It’s about being vulnerable and accepting that you will never be perfect. For instance, in the past, I’m sure I’ve been the toxic person in several relationships, and that’s okay for me to accept now because I know I’m constantly working on myself. Once I began to treat myself with kindness, it reflected on everything I did. So in a way, I’m grateful for the lockdown and all the revelations that came with it. There’s a quote my Papa once told me – “Believe in Yourself and the World can be Yours”- this continues to be my mantra.”
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