Mira Kaushik reveals how an introduction to experimental Indian street theatre in the 1970s and conversations with a vagrant bohemian wanderer shaped her career.
Annapurna was the outcast woman who lived in the courtyard of my large home in a small town in India. As a vagrant bohemian wanderer, she had a minimalist life with no belongings, yet she belonged to the whole town. I hung around and observed her out of curiosity while people tried to save me from her influence. From her I learnt to speak my mind fearlessly and take pleasure in the small things.
Sushma ji was my teacher at Lady Shri Ram College in India. She was a progressive liberalist and sceptic. As a passionate promoter of contemporary literature, Sushma ji nurtured my interest in contemporary art and literature and inspired me to think outside the box. It was her rebellious nature that truly appealed to me, as she encouraged us to read outside of the Medieval Hindi literature that was perceived to be thrust on college students at the time. I had very little to relate to it.
Badal da was a playwright and theatre director who introduced me to the avant-garde, experimental and political street theatre emerging in India in the late 1970s. He shaped a whole generation’s creative imagination through his inventive and abstract work and his commitment to making theatre accessible to wider audiences.
Previously Badal da had worked with Richard Schechner from America who was also challenging the conventional definition of theatre in a western context. Badal da taught me to look at the world differently. I occasionally still look through his revolutionary lens – although the world has probably changed beyond his recognition now.
Robin was the father of contemporary dance in the UK. He was also Chair of Akademi when I joined as Director at the age of 29. I initially dismissed his grandeur as I started the battle to save the organisation from funding cuts. However, his nobility and majestic passion for dance was infectious and I found that I could relate to him as both of us were non-dancers ourselves.
Robin was the grandson of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and daughter of Lady Lorna Howard, the latter of whom I met a few times at their Sandwich Street home. Robin’s single-minded commitment to dance, and his idealism, inspired me to dream big and do the best I could for South Asian dance in the UK.
Rejections are my gurus. They challenge me to find new ways of navigating my life and work. Without allowing the closed doors to define me, I take it as a testimony to Akademi pushing the boundaries of South Asian dance and finding the gaps to stick my foot in! That way, with ‘fierce’ (supposedly) courage, I have managed to see my rejections as opportunities and celebrate them. I think organisations should always be transparent about these rejections and share similar experiences as they are the best gurus in life.
Mira Kaushik is Director of Akademi.
Akademi’s latest work The Troth premieres at Curve Leicester on 21 February before touring the UK.