Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Ragasudha Vinjamuri for her regular series for 'iGlobal' to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.
Ragasudha Vinjamuri is an Associate Lecturer at the University of Sunderland and an award-winning classical dancer. She has carved a niche for herself and broken barriers in taking Indian dancing to various subjects, occasions & venues, such as the impact of dance on physical and mental health, dance and Diabetes Management, Music Therapy, Woman Empowerment, Water Conservation etc.
During the whole pandemic and lockdown in 2020-2021, apart from organising several webinars on a variety of regional arts for public consumption, she has also engaged with medical professionals in the NHS took their inputs on Covid19 in 20 different languages. These were published under the title "Diction by Doctors", the initiative which enabled scores of people to remain hopeful and strong in the face of the pandemic effects.
For her contributions to Art, she was honoured with the British Citizen Award and post-nominals BCAa in September 2021.
MORE LIKE THIS:
Where does your Love of classical Indian dance come from?
I come from a family of art lovers and musicians. My father was greatly instrumental in shaping up my interest in dance at a very young age and put me under the tutelage of Guru Dr Umarama Rao in Hyderabad, who chiselled thousands of dancers and created a whole new generation of classical dance teachers all over the world. I would attribute my keenness and the strong desire to learn and fine-tune dance nuances to my great Guru and be thankful to her. As I grew up, several others' dance contributions and performances galvanised and stimulated my resolve to continue dancing. The way the wonderful underwater world cannot be explored fully by any amount of scuba diving, there is ever so much to explore and discover in the world of dance too. As such, dance, for that matter, any art form is limitless, and we are therefore life-long learners.
You've had the privilege of performing in some of the most prestigious venues and in front of dignitaries and famous names. What has been one of your special memories, where was it, and why?
I shall remain thankful to all the organisers for the opportunities bestowed, enabling me to share what I know of classical dance with diverse audiences. Over a period of time, I have presented dance to an audience ranging from 50 people to an audience of 20,000. For me, as an artist, both would be equally important, special, and memorable. I am fortunate to have collected a fragrant bouquet of memories over time. However, one recent experience which was entirely different was presenting dance on the virtual platform before honourable Vice President of India Shri Venkayya Naidu-ji during the Telugu Bhasha Dinotsavaalu 2021. Due to protocols and time constraints, I had to first record the dance and share it with the organisers. As the recording had to be done outdoors, it took quite a while to find a suitable non-cloudy non-rainy day in the UK. My invocation dance was presented just before the Vice President gave his keynote speech. Therefore, the entire process, including watching myself and the Vice President watching my invocation, was a wholly different circumstance and remains a special memory.
MORE LIKE THIS:
What do you hope the next generation knows or learns about classical dance?
As we all know, Dance is an important tool for communicating and story-telling. While the repertoires and traditions are always there in classical dance, I wish to give the next generation a clarion call that they should try and bring out little-known aspects, lesser-known stories, and add value to the gamut of dancing. Some are already doing it, but that can become an even broader spectrum if we are able to pool intellect, creativity, and research acumen. Ours is a civilisation that is rich, ancient & vibrant, and there is a huge scope to position our compass on culturally and socially significant stories. It would be great if they strongly pursue the quest for knowledge. This of course requires commitment.
We all have a duty of care towards our arts and culture. Like they say, wear your own oxygen mask before helping others. We first need to be equipped ourselves with the strength of knowledge, which then can be passed on. Our ancestors have given us such a vast amount of intangible heritage, and now it becomes our responsibility to leave a valuable legacy for the coming generations. The baton gets passed further from them, thereby continuing the phenomenon. One thing that needs attention is not to become only performance-oriented but to be equally subject-oriented.
How would you best describe your relationship with the UK and India?
India is where I was cultivated- my janmabhumi (land of birth) and the UK is where I live- my karmabhumi (land of work). I take pride in my roots, we all do, and feel a great sense of responsibility towards the society I now live in. For all the UK's statistical, legal, and practical purposes, I am "British Indian", and I shall live to make both Britain and India proud. I feel a moral duty to raise cross-cultural awareness, improve mutual respect and understanding, and enhance the cultural fabric in Britain through Indian performing arts. Mine may be squirrel contributions; however, even the mighty epic Ramayana is not complete without the mention of squirrel attempts.
MORE LIKE THIS:
What has been the lesson you have learned during the lockdown and the covid-19 pandemic?
We do not know the depth until we fathom. Lockdown provided us with valuable lessons- that we should never give up, that we can do something meaningful even in the face of adversities, and that we are more adaptive and resilient than we think. Performing arts and artists were one of the worst-hit due to Covid19, in the months of lockdown. Venues shut, livelihoods deprived, earnings suffered, above all, the chances of gratification of having shared the talent and artistic abilities reduced. Somehow, in my case- the realisation was quick. Through Sanskruti Centre for Cultural Excellence, we briskly engaged with audiences on virtual platforms, organised webinars and workshops on unique regional cultures and art forms, and tried to bring the joy of the cultural kaleidoscope to people who were feeling low and lost. This was much needed. People often underestimate the role of performing arts in mental health. People who are engaged in the consumption of artistic endeavours are less likely to suffer mental health issues, and this is what we have practically seen through the wonderful feedback received from attendees from various quarters. Today we proudly look back at the rich content we provided to several thousands of viewers through our webinars on art forms such as Ottan Thullal, Koodiattam, Dollu Kunitha, Kamsale, Sindhi Bhagat, Seraikala Chhau, Gotipua, Ladakhi folk music, architectural representations & dance, the importance of Sanskrit language, woman empowerment in handicraft sector, removing Math phobia among the young, to name a few.
Much more to do, many miles to go, and the show should go on.
*The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.