Padma Vibhushan Dr. Sonal Mansingh needs no introduction. Her deep knowledge of several dance forms and classical music stands out. Her ‘Naatya Katha’ addresses several socio-cultural issues and is a solo dance theatre. Sonal Mansingh’s biography comes from Sujata Prasad- a civil servant currently posted in Delhi.
The conversation between the two was clearly driven by awe and respect while Sujata drew out the many facets of Dr. Mansingh throughout the session. Sujata picked Dr. Mansingh because of the pinch of nostalgia and for her feminist streak, she tells. The title ‘A Life Like No Other’ is one that found them as a result of decades of memories and that resonates with what Sujata has for the icon; her larger than life is personality contained in this book and is a bundle of memories and metaphors that her life offered to her. The conversation took the icon back in time where she revisited the exact episodes of her days that went up to her arangetram right here in Bangalore- the days when she was understanding and learning the nuances of Bharatanatyam. Her performances spread across various places in Karnataka- Badami, Pattadakkal and others.
The transition from Bharatanatyam to Odissi happened years later when she first got married. A few years later, when her relationship failed and she was forced to find a new guru, she met Jeevan Pani, who weaved a powerful influence on her life. She considers the detail of her transitioning from Bharatanatyam an important acknowledgement, because she started with it.
During the conversation that brought out little episodes from her life, she also drew a distinction between the dancers of yesteryears, and those of today. She attributes the difference to the absence of an actual guru in all aspects. To stay humble and acknowledge that another being knows more than their own, and seeking out help are the biggest moments of learning.
From the anecdotes of her life, she considers her relationships – marital or otherwise, as experiential learnings. They have all taught her many different life lessons, by which she has grown. While these relationships have taught her many lessons, so have the characters that she portrays.
Draupadi, a powerful character from the Mahabharat is one she has time and again portrayed. With Sujata prompting her to shine light on that very character, Dr. Sonal opines how the issues that once plagued Draupadi still exist today.
Natya Katha is one form of theatre that is closest to her heart; one that blossomed at a few friends’ request a few years ago. How does Natya Katha bring its relevance today, Sujata asks. From the lives of women today, who go through similar atrocities, or violence against them to the plight of our rivers, such as the Yamuna today, are very much like that of what our mythological stories enlist, she says. Art brings its relevance irrespective of time!
A lady of such stature, a scholar, the recipient of the second highest civilian award, one with hundreds of thousands of followers, and how does she stay grounded, Sujata asks. “Gratitude” she says. Gratitude for every single person who made it to her life, even if briefly.
About the Author – Shobhana Ramesh is a writer who immerses herself in books, her favourite being those that bring subtle magic into everyday living. She also writes poetry that she curates in her blog ‘Thinking;inking’, and is often lost in the words of other poets too. She currently writes for Bookstalkist.