They have grown up watching their mother and grandmother set the stage on fire and now, after tutoring themselves in the familiar tradition of dance and backing up the unique opportunity of home schooling with formal education in this discipline, Revanta, 25, and his sister Anahita, 19, are slowly but steadily making their presence felt in the decision making process at Darpana.
Mallika Sarabhai has been known to speak her mind, follow her heart and make her own rules, despite the ire she has may have garnered from critics along the way. Her passion for dance, however, has been a steady flow. For sometime now Revanta and Anahita have been accompanying their mother to performances across the world, often basking in the glory of being Mrinalini’s grandchildren as well. Dance has been a way of their life. Such that their mother Mallika notes, “I can rely on them totally for clarity, professionalism, chutzpah and perfection.”
That’s a mother and a dancer at best. While Mallika’s biggest influence in dance is “Amma without a doubt”, she does discuss performances with her children. “The good, the bad and the awful.” Anahita looks upon her mother for reference points as well. “She blends her world with the one around her, breaks accepted lines of what art ‘is’ and ‘must be’ to recreate something interesting. These are things that excite me and draw me to do the kind of work I hope to do,” Anahita says.
And then there is much swapping of ideas among the siblings as well. “In fact, when we are watching something together, we have the same opinion on the piece. But it’s also as often that we differ in our views of how something we are working on should be taken forward. I think we both enjoy being able to discuss our dancing with each other, but we are usually on one of two extremes - either exactly on the same page or in two different books altogether,” she says.
Revanta is the more relaxed of the two and feels that it is special that Anahita and he often act or dance together. “In that sense we discuss our work as co-performers. However, we haven’t yet started creating work together,” says Revanta. He feels that his exposure to world performances while studying in Philadelphia added to his growth too.
Anahita feels that she offers a “different dialogue”, with each “Revu, Ma and Amma (as Mrinalini is fondly called)”, and yet, “I know my grandmother, mother and brother well enough to know who to turn to for specific things. When I ask all three and get different opinions, I balance it out to make a good decision. That is an art in itself, really.”
Their distinct behavioural pattern came to fore when after a long journey in dance, Mallika decided to contest the Lok Sabha election in 2009 as an independent candidate. She may not have won, but her children took away much from that experience. While Revanta learnt about the “politics of our people, breakdown of basic democratic systems, and the nature of human beings”; Anahita, being the youngest, realised “the state of the city as well as people’s minds were worse than we thought it was”.
“I was scared to learn how easy it was to buy people and how ready they were to be bought because of the circumstances they lived in. Actually, that made us want to work even harder at winning the election,” she avers. It is very clear which one of the two takes after the mother. Mallika blushes in affirmation: “Anahita will fight battles for justice as I do. Revanta is more reflective, cautious, more like my brother than me. Anahita will jump into the fray without thinking of consequences.”
Given how closely knit the family is, was dance an inevitability for the children then?
“Whether I like it or not, it really is in my blood. That doesn’t mean I don’t passionately love it. Having grown up around dancers, waking up to music, seeing the fire and power in movement, it was tough to stay away from something so extraordinary,” says Anahita.
Her brother has a unique take: “I don’t know what I would be doing if I wasn’t born into this family. Fact is, I was never forced, or even gently coerced into dancing. I grew up on the Darpana campus. It was all around me and I felt a calling very early in my childhood. Over the years, it became a career. Dance is my most natural way of expression.”
And yet, Revanta doesn’t feel he’s consciously carrying the ‘legacy forward’. “If my becoming a professional dancer makes it a legacy, then that’s what it is,” he defines. Anahita, instead, believes she is a “strong, opinionated woman who is not afraid of speaking her mind or fighting for what I believe is right”. She elaborates: “I care about the world and have discovered the joy in using a medium that does not involve hatred to communicate with the people in it.”
Grandmother Mrinalini looks on fondly. “I feel it’s all been worth its while. Mallika took on the role of establishing and making Natarani what it is today. Her education at the IIM-A helped her manage everything well and I feel good about the way things have turned out,” says the senior Sarabhai.