Radhika Mulay profile photo for her learning story on Bodhiroom

Learning Story – Radhika

  • 02/09/2021
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When and how did you develop an interest/love for dancing?

My love for dance goes back to my childhood days like for many other children. I remember dancing to Bollywood songs, performing in society functions and school gatherings with friends and classmates. I was fortunate that my parents and teachers helped me channelise this love in a beautiful manner through the language of Bharatnatyam. In high school, I slowly began realising that dancing helped me to focus, it gave me some sense of grounding and confidence. I would look forward to my weekly dance classes. It slowly started becoming my identity. This further helped me to delve deeper into it.

However, there was a phase in between when I started losing interest in Bharatnatyam. I did not want to do the same Ganesh Kautukam again and again (traditional piece in praise for Lord Ganesh). I kept wondering – who is Lord Ganesh, why am I dancing this composition, how is this relevant to me? That is when I came across a brilliant dance production by Shri Vaibhav Arekar – ‘Panavarchya Pakalya’ in 2009. This production changed my understanding of Bharatnatyam. I realised that dancing Bharatnatyam does not just mean repeating the traditional compositions. I too can express what I want using the vocabulary of Bharatnatyam.

This realisation reinstilled in me my love for dance and thus began a new journey of learning and unlearning, polishing and refining my dance and technique. This journey continues till today and surprisingly, I love dancing to the traditional compositions again, as every time the same Ganesh Kautukam feels different. Its meaning and relevance has changed. The same movement which outwardly looks similar, internally has a different effect on me. Every time I dance to it, I find something new in it or maybe I am new every time I dance to it!

Did you always want to be a professional dancer?

The term ‘professional’ is very confusing. Does professional mean that one is earning one’s livelihood from it or has a degree or has million instagram followers? Then I don’t qualify as a professional dancer. But recently, I came across a beautiful definition which cleared this confusion for me. It said –  ‘a person becomes a professional when s/he  starts looking into and working on the details/nuances/finer aspects of one’s own work.’ Whether it is cleaning the house or baking a cake or writing a report or in this case dancing, the moment one starts fine tuning every aspect of the task at hand, it becomes professional work.

So yes, from this viewpoint I always wanted to be a professional dancer because that is what I enjoy. I love working on the details of my dance steps, expressions, mudras (hand gestures), understanding musical and rhythmic elements, underlying ‘sthayi bhava’ (emotion) of every dance composition which I learn and practise. I love the process of marinating in the journey of understanding how my mind and body reacts to different body movements, musical pieces and choreographies whether Bharatnatyam or Contemporary.

What does being a dancer mean to you? How has dancing changed/impacted your life?

For me being a dancer is to ‘move’, not just physically but emotionally, mentally, intellectually as well as spiritually.  Philosophers have always spoken about how we all need to engage in every activity with our head and our heart. Dance requires physical fitness, body coordination but also an in-depth understanding of poetry, music, mathematics (as all rhythmic patterns are really a number game!) aesthetics, and the subtle philosophical abstractions!  Over and above a feeling of empathy which is at the core of ‘abhinaya’ – expressions. Every dance composition challenges me and helps me grow in all these dimensions which is tiring as well as exciting at the same time.

 The process of learning how to ‘move’ has taken me towards other art forms or practices like Yoga, contemporary dance, Kalaripayattu, music, poetry, films and much more. It has given me a chance to explore many doors which I would have never stumbled through if it hadn’t been for dance. So being a dancer is basically trying to understand oneself through all these lenses or perspectives. On a mundane level, it really gives me a purpose to eat well, sleep well and live well in order to ‘move’ better!

What made you pursue studies in environment/water science?

My rendezvous with Environmental Studies began during my college days firstly because of love for nature and also because of a brilliant geography professor who made me curious about how our earth works. This curiosity was further fueled during my bachelor’s degree by amazing professors who gave me a chance to study and understand earth through different subjects like earth sciences, meteorology, atmospheric physics, biodiversity, urban governance, environmental law, anthropology, archeology and philosophy.

The decision to focus on Water Sciences was actually a result of a tragedy which I happened to witness. In 2013, my sister and I were completing our Basic Mountaineering course at NIM, Uttarkashi when the Kedarnath floods happened. We experienced the landslides, heavy rainfall and floods ourselves and were completely shook by the experience. Fortunately, we were safely escorted by our training instructors through a 40km walking route through the mountains and valleys as all the roads were damaged. We later found that the same route was later used for rescue operations for many pilgrims and tourists. This incident made me wonder about the reasons of the calamity and resulted in submitting a lengthy analysis of Uttarakhand’s laws and policies related to Ganga river management as my term paper.

This was my entry point in the world of water which today I realise is so fundamental to our existence yet so complex and disturbing! Somewhere at the back of my mind, I also feel that the idea of movement drew me towards water. But that is an afterthought or maybe just a beautiful coincidence which helps me connect the world of dance and water together!

What are the biggest challenges/mental blocks have you faced in your journey and how did you overcome them?

Balancing between two careers as a dancer and an environmental researcher is a challenge as at times days are long and hectic not just physically but mentally as well. Further, because I am working in two different fields, the rate of my growth is considerably much slower than that of a full time dancer or a researcher. A dance composition which a full time dancer might need one month to learn and practise, in my case takes two. Accepting this fact that my journey is going to be different and slow has taken a while and has been a challenge.

But slowly I am realising that it is just a mental block, if I keep looking at the two fields separately it is always going to be difficult. But actually both of them feed into each other, they are not so distinct, there are many interlayers and they flow into each other. Finding such moments while researching or dancing have been of great delight and relish. With the help of my teachers and family I am learning to be patient with myself and trust the journey!

If you can give a single piece of advice to fellow performers/young people through your learning experiences what would it be?

I would love to share a revelation which dawned upon me recently. We understand many concepts or theories in our head very quickly, but putting them into practise takes time. Understanding that breath should be the foundation of every single hand gesture or movement is easier to understand but to put it into practise while dancing is a difficult task. Imitating graceful eye expressions is easier than to go deeper into ourselves to actually feel them genuinely. I am learning that it takes courage to stay with oneself even when it feels messy and uncomfortable. Changing our approach towards our art process or even simple habits needs processing time. We need to be patient with ourselves and keep working towards it! There is a difference between entertainment and art. Art takes time, it doesn’t belong to the instant age of instagram and social media! Its nature and purpose is much deeper than that…and we need to give it that time!

About Radhika

With Bachelors in Liberal Education from Foundation for Liberal and Management Education, Pune (with Environmental Studies – major and  Dance – minor), Radhika went on to pursue  MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management from the University of Oxford, UK with Allan and Nesta Ferguson Scholarship.
She has worked as an environmental researcher in an environmental action group Kalpavriksh, Pune on an international academic-activist research program ACKNOWL-EJ and was part of a case study – ‘Sandhani – Weaving Transformations in Kachchh, India’ with the handloom weavers of Kachchh to understand the relationship of their craft and community with nature. Currently, Radhika is working as a researcher with Prof. Vijay Paranjpye (Gomukh) on a project related to the ‘Heads and Tails of Ganga River – the Glaciers and the Delta’.
As a student of Bharatnatyam since the past 18 years, dance has always been her pillar of strength throughout her education and her career, she says. Having performed Bharatnatyam recitals at the Nehru Centre of London in 2016, ‘Talam’ at University of Oxford, 2015, at Mahagami, Aurangabad, 2014, and various in Pune, she has also had the opportunity to be part of various dance productions: ‘Yoni’, choreographed by Dr.  Janaki Rangarajan organized by Nrityayatri, Pune, 2020; ‘INSAN-ITY’, contemporary dance production as part of ‘Avayava’, Contemporary Dance Festival, Pune 2016 and others. Currently, based in Pune, she is seeking further training in Bharatnatyam under Shraddha Palsule and Viraja Kiran (alumni of Kalakshetra, Chennai) and also exploring Yoga under the guidance of Pranati Pratap, Contemporary with Ronita Mookerji and Carnatic music with Krishna Karthi to deepen her understanding in dance and movement.

Radhika can be found on her Instagram page. Picture credits: Rashmi Navelkar (@perfectmomentphoto_)

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