Updated: Feb 28
(This is the second part of a 2-part blog post on how I have chosen to honor my grandmothers through my work as a kathak artist)
In my previous post, I talked about my maternal grandmother, Lilavati Naik, and how I've chosen to carry forward her name and spirit through my work as an artist. For years now I have been thinking about how best to do the same for my paternal grandmother, Rukhmani Mehta or Sharda as she was known to most.
My paternal grandmother played a large part in raising me the years that I was India. She was a force to be reckoned with. She was a visionary and a natural leader. She was intelligent and sharp witted but did not get the educational opportunities her brothers did. She ended up being the head matriarch of an extended family made up of 7 couples and 30 kids. She led the family with a firm hand and generous spirit. She lost her husband young and had to live a large part of her life as a widow.
I am told by my family that I have a lot of my grandmother in me. She tried with a steely determination to train me to be a good, well-behaved young lady. I fought her tooth and nail. She would often lament saying that I should've been born a boy. Throughout my childhood we were on opposite sides of a war that was about patriarchy. It took me years into adulthood to realize that she and I were on the same side, fighting the same fight that all girls and women have to in this world.
My grandmother's life was determined by a patriarchy that I will never know. She endured it for herself and fought valiantly for her daughters and granddaughters to have opportunities and freedoms she never knew. My life today has been built on the ground her vision and determination provided.
For a woman to dance - to celebrate and enjoy her body - is a radical act. To do it publicly is nothing less than heroic. As a dancer you confront patriarchy somatically in the way it's wired into your body and intellectually and emotionally in the way it shapes your consciousness and sense of self. You confront patriarchy within yourself and in the world around you. Ultimately, dance can be a path that paves the way for self-reclamation and returns one to their innate wholeness.
Although my grandmother's life and mine look dramatically different, I can see clearly the thread that connect us both. It is an instinct, drive and vision on behalf of girls and women informed by our personal encounters and struggles with patriarchy. My own dance is ultimately about stepping fully into the freedoms and opportunities my grandmother created for me. And my work as a choreographer and teacher is to help girls and women literally and figuratively dance their way to wholeness and freedom.
Beginning this month, I will be performing, teaching and working under my grandmother's name - Rukhmani Mehta. I can think of no better way to honor and carry forward her spirit. Rukhmani comes from the Sanskrit word "Rukma" which means 'Radiant', 'Clear', or 'Bright'. In Indian mythology, she is considered to be an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi (associated with abundance, beauty and fertility) and the wife of Lord Krishna, a central figure in kathak dance. My hope is that her name and spirit guides and blesses me and the work at Leela.
Photo Above: My grandmother, Rukhmani Mehta with my dad, Dinesh Mehta, as a young boy.