Anita Ratnam is as eclectic in her eating habits as in her performances
Every Indian city has its own peculiar chaos. Move from one to the other and you are sure to be thrown off. As is Anita Ratnam. The dancer-choreographer may be used to Chennai’s frenetic street cacophony, and jet her way from New York to Singapore in a trice, but Delhi’s traffic jams are not to her taste. Yet when she reaches InterContinental The Grand on Barakhamba Avenue after a smoggy ride, the smile is uncomplaining, the energy unflagging as she makes her way to 24/7. The restaurant, earlier named The Rendezvous, has undergone a facelift and a rethink.
Anita is quick to appreciate the changes. The concept is relatively unique. Twenty-four hour snack bars are commonplace. On offer at 24/7 is a multi-cuisine experience any time of the day or night. It is a convenience performing artistes can appreciate. Nothing like a hot meal after the show is over. One that can be savoured and lingered over even while reliving the performance. And not everyone likes to be relegated to the hotel room when the restaurants shut. So 24/7 is an inviting option.
“I’m quite a foodie. I grew up a strict vegetarian,” Anita reveals, even as a platter of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian sushi announces her modified ways. Mealtimes were traditional back then. Rasam-saadam (rice with rasam), which customarily follows rice with sambar, was a must, she recounts. The message was to be adaptable, though. “Because my parents taught me, you have to learn to dine at any table,” she explains, adding, “Try to be a vegetarian in Japan!” So, “from dahi bhaat (curd rice) to kimchi to sushi,” she is ready for them all.
“I like thairu saadam,” she names the true blue South Indian curd rice speciality, “especially on the day of performance. But I like it warm, with a bit of extra chilli and lime pickle.” Many would agree it is the dish of choice to soothe pre-stage nerves.
While this return to alimentary custom may signify she is at heart the same young girl who learnt Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam and music while growing up in Chennai, her performances, in fact, could be said to reflect the eclectic changes that have expanded her diet. The alaripu-to-tillana format of the 20th Century Bharatanatyam solo repertoire, she discarded long ago. Her productions are a mix of poetry and music, movement and sculpture. Whether based on a number of movement vocabularies — such as “Seven Graces” on the Buddhist goddess Tara — or the Bharatanatyam technique — like the latest, “Faces…Blessed Unrest” that premiered this winter — they appeal to an audience beyond those schooled in classical dance.
Her holistic approach means she always collaborates with a theatre director, as well as the best musicians and writers who translate the Indian languages into poetic English. But this same sense of artistic adventure means she sometimes travels the world with only her soundtrack CDs for company. This is not the only reason an artiste’s life is a tough one.
A cottage industry
“In Europe, if you are an artiste, the state supports you. In India we are still like a cottage industry,” she notes. “We still depend on the husband or parents.”
Taking a tangent from the conversation towards the salad bar, she selects light fare. There is a dinner engagement to do justice to later, so cheese in the salads is best avoided. Declaring she has already put on a kilo of weight in Delhi, she has only an appreciative smile for the buffet counters where Indian and world cuisine steam invitingly. “Delhi’s got some lovely food,” she remarks. “I went to Paranthewali Gali. I didn’t eat the day before.” Balance, it seems, is the key.
As it is in her dance. “I always tell dancers Bharatanatyam is not enough. You have to cross-train,” she explains, pointing out that different muscles are put in use in the different dance forms. Running on the beach, for example is a workout a Bharatanatyam session may not provide.
No beach in Delhi, but plenty of running against the clock. A cup of coffee later, Anita is ready to move. Moving with the times is just one part of moving in time.ANJANA RAJAN