Grooving in green

Dancer Anita R Ratnam talks about going green in her dance initiatives with Srivathsan Nadadhur

Anita Ratnam. Photo by Srivatsa Shandilya

Just as bharatanatyam dancer Anita R Ratnam sets herself up for a free-wheeling conversation at her residence, she notices a couple of extravagantly printed arangetram invitations extending to multiple pages lying on her table. It’s only an irony that many such invitations keep coming to her week after week despite her waging a lone battle for zero-waste dance events over five years now.

From cutting down on the use of paper for promotional material and invitations to not using paper/plastic cups at her shows, she has been the rare, silent yet an effective eco-warrior in the dance fraternity over the years. The term she has coined for herself, a ‘contemporary classicist,’ couldn’t have been apter for the veteran danseuse. 

Before pointing a finger at the dancing community to herald environmental change, she reminds us that the message needs to go to the parents of dance students who’re readying for their arangetram performances with all pomp and grandeur. “That’s the biggest avenue of waste. That exorbitant printing of so many invitations (given by hand or posted), why do you want to do that? I think if one wants to sustain the maryada of printing and spreading the word personally, do so in a limited amount,” Anita has a point to make. 

Change for the better

Anita insists awareness has to permeate across several levels. “When you go backstage, there are plastic water bottles, clothes packed in plastic cases. Change is something that happens step-by-step and needs to come consciously within the artiste.” She opines the transition from plastic and paper cups to stainless steel tumblers at events, for instance, will take time to happen. “We still like to have our cup of tea and throw it in the garbage can. Stainless steel also means cleaning it with water but crowds find paper cups more convenient. The organiser, the host, the dancer herself/himself must think about what they consume.”

It’s not as simple as saying ‘don’t pollute’, Anita finds it important for dancers to look at themselves and see what they can do with their art. “It starts with posters, standees and banners. The sabhas and organisers must be sensitised. There’s also an association of bharatanatyam artistes of India whose president and vice-president should take charge of these aspects. That alone won’t suffice because we are aiming for a greener environment, towards which, the cultural circuit can only do so much. We need to take a relook at our VIP culture with politicians, the huge events, the mass meetings, the grand wedding where wastage is maximum. How do we catch people’s eye? How to make them listen in a world that’s so bludgeoned by information?”

Anita Ratnam’s green transition, too, began at home. “My daughter, Arya Rajam is an eco-activist and has been the architect behind my transition. She’s a fiction writer, a vegan, an eco-activist and an environmentalist. She has forced my household to segregate and compost, has banned plastic, disposable paper cups, bubble water soaps at home. It all started with her,” she recollects.

Walks that talk

Through her journey, the dancer neither has carried placards nor shouted at the top of her voice insisting on change. She sees little point in being an evangelist. “I can only do it while leading by example and ‘walk the talk’. My daughter has a full-fledged organisation that works around the environment. I may not do it like her, but I am trying to incorporate ecological sensitivity within my life, my home, and my arc.”

The path towards the future, concerning the environment, may not be as bleak as people perceive, she says. “Yes, we are late in this environmental game and we’ve woken up a tad too late. Say, for promoting dance events, it shouldn’t be difficult for starters because of social media. People are not looking at the newspapers first thing in the day, they wake upto Whatsapp messages. There can’t be a better way to reach out to the younger generation.” 

But, isn’t there still a generation that is not as tech-savvy, prefers a personal touch, wants to be spoken to and be given invitations personally? “Yes. If they, their assistants or children don’t have Whatsapp or email ids or they don’t respond to phone calls, I would probably ask the dancer to send them a hand-written letter. It’s important to accept that there is a generation that doesn’t have an Insta handle, doesn’t look at Twitter. We need to think of zero waste first and make an exception only and only if it’s essential,” Anita states.

The dancer’s online portal ‘Nartanam’ coincides with her ambitions and has become a minor, if not a significant tool for change, given its popularity in the dance fraternity as against traditional media. Antia’s next show is in December but she tells us that the promotional activity will happen only on the digital front. If that’s not ‘walking the talk’, what else is?

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