“I think the reason is that I am not able to see disabilities, I only see different abilities”

Her effervescence is infectious. Ambika Kameshwar is one of those people who completely bowl you over with their charm. Her eyes dance as she speaks, and the earnestness in her voice is unmistakable. Dancer, performer and artist, she maybe, but her name has now become synonymous with her work with special children. Krishna Velupillai catches up with her…

“There was always a little bitty voice in me that said that there has to be more to dance and music than just performance. Little did I know that the story behind this voice would start revealing itself later.”

Ms. Kameshwar was 18 when a chance meeting with her father’s friend in Bangalore led her to teach dance to visually impaired students of the Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind.

“As I began to train them, I saw how they felt the mudhras, the movements and the stances with their hands. They would hold me and I would feel a sort of connect. They were not just learning to dance or sing, it was as if they were learning to be themselves.”

The ‘ah-ha’ moment

This was Ms. Kameshwar’s ‘ah-ha’ moment. Her strong faith, lead her to believe that the she had found her calling.

In 1985, following her marriage, Ms. Kameshwar moved to Chennai. Thus began what she calls the “next phase of her journey.”

“I volunteered with the Spastic Society; it was my first experience with children who had multiple disabilities. It was here that I began to realise that dance and theatre can be used for more than just joy. It could also help to structure a child’s development. For example, mobility can come through dance, vocalisation through music, and social skills through theatre.”

Ms. Kameshwar relates the story of how her daughter refused to learn the parts of a flower for a biology test the next day. Instead of forcing her to her textbooks, the two of them set out to make a little drama out of it. Suddenly learning was fun for them both. “It is the same with theatre for special students, it helps them learn, grow, exercise and have fun without the pressures put by some of the older methods of training.”

Along with the fun she was having with the children, Ms. Kameshwar also studied the theories behind special education as well as the use of dance, music and theatre as a tool for development. Through these consultations and thought processes came about her innovation called Theatre for Holistic Development. With it also came about the idea to bring together a few like-minded people to enhance the social role they could play. Thus began RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya), an organisation that would use this tool for the development of children with disabilities.

But, Ms. Kameshwar, who holds a Ph.D in Natya Abinaya, has not stopped dreaming. Her next big project is the creation of a theatre troupe completely made up of special students, but it would be on par with any other professional theatre troupe. “The identity of the troupe will not be their disabilities, but the quality of their performance. That is why I call it the 4Es: explore, experience, express and enjoy.”

So why this special connection with special children, one may wonder, “There was no emotional chord which linked me to them, except that of grace,” says Ms. Kameshwar, who surprisingly had no exposure to special needs either in her family or friends circle. “I think the reason is that I am just not able to see disabilities I only see different abilities.”