Arupa Lahiry is a Bharatnatyam dancer from Kolkata, whose search for excellence in her art form took her to legendary dance guru Chitra Visweswaran of the Chidambaram Academy of Performing Arts, Chennai. Team Optimist spoke to this versatile artiste, who has won many laurels. Excerpts…
Team Optimist: What gives you the inspiration to perform?
Arupa Lahiry: One of my primary inspirations every time I go up on stage to perform is my audience connect. I create new communication with new people every time. It is just like we meet our friends at different times and our mode of communication changes. Similarly, with a new audience, my mode of communication changes. To me, dance is reaching out to people with live audience being my main source of inspiration and that’s what makes me a performer.
Team Optimist: What has your journey been like since childhood? How did you get introduced to the world of dance?
Arupa Lahiry: My mother introduced me to the world of dance when I was four years old. Despite the fact that I was from a middle-class Bengali family, my parents gave me freedom to choose my path and explore it my way. I kept learning dance throughout my childhood. At age 14, when I was in the 10th Standard, I stopped dancing for two years because I had chosen science for my higher studies.
But, during that time, I used to feel a void in my life, as if something was acutely missing. In those days, I wasn’t a performer… just a normal girl going to regular classes. But, when I started college, I thought of returning to dancing and tabla maestro Pandit Tanmoy Bose told me I couldn’t learn Bharatnatyam in Kolkata and had to travel South because it was a dance form of South India.
At that time, Shovana often used to come to Kolkata for performances and I was very inspired by her. I wanted to learn from her as she looked enchanting and stunning. But Tanmoyda, one of my biggest mentors, advised me to learn from a guru and not from her. And that’s how I met my guru, Padma Shri Chitra Visweswaran. After that, my life changed completely. There are dance teachers and then there are dance gurus. A guru is a person who completely changes your life and, so, I’ve changed as a human being because of her.
Team Optimist: You’re a very passionate dancer, but had you not been a dancer, what would you be doing?
Arupa Lahiry: After 17 years, when I’ve only danced, it’s a very difficult question for me to answer. But I think I’d have been either an English lecturer, which I was for a short while, or, possibly, a journalist. That’s what I’d planned till the point dance happened to me.
Team Optimist: Being an artiste requires creativity every day. How do you deal with this stress and manage to de-stress yourself?
Arupa Lahiry: It’s very stressful actually. On some days, you don’t have any inspiration to perform at all. Apart from passion, I also look at it as a profession and a profession has its own drawbacks. You don’t feel like working on some days. The same thing happens to us, too, at times.
I have a morning routine which is very crucial to me — my morning classes, morning walks to connect with nature. I often meditate for some time, but I feel I haven’t yet harnessed the energy within me. When I go out on my morning walks, I see the sun rising, the birds chirping and I feel the fresh air, which are all a part of my daily life. Now that I’m settled in Delhi, every 3-4 months I go to the Himalayas, which gives me a lot of peace. Once back, I feel ready to face the stress once again.
Team Optimist: You travel to so many places… How do you take personal time out for yourself and what do you do then?
Arupa Lahiry: Earlier, when I used to be a little less busy, it was easier to take some time out for myself. I used to make sure that I saw around the places after my performances. But now, things are getting more hectic, although I’m not complaining. This is my life and a dancer is what I am. It’s always been a priority in my life and everything’s decided keeping that in mind.
I don’t really differentiate between my personal and professional lives. But, yes, after my practice sessions, I do my own chores. Even when I’m reading, it never crosses my mind that I need to take time out for my personal space. One thing I do every alternate day is cook. I love cooking and it helps me de-stress. There have been days when I’ve finished my performance, come back, changed and cooked biryani. I really enjoy cooking, it takes away all my tiredness.
Team Optimist: Do you believe in destiny, or do you think a person can succeed with hard work?
Arupa Lahiry: Yes, I do believe in destiny, but I definitely believe no one can take away your dream. But that doesn’t mean that you sit around and wait for your luck to call on you. Luck is something I don’t believe in. Anybody can be anything if that person decides on something. Whatever I’ve achieved is through hard work and with complete focus and dedication. But one needs to find a path that one wishes to follow to become successful.
Team Optimist: Can you describe yourself in three words?
Arupa Lahiry: Passionate, colourful, dedicated.
Team Optimist: What does beauty and true empowerment mean to you? Do you feel it comes when one’s educated, or can it be achieved otherwise, as well?
Arupa Lahiry: Beauty need not be flashy, or superficial. My guru taught me that the correct space, or position for the correct thing can make anything beautiful. She says you can buy things from the footpath and make them look beautiful and elegant and I guess that’s where such designers as Manish Malhotra and Sabyasachi Mukherji have succeeded. They pick up very ordinary material and make them look extraordinary. It’s beautiful when you can make an ordinary thing look extraordinary by how you treat something. That’s my idea of beauty.
Empowerment is when I give power to myself to make a choice. That has nothing to do with education. But, yes, education gives you the mind to know you have choices in life. My parents have always encouraged me to read a lot, to study a lot and that helped me become a thinking person. When I approach a subject, I don’t approach it directly, but look at it from different perspectives.
Empowerment for me is when you have the knowledge and liberty to make your own choices. That I think is true empowerment — not money, not status, nothing materialistic. Even a girl who’s being beaten up and thinks it’s wrong and decides to walk away is empowering herself. I used to know a girl whose husband left her with three children and she told me, “It’s good he’s left. I’m happier now.” That’s empowerment, where education or money didn’t matter; she simply knew what was right.
The many feathers in her cap
- Arupa Lahiry is a passionate Bharatanatyam dancer from Kolkata who performs at national and international functions
- She is part of the young artistes’ list of SPIC MACAY, a classified artiste of Delhi Doordarshan, empanelled with ICCR and a recipient of ‘Shringar Mani’ title from Mumbai
- She has received her Junior Fellowship award from the ministry of culture, Government of India, to work on the changing dimensions of Bharatnatyam