“When we want to do this sacred work of uprooting injustice and inequity where we’re seeing it, we’re not just doing it for us. We’re holding a space for change to be different.”
Meet Anuradha Kowtha (they/them), founder of The Kowtha Constellation and a partner in Sowing Post Capitalist Seeds. “My work’s thread could be described as undoing the impact of the inherent indoctrination from capitalism and colonialism on who we are and how we do our work in the world.”
Join Anuradha and Leela Sinha in a lovely and rich conversation that encompasses transformative justice, the meaning of ‘pariah’, Indian classical dance, and holding spaces for change.
Connect with Anuradha!
Transcript and notes:
Recorded 5 May 2023.
Leela Sinha 0:02
Hi, everyone. Thanks for tuning in.
Welcome to another Power Pivot special episode where we are doing interviews. I used to do interviews all the time. And then I decided that I should alternate a little bit. A lot of folks wanted to hear what I was thinking about and producing interviews is is a fairly heavy lift. So I modulated a little bit and I created some space for shorter, more accessible episodes.
But I just, you know, there's so much wisdom in the people around me and I love to bring that wisdom into the conversation. And of course, the only way to do that is to have guests. So when we do a longer episode like this, it is going to be about an hour instead of the usual five to 15 minutes. And, and you'll get to meet you get to meet fabulous people.
In this case. I have invited on Anuradha Kowtha. Did I pronounce that correctly?
Anuradha Kowtha 0:53
Leela Sinha 0:54
Excellent. To join us.
Anuradha is a neurodivergent queer Indian diasporic person who currently lives in Greater London with their family. But their heart is still in the Sonoran desert in Arizona, where they were born. Anurahda's family migrated from South India, and they embrace that culture through their love of Bharatnatyam, which is temple dance, food and music.
In their work Anuradha owns and runs the Kowtha Constellation where we help small business owners build ethical, accessible and inclusive practices into their system so they can sustainably grow your bottom line. Do your work with more boldness, and improve customer and team retention.
When Anuradha's not working, Anuradha loves to write, listening to and telling stories, creating art, watch live performance art and spend time with friends. And we'll put these links in the show notes. But I'll just shout them out right now. You can find out more about their work at the Kowtha Constellation at TheKowthaConstellation.com that's T H E K O W T H A constellation.com. And you can also check out their course Sowing Post Capitalist Seeds at sowingpostcapitalistseeds.com.
Welcome. Anuradha it's such a pleasure to have you here.
Anuradha Kowtha 2:08
Thank you so much Leela, and I mean, I think you'll probably get this. But it's so nice to have the presenters say the name correctly, it's a thing.
Leela Sinha 2:19
Yes. Yes, yes, it is a thing. I'm really glad. I'm really glad to be able to be you know, it's it's funny, because increasingly, I am choosing to be in spaces where people take care of with things like that. And it really makes such a difference. It. I think we underestimate often how much it's going to increase our resilience not to have all those little things just nibbling at our heels all the time.
So I started doing interviews again, after taking a break from doing interviews, because oh my god, the world is on fire. And I felt like we needed to talk about how we're imagining ourselves forward, like, yes, it's on fire. And we can talk about how and why and how scary it is that it's on fire.
But I think where I need more focus, in order to keep my head above water in order to keep myself moving forward, is I need more conversations about what we're doing about it, where we- And that doesn't necessarily mean that we're you know, making enormous, huge systemic changes, although it can be, but often it's just that like, everything's connected and what's the corner that you're nibbling at? What's the corner that you're working in? So, with that in mind, where would you like to start?
Anuradha Kowtha 3:37
That's a broad question. Okay, where do I want to start? I think at this moment, as you asked, right before we pushed record about where am I today, and I think that's a good place for me to start. Is I feel grumpy. I feel like the cynicism has got to me a little bit today. More than usual. Normally, I've been going with the flow a little bit more.
Leela Sinha 4:05
Anuradha Kowtha 4:05
in recent times, but that combined with a couple of weeks of executive dysfunction has totally waylaid me to the point where the cynicism is poking up. Not not pleasant I'm sure.
Leela Sinha 4:27
It's like when that underwire starts to come out of the bra and starts to poke you in the arm. Why are we wearing underwires at all? Why do we have this weird piece of underwear we're supposed to wear?
Anuradha Kowtha 4:40
Yeah, that's very true. I actually gave all of those up after I started once I got pregnant and I started nursing and so on. Never gone back, but I they have cuter styles I have to say
Leela Sinha 4:56
they do but they shouldn't. Like there's no reason why we can't have styles that don't have underwires in them. Or why we can't have other kinds of underwear. Anyway?
Anuradha Kowtha 5:05
Yes, of course, we could probably take. We could take a segue on that, I'm sure. Yeah. So I think a lot of people that I've been talking to lately are overwhelmed are maybe underwater in so many ways. And then there's this whole thing of, I still want to make a difference, I still want to make change that is resonating. Right. So how do we do that? And I and, you know, this is not to-
I actually saw a silly meme about and it's actually quite a disrespectful meme. about somebody like, so is a T shirt for sale, it said "Black Lives Matter", which totally, that's not disrespectful. That's amazing. But then it had a coffee cup to the side, "but first coffee." And it's like, so I, you know, here your whole thing is on power, and so on. Right?
And I was just thinking, Yes, we're allowed to rest as we need to. Like that- there's something radical about that, for sure. Especially where we're thinking of, and that's kind of where my anger bubbled over at somebody who was saying that basically, you can just be diligent and, you know, consistent and do your, you know, show up and just do the thing. As if there's nothing around like, yeah, that's the consistency like we can willpower our way through things and I'm like that's so ableist, that is so....
Like, it would kill, like literally for me when I have to do that too much. And you talk about that in your work with the intensives. Right. So it does bring me to a place of being trammeled. Right. You talk about the untrammeled state in the trammeled state? Well, yeah, I could do that for a bit, but at a heavy cost.
Leela Sinha 7:00
Right. It's, it's, it's neurotypical favoring. It's expansive-oriented. And honestly, even for neurotypicals and expansives. powering through is a terrible idea. We should all stop, we should all stop, because that is based in the concept that that humans are somehow like, productivity machines.
Anuradha Kowtha 7:27
Yeah, that's right.
Leela Sinha 7:28
Humans are not productivity machines, that is not how we operate.
Anuradha Kowtha 7:32
But then that second attitude like in that meme, that's a totally disrespectful way to, say, take care of ourselves. So it's one thing to say, please take care of yourself in the ways rejecting these kinds of paradigms that we're living in. But then it's a totally another way, especially because the kinds of people who might wear that shirt or think about that, or use that phraseology are probably privileged white people who just want to go back to brunch culture, when that was the context it's shared in, instead of-
hey, I mean, people were so up in arms about the kids in cages, and that literally hasn't changed. If anything, it has gotten worse, and it has consistently gotten worse under Democrats.
And you know, the situation here in the UK is not much better. I can report that, like the Labour government, if they were able to form a government wouldn't be that drastically different than the Tory government that we currently have. They would maybe do things slightly differently. But by and large, they would be toeing the same line of fascism.
So that is not the place to say "Oh, but first have coffee." that is, that is right. Like this is your this is like- Yes, there's a play for me too around your name, Leela, right play, and fun and joy and dance. That's the way I associate it with I associate that word with, with Krishna, you know, in his play, and so on as a child, Lord Krishna. But also, there's a seriousness, a gravity to what we're living through right now. So I think... playing with that a little bit. Anyway, I there was no, there was no Nice, nice, tiny thing I'm taking us on for clarity.
Leela Sinha 9:34
I think it's, I think that that tension is really real though. It's funny when I first when when I was a kid, and I said to my father, like, What does my name mean? And he said, Well, it means playful. And then when I was 24, and I was traveling in India, and you may have heard me tell the story before- I went to India for eight months because I felt like I was too disconnected from my Indian culture and my Indian heritage and I wanted more of it. I'd only been to visit once when I was seven months old once when I was 10 years old. And then this visit when I was 24.
And I was talking to some of my cousins, and they were like, Do you know what your name means? And I was like, it means playful. And they like tittered and wouldn't give me more details until I really pressed them. And then one of them finally said, well, and after a while, we sort of, you know, and they weren't quite fluent enough in English to give me the information. I don't speak any Hindi. Well, I speak like three words of Hindi, not enough.
And, and finally, we got to like there's an erotic component because it's about creating the universe, right? It's the play of the gods that creates and recreates the universe. And I was like, Oh, well, that's different. Right?
It's not just this lightweight playfulness, it's like, if we are going to create the universe that we need, that we are called to that we are compelled to, we have to have that component of playfulness, we have to have that component of rest.
You know, it's that it's that quote, that's not quite from the Talmud. That's a, like an interpretation, a riff on the Talmud that that says that you don't have to solve all the world's problems, but neither can you stop working on them. And I think that that's what's real for us is that we have to have that dance that play that generative, that creative and simultaneously understand that the thing that we are doing is making the world which is very serious business.Anuradha Kowtha:
That's right. Yeah, that is a that is a big part of it. Um, in fact, one of the I know, you know, we're not here to talk necessarily about Hindu philosophy or anything here. But one of the thoughts that I have thought about a lot is in Bharatanatyam, one of the pieces I know and one of the stories that comes from the Natya Shastra, which is one of the- books on- not just dance, dramaturgy.
So in, in Sanskrit, there is not a distinction between dance and drama, it is one thing. Natya. So with that, with that kind of thing in mind, they are talking about Lord Shiva dancing as naturaja in the form of Nataraj. And every one being there, including Ganesha and so on- being there in, and that is part of how the universe was created. There are so many creation mythologies that I'm not trying to say this is the only belief there is, but but it isLeela Sinha:
That's one of the things about Hinduism is it's like, yeah, a bunch of people told a bunch of creation stories. Which one does your grandmother tell?Anuradha Kowtha:
Yeah, that's right. That's right. So I think it's just so beautiful. And you're right, there is a erotic component to it. In in Bharatanatyam, we talk about I just took a class on rasa which is the flavor, and in storytelling, when we're talking about storytelling, when we're doing that, the thing that people don't- so this is my grounding in, in how powerful we are as, as me as a dancer.
I'm also trained as a teacher, facilitator and so on. But that component, yes, it comes from dance, but there's a there's a piece around spirituality as well. And that is, in me using my body is a vessel to tell this story. Then, we're using these we're using what we would call like tactics or strategies right in in the Natya Shastra and Abhinaya Darpana, they talk about 24 types of glances. They talk about very specific hand gestures.
And each of these hand gestures, the hastas, have a meaning. There's a poem with associated with each hand gesture. So all the ways that you might use it. And, and this is super important. The but the the most important piece is that that rasa, so in Bharatanatyam, we use shringara as the mean rasa, which is love.
It's talking about Divine Love. Sometimes that's erotic. Sometimes that's motherly love, sometimes it's divine, lovely, you know, oh, God, you great one, in some way. But it's showing all the facets of love and in that as a performer, I'm hoping that my casual movements of these eyes- or- and it's not just this, it's our, our costume, the stage, we're on; the truth with which we're dancing, all of that is encoded in some way.
And we're hoping that the audience members feel that in some way. And that that elevates them to be connected to the divine. So it's not, these aren't just casual things that we're bringing forth right? Like when we're when I'm in a space when I'm working in a facilitation space with clients. I am not just you know, here I'm not trying to make myself too self important here. It is literally being a vessel for that transformation to happen.
And then these are like the actual things that might be said, or the actual, maybe the stories or the tools we use are only part of it. But how these things all come together and align is what creates the change.
Yes. Yeah. And I and the, you touched briefly on it the the communal aspect of that, right. That you as a dancer, as a performer, are there offering something that you are then hoping will move the people that are before you collectively. So that everybody is moved into a state of deeper consonance or deeper understanding or deeper connection with this, these this experience of love and other things, but but especially love.
Yes, in the in Bharatanatyam. But like I said, we might be also bringing other flavors into it; compassion or anger. You know, like one of the things that people often say, maybe more white people, but but people might say, Hey, I don't like the anger that you're teaching this lesson on. But the anger is part of the lesson. Right? Right. I mean, I don't think that needs to necessarily be anger to hurt someone. But I could tell when my dance teacher in India when he was angry at me, he would give me a look, because I would do you know, I would just have my pinkie slightly off, and he would call me on it. Right? But he wouldn't say anything, he would just give a sharp look. And you know, what's happened. You know, but that's being part of the combination. love in that case, but you know, love mixed with that anger. Raudrha. Right, like, Hey, I know you can do better.Leela Sinha:
And there are so many flavors, you know, you mentioned love, but there's so many flavors of each emotion. There is there's like anger, that's that's a frustration, you know, kind of you can do better. And then there's there's anger that's like a response to danger response to threat. Those are different.
And I am sort of now I'm thinking about the amount of anger that's in the socio political discourse right now. The number of people and the number of ways that that that our interactions are being driven by fear and anger. And I'm wondering, like, what are the what are the- How can we, as individuals engaged in the system- because we can't not be, because it's the world- how can we transform that anger? What can we learn about transformation?Anuradha Kowtha:
That is a very deep and profound question. And I'm not going to do it complete justice. But I'm going to do my best because that is a that's so much. There's so much there. But the thing that comes to mind is a lecture I heard from Robert Reich, who was, who teaches in California. He had a documentary about labor. So he was a former labor secretary under Clinton.Leela Sinha:
And one of the things he talks about is in his work is the bigger that disparity. So when things are more equal in society, so he's looking at the US economic situation, and he's using US examples. But the same thing is true globally, when there's more equity built into our systems. Even if we're politically different, there's more place for overlap. We're satiated, we're taken care of- that polarity doesn't have the choice. when we are politically- and the UK has been here since you know, since basically my child's whole lifetime.
I remember holding my child watching the, you know, this, the the kind of polls for austerity, the continued polls for austerity. So austerity is a political choice. And it sharply then creates a very sharp distinction between haves and have nots. And right now with the continued policy of a cost of living crisis, which is by and large, being created by huge companies, like the railways like the Postal Service, and so on. That's why they're all on strike here. Why, that they are then raising profits, sorry, raising their prices, that extra money then being profit, they are not then reinvesting.
Like in the waterways, there are just a number of companies are just putting sewage straight in our rivers and oceans right now. Like, that's literally what's happening, it was okayed by the MPs by our parliament. And now they're continuing to do it. So they don't, they're not investing in there the part of the water system that we're they're meant to tend. And instead, they're raising rates. And they're putting that money back into the pockets of not the workers who are delivering the service, but into the wealthiest pockets into the CEOs and so on.
So that is, I think one of the biggest challenges, we need to be talking about the- and going back to your point about power, equity, and so on having these discussions where we see these imbalances internally with interpersonally and organizationally and institutionally where we challenge that. It's not easy work. It's not glamorous work. One other point when you had said about anger a few minutes ago, I was thinking injustice, that kind of anger.Leela Sinha:
when we see these things we need to like, like Audrey Lorde shared with us the power of anger, how can we channel that anger into those things?Leela Sinha:
Instead of beating ourselves up instead of, you know, dealing with it at work and coming home and kicking the cat or yelling at our kids. Right?Leela Sinha:
Right, like that, that little green book, The rainy day book from like, the 1950s, where the dad is mean to the mom and the mom is mean to the kid and the kid is mean to the dog and the dog is the one who turns it around. And I've mentioned this before on the podcast, but the the idea that the person who's at the at the end of the line is the person who's responsible for turning it around is absolutely injust. Right?
The idea that the dog has to be the one who's like, that's okay, I'm happy anyway, WAG WAG, right. And that's how the entire family's chain of mood gets changed is the dog, you know, like, kisses the kid anyway. And the kid is then nice to the mom. And the mom has been nice to the dad and everybody's happy by the end of the day. And it's like, okay, that's true. And that's a great illustration of like how we can, one person can change a whole system. But also it should not be down to the person who is has the least power in the system to do that.Anuradha Kowtha:
That's right. That's right. And that's often what I see the power dynamic being: the people who are disabled doing the work around creating disability justice. Trans and nonbinary people trying to help us, like break down that gender binary within ourselves, right? Pushing for equality in that sense, right?
I mean, if we're thinking about trans people right now, in, in any community, right, like I'm thinking of an Asian and Pacific Island statistic, that people who are trans or non binary, just in the Asian in those groups, and this is a few years old statistic, but I don't think it's way off the mark, are living on the margins, oftentimes making less than $10,000 a year. This is a US statistic, but I can assume it's not that different over here in the UK, that's shocking, right?
They are literally forced into sex work, they are literally forced into doing things like that. And now the legislation that's being pushed through here the you know, where the gender ID Act is continuing to be, you know, there's a lot of and,Leela Sinha:
and we have similar problems in a lot of the states here, not everyone, but it's- and the problem is that as queer, non binary, trans-identified folks, it's not like that really affects your ability to do a job. There's no- it's like race there's absolutely no reason why somebody can't do that job. And isAnuradha Kowtha:
Except they could probably do it better.Leela Sinha:
Often, often. and and so what are we doing about that like as as an individual what what are we doing what are we doing not just specifically trans and non binary folks, but in more broadly, what are we doing?
Specifically with trans and non binary, what I can do because I own my own business, because I work for myself, is I can A) charge prices that are equivalent to other people's prices and not undersell myself Because I don't want people to get the idea that somehow trans people are cheap and easy. And, and B) I can I can decide to invite, you know, for example, when I guest preach at a church, I'm a Unitarian Universalist minister.
Unitarian Universalism is a very liberal faith tradition. And within that faith tradition, I have the right, and therefore I feel like I have the responsibility- everybody has to make their own decisions around this- to ask people to use my actual pronouns, and not let them off the hook. Because when I do that, then they get to practice being uncomfortable on me, and it has almost no impact on me.
If I were their settled minister it would have much greater impact because settled ministers are chosen and paid by the people that they serve. And so if there's enough of that discomfort, then there'll be a rift between the minister and the congregation. If I come in, and I do this, and then three years from now, they get a trans minister, and that trans minister is asking for, you know, their trans identity to be honored and recognized, it will be less of a shock. Because it's not the first time they've seen it.
So I don't think it always has to be big. But But I do feel like we have to figure out where we do have power. Okay, I have power in this sector, I can do this. I don't have power over there. So I can't do that. But I have power over here. So I can do this. And that's going to move the world forward just a little bit.Anuradha Kowtha:
Yeah, absolutely. In in the course we teach: sowing post capitalist seeds, that's one of the things we talk about. Where do you have leverage to be putting pressure on the systems around you? That's a really good awareness to have.
So these places, I don't have leverage places to put on. But then these places I do, and there might be the ways like you said, of taking up space of charging your fair thing. Certainly in my practice is going out of my way to hire people who are trans people from the Global South, people of color, Black people in particular, right, like- I can make it out, I can go out of my way to find suppliers, and guest speakers and elevate them in their voice. That's, that's a practice I've created. I certainly have that power in my organization, right to be making those choices, right.
So that that might be small, it might be a very little bit from a very small company. But then how many times do I then go teach about this and share about this and influencing the people that I'm already in relationship with to think like that and think, Oh, I'm not going to as as a person who maybe has more wealth or privilege, I'm not going to be going around asking for a discount. I'm not going to- maybe I can pay extra, so then other people could have a scholarship like- that, that that sort of thinking of how we can like the ideas blossom.
And then they can look at their own finances, their own personal situation, their own business, and they can make different choices. And that, there's a power in that influence, I think.Leela Sinha:
Yeah, yeah. And just in normalizing a different way of approaching things. For example, you you mentioned, you know, offering, offering people the opportunity to pay more, so that so that somebody else can can be subsidized or can be funded. That wasn't a thing that I had ever seen 10 years ago. And now I see it routinely.
Where people are like, yeah, so this, you'll get the same thing, no matter which one of the price points you pay at. If you're capable, we invite you to pay at the higher level so that people at the lower level, the entire cost is covered for them. And this creator still gets the amount of money that they need to get to run their business.
So So What lessons do you bring? I know that dance is such an important part of your life. What lessons do you bring from dance into how we can change the world?Anuradha Kowtha:
Ooo. That is a really good question. I want to say, to give a little background, I started dance when I was four. And with my first guru, Vishal Ramani, in her garage, so that was- really there was four of us in that class. Padma, Aparna, what was the other girl's name? I don't remember- starts with an R. It'll come to me later. So you know. So that's that was the beginnings right?
The first dance steps. And I remember asking, this is me connecting with you or connecting with the audience, right? Sharing silly things. But it was important to me that I would always ask my dance teacher, Vishal Ramani auntie, Hey, can I can you When are you going to teach us the last step. Because you actually have to spend a lot of time learning adavus, which are the basic steps, the hand gestures, the theory.
There's quite a bit of that before you're learning full dances and so on. So it might take years to complete a margam, which is a whole set of dances in in a set. Right. So just to give you that guidance, right that it took, it took a long time to get to that place.
And then part of the when the- and actually my master's work was looking at my master's work was in rhetoric, so part of the English department where I was where we're talking about professional writing. That's the reason I took the degree but my, my committee was okay with looking at the impact of British colonialism on dance. Specifically around how did that shape identity? How did the colonialism shape the dance?
And then I came here to the UK to continue that study in how dance class is a mechanism to preserve Indian identity outside of India. So talking about that through the diasporic mechanisms, The Good, the Bad, as well, right. Because there's maybe not such great things shared in those spaces as well. And by and large, they don't talk about the impact of colonialism on dance.
Because there was some massive shifts after colonialism happened in that whole advent. So I just want to say there's- it's been a rich study, not just for my body, and so on, but in my mind Understanding theory, understanding Hindu thought, but it's also a lot of my social justice, understandings were looking at specific colonial mechanisms of how that shaped our indoctrination. How does that shape who we are? How does that shape who, who we show up as and what we do in the world?Leela Sinha:
What kinds of shifts were there in the dance world before you go on? Because I'm absolutely fixated on on that as an idea.Anuradha Kowtha:
Oh, yeah, please, please ask if you have anything.Leela Sinha:
Yeah. So what kinds of what what kinds of you said there were some massive shifts with colonialism in the dance world? Specifically, what? What kinds of things? Can you give us just a couple of examples? I know if you did a Masters on it, you could go on forever-Anuradha Kowtha:
yeah, absolutely. And plenty of people have done PhDs. And there's a lot of scholarship around this. So I'm not claiming I know it all, at all. But some of the shifts have been as part of the Indian nationalist movement, and coming out of colonialism. So one of the things was, Temple dance was banned. By the time the British left temple dance was banned. Some people say that's a good thing. Some people will say it's not a good thing. I can see both aspects. I don't think it's a linear- I think it's too complex for me to say, yes, good, bad, right. such a binary there. So that's one change.
So in that change, the people who were the dancing classes, and the musician class, like the word pariah, pariah is actually from Tamil. And that's actually the drummers. They were- So previous to colonialism. And of course, I'm Telugu. I'm not Tamil, in my- So language is the way that India is split up just like Europe, right? different languages and- that's where the cultures kind of popped up from. So Bharatanatyam went across South India, originated in Tamil Nadu, where they speak Tamil, that's probably the longest classical language in South India.
Telugu is also a classic language and it did migrate there and there was dance that was separate than what was happening in Karnataka, or Tamil Nadu and so on. Right. So just to give, there's a complexity there. But in in, so- one of the things is the dancers would be in the temple, so there would be processions of, during certain festivals, you might take the temple idol out for a ride around the town. You might have dancers as part of that procession, you would have had that in the, in the temple, you would have had dancing in the courtyard.
And then the more intimate pieces like the padams would have been done directly in front of the idol- and that's very intimate language the dancer would have been using it that place. The other pieces might be not as intimate, right? You're actually talking to God as if they were a lover or as if they're a child, right? You know, and showing that love in a very intimate way. Sometimes erotic love as well. So that was one change.
From later on in the history we move from a temple setting to a stage setting. And going back to that pariah comment, the musicians would have been right directly behind the dancer. Not in the not in the, not in the temple sanctum, but outside. The musicians would have been behind in a performance. So you would have seen that.
But in modern times, you'll see this as a stage art, you'll see this as the musicians relegated to one side of the stage. Certain types of musicians weren't brought forward. So the nagaswara, and so on- some of these kind of more old fashioned instruments, and the performers were not part of the new pantheon.
So pariah meaning these drummers were no longer considered important in their own art. That they had created and cultivated for generations. They are being purposely pushed aside. So you see this in dance as well, in Bharatanatyam, the dancers themselves come from different- And you know, there's a whole thing we can have about the caste system and so on. It's not that simple. That caste system good or bad caste system existed a long time ago, there was a lot more fluidity that became kind of more fixed,Leela Sinha:
codified, yeah,Anuradha Kowtha:
codified Yeah. Because of colonialism. So you know, there's a lot of other impacts as well. So now, it seems that more upper caste people can be doing the dance. But generally, Brahmins would have been the preservers of knowledge anyway, so that's not unusual. But to completely eliminate the dancing, or the musician clique castes, who had been doing that is also not correct. And there was like I said, there was fluidity before that.
So it's not like you're tied into that. You might have an interest in dance. So you can become an apprentice and do that, you know, there was a lot of that. The costume design changed. So Rukmini Devi, now we have the sari-style costume. But previous it would have been done topless. And but the but the the jewelry and so on, there is modifications.Leela Sinha:
Interesting. If you ever teach a class on that, let me know because I'm interested.Anuradha Kowtha:
So, so thinking about dance. Now going back to the original question, thinking about dance and thinking about all of the things and all the wisdom that you have, have developed and also learned from the tradition- from this very old tradition. What can we learn about transforming the world? What can we learn about dancing the world into a better place?Anuradha Kowtha:
Yeah. I think the last few years of my business for me, I- previously, I wanted to find a way to explain it all. Put all these things like my consulting work or whatever in with the dance. And I just became, it became too untenable. Not just because they're wildly disparate, people don't have the background of it; there is a lot of racism, so people, maybe not understanding the nuance of with which I'm speaking, right. So.
So I kind of for a few years, put it aside, but now I'm seeing very clearly this year that needs to be re integrated. The love of these pieces needs to come in and I think it makes for a very powerful tool. How can it make for a powerful tool? There are so many ways, but those utterances, the glances, the music, right, that this when we're creating an environment for transformation, which is the work I do, I know you it's the work you do.
These little touches are not just little. I have gotten so many people who have said, you know, weird coach types and whatever kinds of people commenting like, Oh, you're focused on these little details. But these little details matter, right there is a codification just because it's another language ie Sanskrit or Telugu, like classical Telugu, you know.
Or just because the color schemes, right, people will say, Oh, it's a power blue or a you know, spiritual purple right. And branding these days. Well, the color scheme, it from a Hindu perspective might be different, right? So how do you translate that. But I think you- by taking the time to explain what I do, how I do makes a lot of sense.
In for looking at the margam of the dance. We're starting off with a an on like an anjali of some sort of a type of dance, a pushpanjali or something like that, which is welcoming our people. So it is often very happy. It's bubbly. There's symmetry so whatever you do on the right, you then go do on the left. You're offering flowers. So we might actually carry flowers or flower petals into the stage with us. Or offer them to a god if there is an idol, and vigraham, of like Nataraja or Ganesha.
We might offer those, or offer them to the audience. So there's that kind of energy of an invocation, letting people know we're here, and so on. And I see this in church services or in how prayers work in, like pujas work in a Hindu context, right? There's the order of operations, those orders matter. Right. So we might start with that invocation, then we get into kind of more technical dance. So jatiswaram, and alarippu, very technical, very precise.
So alarippu, they're the same, but there's there can be different beats. So if you know one alarippu you probably can learn all the others. It's just different beats. So instead of a beat of six, it might be a beat of seven. It makes it slightly different, but the motions are, by and large, pretty much universal.
I hate to say universal, but similar enough that you can pick them up. There are different lineages of dance. So then we have jatiswaram which was you're playing with the swara. So in dance, it would be sa-ri-ga-ma-pa-da-ni-sa, sa-ni-da-pa-ma-ga-ri-sa, so you would be playing with the specific scale. And then different tempos,Leela Sinha:
folks you don't know that's those syllables are like do-re-mi-fa-sol in western music.Anuradha Kowtha:
That's right. So you would be playing with that. So it's it's intricate footwork, and so on. Then you're gonna get into this evolution of, then you start having bite sized pieces of like shabdams, which is a fairly modern piece, I think. In the shabdam I have learned, you've got a salutation from the Mughali empire. They brought this into the piece.
So you can see they were- because they were composers. They brought it into their royal courts. So you can see there was an influence from the Muslim rulership at that point. So that's more of a modern dance, but you have flavors, like the one I learned is talking about Murugan. So Subramanyam, brother of Ganesha, I don't know what names- Well, they have 1008 names.
So I don't know what name you know, but you, would you- so you're talking about, hey, I would sing you a lullaby, you know, or so on the motherly love. Then you would talk a little bit about, you know, why are you behaving in this way? Right? Or in some of the trickery he has done to get his wife, Valli, right. So we tell some of those stories. But in the middle, there are dance pieces. Where there's just pure dance.Leela Sinha:
so you see that kind of movement...Leela Sinha:
so when you say we tell those stories, though, you're telling the story through dance. It's not like someone stops dancing and speaks.Anuradha Kowtha:
Yeah, that's right. You're you're using this and you're you're miming it right in some way. Then the, like I said, the very more the more technical pieces are two varieties, the varnam. And there's so many others. I'm not going to go through it all. But the varnam, being 30 minutes-, it used to be a one to two hour piece, they've shortened it to a half an hour. Still a very technical dance.Leela Sinha:
It's like cricket, they've taken the whatever it was five day test down to a One Day International.Anuradha Kowtha:
Oh, okay. I did you knowLeela Sinha:
So people will watch it. Yeah, yeah. So in in cricket, the traditional way to play cricket takes five days. But that wasn't working on TV. So they shorten. So that's what a One Day International is, is like a match that can be televised, as opposed to this five day just goes on forever.Anuradha Kowtha:
event Yeah. Oh, my gosh, wow. Okay, I didn't know that. I'm gonna have to understand more about cricket. Apparently.Leela Sinha:
I don't really follow the game at all. But during that trip when I was 24, when I was in India for eight months, I was like, what's going on? And why are they sometimes all in white uniforms. That's the five day match. And sometimes in colorful uniforms. That's the One Day International matches.
And but it is, it's like, over time, all kinds of performance, including sport, including dance, have to evolve to match the context in which- to be accessible in the context and which they're happening. You might love the two hour performance, but if nobody will stay for the two hour performance, something is lost.Anuradha Kowtha:
Yes, that is very true. And unfortunately, that is a thing, right? People aren't necessarily going to have that kind of time and space or attention to do these things. Right. So hence, the dance was contracted a little bit. I wouldn't say truncated, what they've done is instead of multiple times, you would sing the line is sung and you would be dancing. So we might act out Hey, Krishna, actually, how he would steal the butter. Right?
So we might act that out or like saying, Oh, he's going to play a trick by taking a stone, throwing it at the woman carrying the pot of milk and you know, and then the milk goes everywhere and she's like, I'll get you. Right.
So that we might be actually slowly interacting, acting out these pieces. Or, Hey, Krishna, I'm looking at you, why are you not looking at me? Right? So why as a lover, why are you ignoring me in some way? Why are you not giving me this attention? This, the blessings you've promised, right? And then as a divine, you know, how would you talk about God? So this this, so it's a very technical piece. And then like I said, that padam or that javalis, which are also somewhat more modern, from my understanding.Leela Sinha:
And when you say more modern, you mean only a few hundred years old, right?Anuradha Kowtha:
Yeah, that's right. That's the last few hundred years. That's correct. As opposed to the- some of these pieces can be traced back right through some of the lineages further back. That's what I mean. Yeah.
So then this is very intimate think about the incense coming from the god you're like, in front of the god, it's a very sacred thing to have darshan, to see this idol. To see this not- it's not the idol because that's, that's actually that's me using an English word that is actually quite disrespectful. You're actually seeing the divine. That's the way they want to say it, right. So it would be a vigraham, it's like a god awake in that. But I don't know, I don't know how to explain it in English.Leela Sinha:
It's like the God is alive in that in that object or in that space. And you're encountering the divine. You're directly encountering the divine held in that space. Because we have a world that doesn't really accommodate us understanding God in a bigger way.Anuradha Kowtha:
Yeah, that's right. That's right. That's right. So God is literally everywhere in Hindu thought. But then it's more consecrated there. Like we live near a ruin an abbey ruin. And there's places where the chapels are in this is from the 11th century, so you can tell it's not consecrated anymore.
And I'm not particularly like, I'm not Christian at all. But when I go there, I can feel the places where there was more of that energy of someone praying. Like there's that feeling that is very different. Right. And in the UK, we have the ley lines, right. So some some historical places are built on these more spiritual places on the earth.
So similarly, when I think about a transformative experience, I am going to walk through the steps. Like we don't immediately go to darshan in front of God, the first thing. That's not the first step. The first step is preparing ourselves. So when you go into a temple, you have to bring an offering. You are preparing yourself to go there. You take off your shoes, there's a whole shoe storage system in place.Leela Sinha:
First time I went to Calicut I was- I was like, what, what what are we doing, dadi? And she had to like, she had to walk me through it, because I've never done that before. But yeah, for for folks who who have no experience of this, you, at least at Calicut, you walk into the outer courtyard, and there are a bunch of people who will offer to watch your shoes for you. And you know, pay them something to take care of your shoes.
And then there are other people who are selling offerings, that you can buy so that you can make offering. And so it's this semi commercialized highly chaotic, but also deeply sacred space. And I cannot explain it.Anuradha Kowtha:
yeah, it is it is. And even before that we would have bathed. You don't go to the temple without that. Right you would have, right. So you might have a god or an ishta-deva like, somebody that you pray to a lot. You're going to maybe have a morning prayer, it doesn't need to be more complex. Some people do it more complex, and more. Right. But all of this is part of that preparation process. We don't just show up and do the thing. There is a process to be ready.
And then in that transformation space, we don't just once again, go from that courtyard, the chaos of the things happening outside the temple walls, the chaos that's happening inside the courtyard, we don't just then go do darshan. There's a whole lot of things that happen before we go to that inner place. And there's- those are all things that really matter.
And I think if we see, like, I'm not trying to spiritually bypass at all this is my internal process. So I'm not saying it will resonate with everybody. But we, when we want to do this sacred work of uprooting injustice and inequity where we're seeing it, we're not just doing it for us. We're holding a space for change to be different.
As you had mentioned a bit earlier like what part of this tapestry are we upholding and which parts are we starting to pull and unweave this. Because we've all- we maybe didn't originate the weaving, but have we not gone and upheld patriarchy? Have we not gone and upheld racism? Have we not all like- there's places we have been, you know, denying our own gender expressions in some way. Is that a way of holding up transphobia?
Have we been? Right? Worried about looking gay, right? Or whatever, right? So how are we been weaving that thread anyway? But then to consciously then say, You know what, I'm not going to do that anymore. And then to consciously say, I'm going to start picking stitches. That's a very different thing.
So I don't like to just go into a container and just start my work. For me, there's a, there's a preparation, that's happening. Meaning energetically how many people can I literally hold in this? How can I hold them for their highest good in this change? And then there's things they need to prepare so they can do the work. Otherwise we're just throwing water into, you know, places it doesn't need to be watered? Right.
So this is, what I'm saying is if we want to be vessels for change, we need to take it somewhat seriously, right. War in ancient times- and I'm not trying to glorify war in any way. But war or hunting for animals wasn't just like, oh, mindlessly shooting some animal so we can eat it. Or mindlessly killing our foes.
There was a lot of conversation about respecting this animal, being in gratitude for it. They would actually stop wars, to say, you can go get the food you need, like we're going to- because mothers and babies need the food like we there was understanding of these things. Like we're not going to hurt these, these other people.Leela Sinha:
And in some communities, those things are still upheld. And those practices are still present. And I think one of the things that- the more I'm in the world, the more I notice- is that it's true in a lot of communities, communities where I think a lot of folks don't expect it. Like the rural hunting communities of Maine are very deliberate.
Obviously, some people not everybody, but that there is this culture of like, you respect the animal, you respect the kind of fierceness and, and sacredness or nobility of the animal. If you hit an animal, and you don't kill it in the first shot, you track it. Until you are able to kill it, you don't just go randomly shooting other animals and leaving injured animals wandering around the forest. And obviously, not everybody does that. But that ethos is still present, there are still people who practice and think that way.
And, and I love this, this thing that you're saying about presence, and, and taking the time to be prepared. To prepare ourselves to prepare our space to prepare our offering. I'm reminded of how frustrated I become when when I, you know, I'm offering a workshop to an organization and they're like, Can you do it faster, though? And I'm like, Okay, so we're already down to an hour and a half. No, I can't do it any faster.
And that's because the first 15 minutes is preparation. The last 15 minutes is closure. So if, if we're doing an hour and a half, that gives me an hour to bring people all the way from, you've never heard of what I do before, to an appropriate place to put people down again.
Which is also as you said, something we think about in the creation of worship, how do we begin? How do we bring people out of their kind of frenetic everyday lives into the sacred space? How do we help people be in a place where they're prepared for some kind of transformation? How do we affect that transformation? And then how do we put people down in a way that is effective?
Sometimes you deliberately leave people a little raw. Sometimes, you deliberately give people a little extra buffer because it's particularly difficult material. But you don't. You're right. You don't just dump the center, the center portion on people and walk away.Anuradha Kowtha:
Yeah absolutely. And for thinking about a group space, a lot of the times, especially if I have more space to work in a container, then I'm going to dedicate more time. Like in sowing post capitalist seeds- the first week is, one of the big jobs is setting up the intentions and norms for the space. So we start with an opening ritual.
We have the space to, as a group collectively decide what norms are going to be in our space for the 21 contact hours we'll be together. I mean, we don't want to rush through that because that is- if we rush through it, then that's just repeating capitalism. That's just repeating ableism. That's just repeating non consent culture, right? We've got to model what we actually want to see.Leela Sinha:
Yeah, yeah. And it's interesting, you brought up capitalism, because as you were talking earlier about, about this and about, and I was thinking about time and, and kind of rushing through processes and people feeling like you're wasting their time, by doing the welcome by doing the preparation work; I was thinking about the way that time is really one of the greatest commodities. More than money.
Time is like, we only have so much, we only have so many minutes. And, and for people to be like, Well, I don't want to give you more than I have to. And it's like, well, if you really want to be changed, you have to give me a lot of your time. You have to give each other a lot of your time, you have to give this process a lot. It's not really me, right. But it's, you have to give this, this thing that you want is going to take time. And that is the thing that people are most impatient about.Anuradha Kowtha:
Absolutely, there needs to be. If we're gonna really, because we could do it, I could do a 30 minute workshop or whatever. But if we don't want any change, sure, that's a great way to do it. We take a lunch and learn, let's do some stuff, talk about some random things.
Like I went to one for my accountant, where they're talking about year end accounts, and whatever, we just had that hoopla in in April here. That's when our fiscal year begins and ends.
And, you know, they went through and they talked about all these numbers and all this stuff. And they were trying to combine solopreneurs with limited business, limited companies and trying to put everything in one JAM PACKED presentation. Breakneck speed, it felt like. And it was an hour. And so what? How much of that has been retained? Literally nothing except maybe what had to get done for my accountant at the end of April. And that's it. Right?
But if we want lasting change, it means there needs to be a space for that integration work. It needs to fundamentally change something in our daily life, right? If I'm going to actually- if I have been unconsciously spending time, money, space, ideas, upholding capitalism, patriarchy, etc, in some way, whatever, we need to have that paradigm shift of, Oh, I've been doing that without knowing. And then oh, there's space to do something different.
When we literally turn that into a praxis, which is a combination of understanding theory, but also coming up with our practice, right. So it's a fluid concept. It's not a fixed concept. We, you know, in science, we discover something new, our understanding of how we would do things changes slightly, right. So it's a fluid, dynamic, it's a fluid relationship. So we have that praxis, we create that. And then something has to change.
It means Oh, I've been giving my attention to these things that are not helpful. I have been spending my money on these weird things that I really don't actually uphold. Or I've been needlessly beating myself up for not- you know, for wanting to rest and not resting and then beating myself up because I'm not being productive in some way. Fundamentally, if that's going to change, we need that to actually create change on the other end.
And oftentimes, that part is like after darshan, after you see this divine after you have that, it is kind of a mysterious feeling, because you don't know what direction you're necessarily going to go in. Because what moves you like, you go in with this intention, you go in with this idea, you have these plans, and then the divineLeela Sinha:
Plans? That's a bad idea.Anuradha Kowtha:
Yeah, or like, we're gonna actually go deeper, and that's going to become your calling. I don't know. That's why I hesitate to tell people Oh, this is exactly the change you're gonna get out of it. But what does change is, we then start to shift how we show up. We do shift in and- it can be nitty gritty, practical changes, which I love.
But it also might be the intent in which we're doing things, fundamentally shows up. Like we start bringing the animist idea of, Oh, what if this was like, this time is precious? What if God was everywhere? What if I had that essence in me, too? Right, then how would I show up differently? I would show up in a lot of different ways differently.Leela Sinha:
Yeah, yeah. And, and thinking about that, like, that deep intimacy of encountering the divine directly. Like, how could you possibly know how that's gonna change you? Like, you can't even imagine what it's like, much less what's gonna happen on the other side of it. Even if you've done it a thousand times. It's gonna be different every time.
And I'm thinking about like, I've been reading very slowly. I've been reading Braiding Sweetgrass, you know that book. And, and I've been, so I've been listening to the audiobook because she reads it. And she reads beautifully. And I can only listen to really one chapter at a time. And then I go away from it for like a month. Not because I'm not interested, but because my bones and my skin and my flesh want to absorb what she said.
And one day, recently, I was doing something and the audio book will automatically roll from chapter by chapter. And I realized that I listened to like two and a half chapters in a row. And I was feeling over full. I was feeling like I'd eaten too much. And I put it down. And now I'm going back and listening to each of those chapters with its own time. And I don't have like a timer on it. Like if, if I feel like I'm ready for the next chapter, then I'm ready for the next chapter.
But it is that kind of, I need to absorb this. I need to, I need to embed this in my thinking in my being. And as a result, I'm able to specifically and directly quote sections of it much better. Because that integration time is actually doing something intellectually as well as energetically, emotionally, spiritually.
And it is now it's with me all the time. Now, not only am I more engaged with an animism that I think I've always had, but also I'm, I'm constantly thinking.
Like, we discovered we have Japanese knotweed in this property where I'm renting. And Japanese knotweed is considered highly invasive in most places. Its origin story is that it grows on the sides of not quite cooled volcanoes in Japan. So it's pretty durable stuff. And it is extremely, extremely well adapted to grow almost anywhere, and anywhere is more hospitable than the side of a volcano.
So, you know, the landlord must have ripped out what was growing here, but it's coming back. And I've been thinking like, how do I, from a "we are all alive together" perspective, how do I, how do I live appropriately with an invasive species. Like, the species will literally take over in ways that are not okay. That don't allow the rest of- you know, it's, it's an invader.
And at the same time, it's alive, and it's here, and it's in the ground. I've discovered that if you're careful, you can eat it. So I'm like, Okay, you grow and feed me. I will cut you down, when you've grown tall enough, and you can feed me and we'll keep that cycle going for a while. And if you do happen to become depleted, that's okay. Because you shouldn't actually be here in the first place.
But, but coming to understand, like, how does her concept of the novel harvest, which is, you know, there, she lays out these, I don't know, seven rules or something about not taking too much and being, getting permission to take from the plant itself. Getting permission to take some before you take it. And that like balanced out with okay but this plant is A) super durable, and B) shouldn't be here. So are the rules different? How do we be live together? And I'm just I sit with that, like, I don't think there's a good answer, but I sit with it.Anuradha Kowtha:
Yeah, that's a beautiful example of the kind of integration and praxis that needs to happen. There is not generally a clear cut answer. I think, before we have that transformation experience, we might feel like there's a way to make a binary argument. Like, are we accessible? Or are we not? Right? Like this kind of very broad... instead of ignoring the shades of gray, that the dozens of ways, or the infinite ways of accessibility and how that might translate? Right?
So we might be looking for a quick answer. But after we've sat with it at the other end, what changes? What conversations what relationships, how we actually make space for that? That makes sense.Leela Sinha:
Yeah. That is the like, sort of, I want to say, anti capitalist, but it's not really anti capitalist. It's just like, the opposite of capitalist. Like, the opposite of capitalism is inefficiency. Is is like, or not inefficiency, straight up, but like not prioritizing efficiency. The opposite of capitalism. Is this, like deeply integrated, complicated answers that aren't binary and, and keep changing.
And, like, you just have to move with them because you're a living part of the system and not outside the system, you know, conducting it. And so how do we Yeah, when we think about transforming the world, and we think about taking time and space, and relationship and intimacy, to do it. How does that change the way we think about our activism?Anuradha Kowtha:
It does. So one, you know, the biggest change in those two examples you're you're giving is the way we even teach biology. And I used to be a biology teacher and I would intentionally subvert this- is we are, we have dominion over living things. Or we're thinking about DNA, or DNA is the primacy of life. In terms of that's the code of life.
But in fact, proteins and RNA go back and speak to ourselves. We have a web structure of the- you know, instead of a food top down humans at the top of our food, right? We actually have a web where we're one piece of that, we're a part of the system. We've kind of have this thought, we don't, we're dominion, we, right? They're all there to serve us, we're supposed to somehow take care of them, in some way. Be stewards.
Instead of that work, you're saying is, no, we're not dominion over, we are part of that system. That is a living, breathing system. Still, with many chapters to write. We get to be part of this chapter now, while we're here.Leela Sinha:
You know, and that's a very different way. You know, I think a lot of times in social justice work, we want to say, Okay, we're here, we're going to do it all. And I, it's not to say, I haven't had that thought myself. I want to fix it all, like, you know; but I think we have to understand there's longevity in these movements. And that's how people can sustain and nourish themselves. In all of this. Not to say, I don't want it all fixed. Now, of course I do.
I'm not advocating for a slow process even a little bit. But going back to that rage piece- that rage, alongside the nourishment can keep us going. not get too comfortable. Not saying okay, I'm gonna stop for coffee, that kind of attitude. I'm going to, I'm going to now, yes, stop for coffee if you need coffee, but we don't need to announce it. But we do want to say, this is the goal. And how can I stoke that fire for the injustice?Leela Sinha:
Yeah, it's not first or second. It's not either, or. It's not the entire choir stopping and taking a breath. It's that spaced breathing that you do when you've got, you know, a 16 measure note to hold. Everybody in your section stops at a different time, and takes a breath at a different time. And everybody else sustains the note. And the experience for the listener, and even for the choir itself, is that as a body, we are sustaining this note. And I can take a breath when I need to. That'sAnuradha Kowtha:
right. That's right. I think that's beautiful.Leela Sinha:
And that's how our movement work has to be.Anuradha Kowtha:
Agreed, agreed. And this was much more of a spiritual discussion than I had come into this with. But I'm so glad this is what came out of our conversation, because what a beautiful and poetic way to describe it.Leela Sinha:
Yeah, thank you so much. This has been, this has been so lovely and deep and rich. And I've got all these pictures in my head. And like I said before, if you decide to teach a class on on the kind of the framework or the theory or really any piece of the dance learning that you have done, I won't even say research because you've got a lived learning of it. I would be very interested to know that you're doing that. No pressure, but ...Anuradha Kowtha:
okay, I might do a pop up workshop on it. Since you've asked. Maybe I'll let I'll sit with that and see what comes.Leela Sinha:
Yeah, yeah. And and I think it does translate over, you know, this conversation shows that it translates over. That it's not just dance for dance, it's dance as a microcosm of life.Anuradha Kowtha:
Yeah, absolutely. That just happens to be the modality that I was drawn to and have cultivated. But that's not to diminish any other modality we might know. Some people do it through sports, some people do it through, like your work with ministry. You know, there's so many ways in. But using these tools is part of how we can sustain the work, make the change. Because these are- sports can be transformative and community building. Church can be like that as well. Right?Leela Sinha:
Yeah. And so many things can be, we just have to remember that that's part of what it's there for. And take advantage of the fact that it can be. Oh, what a lovely, rich conversation. So if people want to find more of your work I mentioned at the beginning, but why don't we just tell them again? Where can they find you?Anuradha Kowtha:
Yeah, absolutely. So I'm @TheKowthaConstellation on most platforms, Instagram. And other platforms I'm at my name at Anuradha Kowtha, a-n-u-r-a-d-h-a. Last name Kowtha k-o-w-t-h-a. So you can find me there or my websites are TheKowthaConstellation.com or SowingPostCapitalistSeeds.comLeela Sinha:
Fantastic. Thank you so much.Anuradha Kowtha:
Thank you, Leela,Leela Sinha:
Ah, what a privilege. I will very much look forward to spending more time with you in the future.Anuradha Kowtha:
Thank you. Likewise.