Mj’s Wonder Women Series Feature #3: Ipshita Rajesh

I had a desire to photograph outdoors in urban spaces, classical dance forms that are usually performed on stage. The idea was at the back of my head for over a year. In the meantime I got acquainted with Ipshita. I had photographed her on a couple of occasions when she performed in Stockholm Musikaliska and the Stockholm Cultural Festival last year.
From the moment we first met for lunch at Cafe Schweizer at Gamla Stan, I felt an instant connection with her. Until that moment I had only seen her mesmerising performances. It was after meeting her, I discovered what made her performances so mesmerising. Ipshita’s passion for life and art is contagious. Her views on life and cultures always was thought-provoking and inspiring. The more I got to know her as a person over fika’s and a movie, I knew that this is a Wonder Woman whose story I need to share!

So one Friday morning, I sent the kids to school and headed to Uppsala, a city near Stockholm, where Ipshita currently resides. I followed the footprints of this dancing queen and photographed her in Uppsala’s prominent spots!
Read on! Be inspired!
Name: Ipshita Rajesh
Age: 29
Country: Sweden/India

Occupation: Dancer-storyteller (Performing artist)

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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala, Sweden

 Share a little about your growing up years – place, childhood dreams, hobbies and education.
I’m a pakka Bombay-girl, born and raised with vada-pavs, pani-puris, cutting-chais, and of course, the Mumbai local trains! I’m second of the six grand-children my grandparents have, and for quite a large part of my growing-up years lived in a joint-, or extended-joint family, meaning, at one point with my grandparents, great-grand mother, parents, and aunt’s family, and at another point with my parents and another family that are my parents’ closest, longest, childhood friends. I’m used to having a lot of people around me, a lot of food, and a lot of stories! I can’t remember of a single day that went by without my grand-mother or great-grand-mother reading book after book to me, or my grand-father animatedly telling me bed-time stories.
As a ‘good’ and ‘cultured’ girl of Tamil ethnicity, I began learning dance and music from the age of 5, though the real reason that my mother enrolled me in dance-classes was this: I was a skinny kid, perpetually ill, and a very poor eater. And so my mother came up with the brilliant idea that if she enrolled me for classes twice a week, I’d get tired, hungry, eat better, and get healthy soon! So there began my journey with dance! For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to become a professional dancer (though there were times when my child-like fantasy would make me wish I became an astronaut just to see the Earth from space).

Mine is a family that, like most Tamil middle-class families that came from the South to Bombay in search of better pastures, swore by education. So naturally, I was admitted into one of the best schools in our city, and fared quite well (though now I think that’s barely something to be proud of…. there’s so much more that matters than scoring well!)

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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala, Sweden
 One person who has inspired you the most.

This is the first of the ‘one thing/person’ questions that is so difficult to answer, for there’s not just one! So here goes my list:

  • My great grand mother: She was strong, a pillar of the family, someone that cared for all of us, extremely well travelled, meticulous in everything she did.
  • My parents: For teaching me how to balance life, and how to enjoy in-the-now.
  • My dance teacher: For instigating my curiosity of the ways in which Bharatanatyam can be used to reach out to a wider audience
  • My husband: For his AMAZING world views and perspectives, and the way he deals with life, and sails through life.
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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala, Sweden
 What sparked your love for dance?

I don’t know what sparked my love for dance, because I don’t have very clear memories of how I felt when I was first enrolled into dance-classes. But what kept me going is the ability to express myself through expressions, to embody different characters that made me live so many lives though I have just one. It fills me with a sense of satisfaction and though it might make me physically exhausted, that exhaustion is exhilarating.

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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala, Sweden
 What do you call the dance that you do? What music accompanies this dance?

The dance is one of the eight styles of Indian classical dance called Bharatanatyam. It is usually accompanied by the south-Indian classical music style called Carnatic music.

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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala, Sweden
 What compelled you to choose dance over chartered accountancy? What are the challenges you faced when you made the decision to follow your passion over a lucrative career? How did you overcome it?

Though all through my school days I was sure I wanted to be a professional performing artist, I got lost somewhere in-between and followed the herd by enrolling for the Chartered Accountancy  (CA) course. I began working in Ernst and Young while simultaneously attending high school and studying for the CA course. It was nothing short of hell for me – and I don’t mean that those who are pursuing this are living in hell. What I mean is that for me it drained all my creative energies – I worked long hours poring over vouchers and accounts and laws and ledgers and numbers…. and I worked for such long hours that I did not have the time to continue dancing. It brought out the worst in me – I was frustrated and angry and irritable, and all that would pour out on my family every single day.

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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden
 Then one day I sat back and reflected. I remember, it was two months before I could write the intermediate exam for the CA course. My mother and sister were travelling to another town. My father and I were home. I walked up to him and said, “Daddu, I cannot continue this. The numbers are not dancing”. He patiently sat me down, and we had a very very long talk (and probably shared a drink after!) I told him that I figured I lost my way by pursuing this CA course, and that I want to get back to dancing which was where my heart was. We talked a lot about the possibility that dancing was not as lucrative as CA, and that I may have to forgo some materialistic dreams if I wanted to follow my heart. But at the end of the conversation, he was completely convinced, and unlike most parents, asked my to shut my books and dance away. My mother, of course, was in for a shock when she got back from her travels, but she could visibly see that I was much happier, and so supported my decision, though she was a little wary about how this decision would unfold in the future.

My parents and my sister supported me in this pursuit, but there were quite a few family members  and friends that openly showed their displeasure at me letting go of this ‘lucrative, white-collared’ profession and choosing dance (said sometimes with an upturned lip and raised eyebrow). My grand-mother was concerned, “Who will marry you if you are a dancer!” But I think that worked out pretty well for me! *wink* Some of my relatives insisted that I finish the CA course (by studying two more whole years at least) and then give it up – my answer to them was, why invest time and energy into something I know I would never pursue? I’d rather invest those two years into becoming better at what I wanted to! And that was sorted, for I have mostly felt very strongly about things I wanted to do, and marched on.

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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden
 Things just fell into place from then on – I was one year away from completing my undergraduate studies in Commerce (as that supplemented my CA studies) and decided to finish it. Simultaneously I read about a new undergraduate programme in fine arts specialising in Bharatanatyam from SASTRA university directed by the renowned dancer-scholar-historian-ethnomusicologist Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam. It was a distance education programme conducted in the city of Chennai, and I thought I’d enrol for it – I didn’t know what to expect from the programme, and that was what made me love it so much. It was, for me, and entry into the world of dance-research. I went on to study in their Masters programme and gained a fairly good understanding of Indian aesthetics and dramaturgy.
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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden
 I remember an English lesson we had in seventh-grade that was an extract from M. N. Srinivas’ anthropological work – The Remembered Village. That was the first time I knew about the field of anthropology and thought it was exciting and could be interesting to pursue, but never gave much thought to it. I was almost at the end of my first Masters studies in Chennai when during one of my many days of exploring the world through Google, I chanced upon a course called Choreomundus – an Erasmus joint Masters programme in dance knowledge, practice, and heritage, or dance anthropology and ethnochoreology. What really drew me to this was firstly, the connection to my memory of an anthropological work that I enjoyed, and secondly the idea of travelling and learning, for the course took place over two years in Norway, France, Hungary, and UK. I wrote my application within 3-5 days of the deadline and I was sure that if I did get the letter of invitation, I would accept only if I got the scholarship, and if not, life would have something else to offer. But it seems like this was the path because I got accepted in the programme with a full scholarship! And a feather on my cap was that I was the first Indian to receive this scholarship or be on the programme ever! Since 2014 I’ve travelled to 17 countries, and been drawn by the variety in culture. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to travel because I believe that it is one of the most essential things in order to be more accepting and understanding.
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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden
 What would you like your audience to feel/experience when they watch you perform?

In India, my audience always understood what I was performing because they could connect with the Indian stories, or the songs, or knew the gesture-language that this genre utilises. My biggest challenge was to communicate these stories to a European audience, first in 2014. I knew right at the start that if I kept performing Indian stories, the audience would never connect wholly with the story, but rather just bits and pieces of it. So whenever I performed Indian stories, my aim would be to allow them to experience the emotions of the characters rather than understand all the nuances of the stories.

Then I began exploring how I could bring more familiar stories to the audience so that it was not merely an ‘exotic’ dance for them. And so my efforts are towards communicating with the audience as much of the story as possible, and making them part of these stories.

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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden
 What are you currently working on? Do you have any upcoming shows/ workshops?

I am collaborating with artists of different genres of performing arts – be it dance, oral story-telling, or clowning, to create performances aimed at children and young adults where stories can be ‘told’ using words, movements, and bodily expressions.

I am involved in, and building up, two very interesting projects: E-Artined and Dansa en bok, both of which target arts integration, that is, learning/literacy through movement.

I’m also involved in art in healthcare by performing for children in hospitals, as well as those in the psychiatric wards.

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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden
 Three positive ways in which following your passion impacted you as a person/woman
  • It continues to help me believe in myself, and believe that if you listen carefully, you’ll find answers within yourself
  • It continues to help me think and act hands-on, and try and be in-the-now
  • It continues to help me be more accepting of people and situations
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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden
 Rapid fire questions –
Favorite Book
Difficult to name just one, so here’s my list:
The Palace of Illusions (Chitra Banerji Divakaruni)
Shantaram (Gregory David Roberts)
The Glass Palace (Amitav Ghosh)Quite a few books by Devdutt Pattnaik

Favourite Song

  • To build a home (The Cinematic Orchestra) – brings back memories of the innumerable places I/we call home
  • Budapest (George Ezra) – brings back memories of my Erasmus Masters, and of friends in France
  • Aaj jaane ki zidd na karo
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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala University Library, Sweden

The greatest compliment you have received

It was the most silent, yet loudest compliment ever – it was my first performance in Szeged, a little student-city in Hungary, where I inaugurated the ‘Faces of India’ exhibition at the Mora Ferenc Museum. I performed a very classical dance piece, to a very Carnatic song, and was quite sure no one would have understood. At the end, an old, very wrinkled lady slowly walked up to me, knew that I spoke no Hungarian, and she spoke no English. She looked into my eyes through her thick glasses, slowly smiled, her eyes were moist. She touched her right-hand to her chest, then touched me on my right arm, held it there for a good two-minutes, slowly nodded a few times, again touched her chest, slowly turned, and slowly walked away.

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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala University Library, Sweden

Your greatest fear

Of losing my memory – all the wonderful memories I have.

The most courageous thing you have done

Followed my heart

Your philosophy for life

My happiness is up to me.

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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala University Library, Sweden

Favorite quote

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala Palace Garden, Sweden

For more info about Ipshita Rajesh, visit,

www.ipshita-rajesh.com

https://www.facebook.com/kalaakathaa/

https://www.instagram.com/kalaakathaa/ (@kalaakathaa)

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChZP5dthYluTLOvPu5qDljw?view_as=subscriber

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Ipshita Rajesh, Uppsala Palace Garden, Sweden
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