Scholar, artiste and danseuse Dr. Sonal Mansingh has carved an illustrious career over the last few decades. Despite several adversities that came her way, she never lost her undying passion for dance and her zest for life. She has donned several hats: that of a danseuse, teacher, or even changemaker, but every single time, Dr Sonal Mansingh has taught us lessons that have a more deep-rooted purpose.
Her list of achievements is unending: she was nominated by the President of India to the Rajya Sabha, India’s Upper House of Parliament, in July 2018 in recognition of her life-long dedication and service to India’s arts.
Dr. Sonal Mansingh was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2003 from APJ Abdul Kalam, and the Padma Bhushan in 1992 from R. Venkataraman. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, nominated her as a NAVRATNA for the Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission).
In an insightful conversation, Dr. Sonal Mansingh discusses all about her creative journey, inspirations and what the millennials need to imbibe, with ace interior designer, Lipika Sud, in the third episode of our latest campaign “Icons of Creativity”.
Here is an excerpt from this thought-provoking conversation.
You belong to a family of illustrious people like your grandfather being a governor, and family of freedom fighters. You have been dancing since a very young age, and even though your family has contributed so much to the freedom struggle, when it comes to the choice of freedom of your career, you had to run away from home. Is this a problem we all face in our society?
Freedom of choice in life is a huge thing, and at what time it knocks at your door, that’s what most people do not recognise. Fighting for the freedom of the country is one thing, and trying to adjust to the choice made by youngsters in the family is another thing. Third is the social political conditions of that time. In 2020, we are talking about 1963, and the art history of India, which is so closely linked with the political history of India, because there were dances in temples, and courts, and for the public, and what happened to it across the country,- in east, west, south and north, is when we speak of India, it is not one entity. At one point, it is one entity, on another level, there are so many different areas that have gone through different historical events.
The freedom given to me or my elder sister was natural – we went to co-education schools and colleges, it was never about girls schools or convent schools, or pulling us back from anything. I was sent to girl guide camps for months on end. But to want to only dance after BA, that was not something that was common in those days. It was more like you do something else, and also dance.
So many of us do not understand what our passion is. How do we create that purpose in our life, which I feel is so important. In your case, it drives you so beautifully. So, how do we identify this passion?
I see more and more people, because of the smartphone…this is your constant companion. Instead of you being your own constant companion, which means you are aware and conscious of your thoughts, you are aware and you know what you want, all these things have now become secondary. Because social media dictates you, and YouTube tells you how you should dance. In that case, where do you have time or even intent to sit quietly and think, meditate, and listen to the gut. For that, you need silence. Where is the silence?
Do you think the pandemic is allowing us time to meditate, because it’s about looking at the glass half full or half empty? There are those who are completely breaking down in this crisis situation, and then there are those who are coming up with a new life? Is that what you are trying to say about the silence?
During those two months of complete lockdown, that would have been the ideal time, so some people have charted out a new life, so they listen to their voice. They were with themselves. Those who could not, they were just all the time on social media, or laptop. It depends on the seriousness with which you look at yourself.
How do we start appreciating culture? Like you said, writing itself is an art. Every movement through your dance conveys a message. So what is the way forward to make this millennial generation understand?
In your body, every limb has a purpose. The eyes convey so much. My Bharatanatyam guru used to say I don’t want to see dead fish eyes. The more people use their laptops and gadgets, their eyes are becoming like dead fish. There is no expression, so when they look at someone, they just look blankly. I have been telling my students, since forever, that eyes are given to see, to recognise, and to register. Eyes are given to hear wonderful things, nose is given to breathe, and you must know where your breath is going. You are not aware of your breath. Your mouth talks incessantly, it’s verbal diarrhea.
You have led a fearless life, from the choice of your career to choice of your partners, what you have done with your current career, political career. How important is that fearlessness that has to be instilled to live a strong life?
You have to have conviction in life, and you have to have courage to carry through that conviction. And I am sure the classical training, which trains the body to be strong. The body can’t be strong without the discipline of the mind, which tells the body ‘sweat it out’ or ‘you have to get this posture or sequence right’ . So, it is that and also respect for discipline. Where is the respect today? It’s fine to break conventions, have freedom of speech, or freedom of action, but I keep repeating that India has always held the freedom of thought, action, and expression.
To watch the full interview, click below