ANITA RATNAM, Dancer and activist
What is your earliest memory?
I was the eldest grandchild and my family used to fight over who gets to hold me. I don’t remember walking. All I remember is being carried everywhere and being given lots of presents. I was flying before really walking.
Who has influenced you?
Two terrific grandmothers. Rukmini from my father’s side, who broke out of the conservative mould to wear diamonds and play tennis and be everything she was told she couldn’t be. And Lakshmi Sundaram Iyengar, who gave up her diamonds to join the freedom struggle. Both were strong, beautiful women who made their lives an adventure in very different ways. I feel like they represent two sides of me.
How do you remember your childhood?
I was a product of the 1950s, a time of a very young independent India with the concomitant hope, optimism and passion. A time of simple pleasures like the beach, for instance. I had so many contradictory strands that wove me. I was learning not only dance but also horse-riding, not just Sanskrit, but also French. Perhaps all the elements of a schizophrenic, but also, hopefully, an interesting patchwork quilt.
What’s your take on marriage?
Many young girls dream of a perfect marriage. I had to experience marriage to understand that it did not suit me. I’d say that it’s very important, but not essential. It’s not something anymore that defines a woman. When it works it’s beautiful, but when it doesn’t, it can be soul-destroying. Marriage is, in the end, a commitment to respect one another.
What’s your approach to dance?
I have a love and hate relationship with dance and I find this kind of a relationship the best. The contradictory opposing nature of it is sexy to me. I’m most articulate when I dance. Dance, as opposed to other art forms, does not exist outside of the dancer’s body. The dancer only has the human body to articulate, and your articulation is one of constant creation. This is both the power and the tragedy of dance.
What are your thoughts on death?
Death, as we know it, is the end of life, not the end of relationship. I’ve lost both my parents. I saw them laugh and love me — they’re still alive to me.