I Love Speaking Odia Despite Being Far Away From Odisha: Anwesha Das

I have been meeting and watching US-based Bharatanatyam dancer Anwesha Das for more than a decade. But never did she let out that she is the daughter of well-known IAS officer Saktikant Das, the present Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.

Rarely do we come across such an unassuming artiste who does not believe in name-dropping, but loves to be known by her own work.

Born in Odisha, brought up in Tamil Nadu and settled in the USA, Anwesha is Odisha’s pride. She is the lone internationally-known professional Bharatanatyam dancer who is an Odia.

An A-graded artiste of Doordarshan and empanelled with Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Anwesha has above 100 solo performances in USA, UK and India to her credit since she made her debut in 2000.

The senior-most disciple of Chennai-based Bharatanatyam exponent Urmila Sathyanarayanan, Anwesha has won prestigious titles from leading cultural organizations such “Nadamamani” from Kartik Fine Arts, “Yuva Kala Bharati” from Bharat Kalachar, “Natya Chudar” from Kartik Fine Arts and “Best Dancer” from Cleveland Aradhana USA.

Excerpts from an interview with Odisha Bytes:

Can we converse in Odia?

I speak Tamil well as I grew up in Chennai. But I am more comfortable with Odia. I continue to speak in Odia even after moving out of India. My parents ensured that their children learn the mother-tongue. We talked in Odia at home. Odia was the first language I learnt.

Did you not wish to learn Odissi?

I am in complete awe of Odissi. The amalgamation of grace, fluidity and musicality of the dance form is exceptional. Odissi embodies the beautiful culture and heritage of Odisha. The essence of Odissi lies in its inspiration from Odisha’s poetry, paintings, sculptures and history.

I always wished that I could learn Odissi, but the grammar of Odissi is very different from the style of Bharatanatyam I practice. But being brought up in the land of Bharatanatyam where there was no scope for learning Odissi, it was natural for me to learn Bharatanatyam.

Who decided that you should learn dance? 

My parents observed that I had a keen interest in dance and they decided to enrol me at Natya Sakalpaa, which was founded by my mentor, Guru Urmila Sathyanarayanan. I also learnt Carnatic music and yoga that was part of our curriculum at the institute. Bharatanatyam was my sole passion as I was growing up and it continues to be so.

How was your academic background and profession?

I did my schooling and college in Chennai after which I worked in that city as a Research Analyst for a year before I moved to the USA for my MBA. After completion of the course, I worked for a couple of years. After I settled down in Seattle, I decided to take up dance full-time. So I stopped working and started teaching Bharatanatyam while continuing as a soloist performer.

Study, dance, job and family, how did you strike a balance to grow as a professional dancer that demands much time for practice, perfection and performances?

It all boils down to prioritizing and how much time you can devote to each of the responsibilities. As a mother of a young boy, my attention towards his growth is constant and as a dancer, I give my 100% when I am working on any aspect of my dance. I stopped working as I wished to do justice to my dance and my son.

How has been your experience of performing in your home state of Odisha?

My first ever recital in Odisha was in Cuttack where I was born. My maternal grandfather, Dr RK Das, is a renowned doctor who stays at Tulasipur. The next performance was in Bhubaneswar under the prestigious Horizon Series hosted by ICCR. My father was born and brought up in Bhubaneswar and my paternal grandparents were staying at Buddheswari Colony.

Thus, it was a very special feeling for me to perform at my native place on both the occasions. The audiences were very appreciative of my dance. I recollect some members of the audience who were intrigued and curious to learn about my journey of being an Odia in the field of Bharatanatyam.

I also performed in the 43rd Annual convention of the Orissa Society of Americas in USA. It was also another special feeling where I was appreciated as an Odia Bharatanatyam artiste.

As a daughter, what are the qualities of your father that you admire the most? Does he love dance?

I have always admired my father’s dedication and commitment to his work and family. He always showed deep interest and encouraged me to pursue dance. He has seen my dance journey from arangetram (debut) to now and is a very keen ‘rasika’ (admirer) of my dance.

How would you describe your mother?

My mother (Lopamudra Das) has moulded me into the person I am today. I am very grateful and blessed to have her love and support at all stages of my life. She continues to be my pillar of strength even today as a caring grandmother to my son.

You used to visit Odisha regularly. What sweet memories do you have about Odisha?

I have several fond memories of spending the summer holidays with my paternal grandparents in Bhubaneswar and my maternal grandparents in Cuttack. We would visit Jagannath temple in Puri whenever we could. During our visits to Puri, we always stopped at Pipili and spent time at the sea beach.

I love traditional Odia food, from simple santula, potolo bhaja to mansa tarkari and Illisi tarkari. Along with my cousins, I get to enjoy street foods like pani-puri and chaat.

Odisha handloom sarees are my favourite. I love Pattachitra and Saura paintings of Odisha and own some of each at my home in Seattle.

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