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Experiments with a life

Avant-garde dancer and conservationist, wife of an Australian musician, and proud mom of school dropouts, Daksha Sheth wears several unconventional hats

Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Daksha Sheth with her equally unconventional family: husband Devissaro and son Tao Issaro.

DANSEUSE AND choreographer Daksha Sheth has worn several crazy hats. But when she speaks now, the mother in her comes out before the professional dancer does. "I think Isha has done very well in Subhash Ghai's Kisna. You know, she is a professional dancer who is learning to act," says the diminutive dancer about her daughter Isha Sharwani, who has just made a foray into Bollywood. Daksha was in Bangalore to perform at the Silhouettes Republic Day show organised jointly by Taj Westend and Renaissance Art Gallery.

Sensible girl

"Her entry into the world of Indian films is a bit scary, but we are confident that she will continue to be a sensible girl. I think we have given our children very good values," says Daksha, who in the past has been called "a Kathak dancer who went astray". Daksha started out as a Kathak dancer, then learnt Mayurbhanj Chhau, followed it up with Kalaripayattu and other martial art forms, and blended everything to come up with stunning performances in contemporary dance.

"I've always been very unconventional, and very simple too," says the dancer who dared to do dangerous "rope tricks" on stage. In fact, it was this "madness" that is supposed to have drawn Australian-born classical pianist Devissaro to her. The two met in Delhi where he was learning to sing Drupad and play the bansuri and pakhawaj. The couple now runs Natyashram, a dance school in Thiruvananthapuram, which also houses the Daksha Sheth Dance Company the Academy for Arts Research, Training and Innovation (AARTI).

"To do the same thing over and over again is so boring!" says Daksha. "It isn't just our dance that is experimental, our whole lifestyle is an experiment." The couple with their 20-year-old daughter Isha and 14-year-old son Tao Issaro live in a village (near Thiruvananthapuram) on the banks of Lake Vellayani. Isha first went to school only when she was 10, and that too only for a couple of years. Tao has quit school and is a budding percussionist, singer, composer and stage assistant for his mother's productions. The impish lad is a tennis champion too and both he and his sister study through the Australian Distance Education Programme.

"Schooling was disturbing their education," declares the astonishingly unconventional mother. "Tao learns so many things. One of the most important things he is learning is how to solve problems. Which school teaches children that? No wonder we get administrators who can't solve the water problem even after so many years of Independence!" exclaims Daksha. The dancer is presently the convenor of the Save Lake Vellayani programme. "Education must teach children to take on responsibility towards yourself, towards your family, towards your state, your country and your world. Education to us means the ability to be a good human being."

At the Taj West End, Daksha started with a Saraswati Vandana, followed it up with Summer, based on Antonio Vivaldi's music and then performed BhuKham, a beautiful piece that has enthralled audiences across the world. "Now we have started performing only to original compositions that Devissaro creates. Of course, Tao has started composing too."

I ask her if her family can afford to lead an unconventional, rustic life because it has travelled all over the world and seen the luxuries of life. She answers: "We have always been simple. Simplicity is the magic of life. When you lose simplicity, the mind becomes muddy and confusing. We came to Kerala without knowing anyone except my martial arts teachers, did not know the language, but we liked the place and here we are living totally connected with nature."

At the sprawling Natyashram, the tall, ever-smiling Devissaro composes music for home productions and for others; Tao looks at the world from atop coconut trees and learns naturally, while Daksha dances to their tunes. (Isha is presently in Mumbai.) "If I can't come up with original and outstanding compositions, I might as well commit artistic suicide or... or... grow trees!" says the gutsy lady who does grow trees — 600 of them.

MALA KUMAR

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