Dance a gift to ease my way through life, says Sushmitha

Dr. Sushmitha Anantha Murthy ready to bowl you with her smile and laughter takes every delivery of Natyahasini with ease, be it on managing COVID or OPD duties at SVMC, Tirupati or learning three dance forms.

Sushmitha Anantha Murthy between duties and off days attends online dance classes or practices. “Needless to say, these practice sessions are what I look forward to the most. I’m also pursuing my Diploma in Theatre Arts for Holistic Development from RASA. Practicing Yoga keeps me relaxed and also physically fit and flexible,” says Sushmitha, daughter of Yoga instructor Savitha and Engineer D Anantha Murthy. The doctor passed her Class X from Meridian School, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, and performed her arangetram under Abhinaya Kalaratna Guru Geetha Ganesan of Uttara Centre for Performing Arts (UCPA).    

Sharing her dance journey, Sushmitha says that her mother was always fond of Indian classical art forms, and exposed her to it. “Guru Smt. Sailaja Prasad, who resided in our apartment complex, was teaching Kuchipudi, and I enrolled and since then there has been no looking back. I remember doing ‘diditai’ crossing the road and tapping my feet to jathis even during classes in school. My connection with dance only grew with time. For me it was never just an extra-curricular activity. It was a gift to ease my way through life, a constant companion,” she says. 

The medical graduate discloses that she came in touch with Guru Geetha in 2005, who readily accepted her as her student and groomed her lovingly. “Geetha akka apart from being a dance tutor has been a mentor and motherly figure for each of us UCPians and performed my arangetram in 2008,” she says. Keen to learn Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam’s style of Kuchipudi, Sushmitha began training under Dr. Himabindu Kanoj of Muvva Nritya Raga Nigamam. And continued to learn both styles. 

On whether she mixed up both forms, Sushmitha reveals that to be honest, she did have a tinge of each style while doing the other. “Something like how we have an accent of our mother tongue while learning a new language maybe. But then every language has a grammar, syntax and distinct flavour of its own. After all dance is a language or medium of communication too. I’m still learning and will always be a learner,” she says. Setting the record straight, the doctor dancer says that the key is to understand and imbibe this distinct flavour of each style and well the magic word is practice. “So be it Bharatanatyam or Kuchipudi or Mohiniyattam, I try to breakdown that particular movement syntax to try perfecting it without consciously labelling or categorizing. Long way to go, enjoying every bit of it,” says the young artist. 

Took A Break: Moving to a different city for higher studies, she had to discontinue dance classes beyond a week…and that break stretched to a couple of years through her MBBS degree. Sushmitha is grateful to Guru Late Smt Nagamani Srinivas Rao, the director of Bharata Darshana, under whom she had the privilege of practicing the Kalakshetra style of Bharatanatyam. “I was so excited I had a chance to continue learning. She was so accommodating of my erratic academic schedules at KIMS, Bengaluru, ever so patient and kind. Her firm and loving hand has taught me the value of sadhana (constant practice) and mainly the importance of carrying down the legacy of the great doyens like Guru Adyar K Lakshman,” says the passionate dancer. She acknowledges that MBBS was kind of a sabbatical from stage performances. “It was hard and suffocating to be separated from what I love. This made me realize that the most important audience for me is actually the self. So, I danced to be happy, to deal with the stresses in life. I began training in the Bharati Sivaji style of Mohiniyattam under Smt Vinaya Narayanan (Samarpana, Bangalore). As a mentor, she has played a big part in appreciating the divine role of dance in aligning the body, mind and soul, that in fact dance is a yoga and a way of life,” says Sushmitha.  

Did she continue classes via Skype before the concept of online classes began, the doctor says she would practice what she had learnt. “My Gurus were always supportive, we have been in touch throughout my sabbatical too and they encouraged me to keep going saying they would be there whenever I was ready to get back. This kept me driven. Mohiniyattam classes were a kind of saviour and the joy of live classes when you realize the value, is unparalleled. So, each minute in class I am grateful for. I continue practice now under Himabindu ma’am and Vinaya akka, who have taught me so much about what it is to live dance, to imbibe it into the very fibre of one’s being,” says the dancer. 

All PGs posted On COVID Duty: Sushmitha is currently pursuing first year junior residency in MD Psychiatry. She shares that most of the postgraduates have been posted for COVID duties across branches. “The dismal news every day is enough to bog us down, the daily stress and burden is not new to us. Irrespective of our profession we’re all affected in several ways by the pandemic. But I’ve noticed how it has brought together all of us from the doctor community no matter what the specialisation. The situation seems to have unified us, be it to enhance our patient care with teamwork or to reassure the people that we are working for them with limited resources. This spirit keeps us driven beyond physical and mental exhaustion. But we are humans at the end of the days, like anyone else. A big shout out to my fellow frontline workers! Let’s keep going and do our best for the nation,” says the young doctor with service motto. 

The Psychiatry student says that they have not done anything like the Kerala doctors video doing the internet, though she simply loved it. “It reminded me of the power of dance to destress us no matter what! We’ve begun to do a couple of ‘lockdown’ videos which is great fun,” she says. 

Ananda Shankar Source Of Inspiration: Sushmitha says that her very first source of inspiration is the renowned Bharatanatyam danseuse Padma Shri Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayant. “In fact, after a long break the first time I posted my dance online was the famous 5pm namaskar that she started to show the solidarity of artistes towards the frontline workers. Her story says it all. It is never too late to start sadhana again. Once a dancer always a dancer! I tell myself this each day,” admits the dancer.

Remember the picture that did the Twitter rounds recently, where a doctor shared two of his pictures, one with PPE kit and the other after removing it. Dr.Sushmitha agrees that one sweats a lot while wearing PPE kits. “But the occasional giddiness and saturation drop is a bigger concern. From our side, we try our best to reduce each other’s exposure by taking shifts. I’d like to take the liberty to say there’s a certain pride associated with the PPE kit. Well…staying safe is the new cool! So don’t hesitate to do what it takes,” she says, adding that each time they return from duty they ensure to clean themselves up and sanitize accessories before resuming other work. Praying for the pandemic to resolve soon, Sushmitha is hopeful that post COVID the world is going to be more empathetic with a shift from mindless rat races to more mindful living in the moment.

Before parting, Sushmitha states that the trend of online concerts has kept up the spirits in the artiste community and given many budding artists a wonderful platform and global audience.

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