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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

The New York dancer and her book. I spoke to Sukanya Rahman.


Sukanya Rahman performing the Orissi

Sukanya's parents, Habib and the famous Indrani Rahman, in playful mood at Juhu Beach, Mumbai in earlier years.

Indrani, Ragini and Sukanya, Three Generations Performance, New York University Theatre, September 29, 1979

Sukanya's mother, Indrani far left with the late President John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, Nehru, John's mother, Rose Kennedy and India's ambassador B.K. Nehru in Washington DC, 1961.

Sukanya today, pictured with her brother, Ram - a photographer and also her husband, the playwright, Frank Wicks at a friend's wedding in Delhi.

Sukanya turned artist, displays an original note card which she designs for her business industry.

Photos reprinted with kind permission from Sukanya Rahman

SUKANYA RAHMAN who studied painting at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris and the College of Art in Delhi. Just before linking hands with her grandmother and mother in Indian traditional dance, Sukanya also studied American modern dance with Martha Graham.

Dancing in the Family which is her first book consists of an engaging and witty photographic memoir involving three women in a family that are passionately bound together by Indian classical dance and aptly set gainst a historical backdrop. Today, Sukanya who has 2 sons, lives on an island in Maine, America with her playwright husband, Frank Wicks. Sukanya has also turned into a fulltime visual artist but is currently working to get a British or American editon of her 2001 memoir out onto the international market.

As told to Susan Abraham by Sukanya Rahman

"Martha Graham was already quite elderly and not in the best physical shape by the time I came to her school. But she was always grand, elegant, dramatic and larger-than-life despite her small stature. My lasting impression of her will always be that of her scarlet lipstick.Today on looking back, I've become somewhat of a recluse which is why I live on a secluded island in Maine. But when I dance on stage and face the public, a transformation always takes place. I become instantly confident and derive great joy in communicating with my audience.

"Of course, it was my unconventional family background that provided me with the stimulus to live by my own rules and live a full and interesting life. I can only speak for myself but I suspect that everyone no matter how mundane their lives, has a story lurking deep down underneath. One simply needs the audacity and motivation to flush it out.

"For me, it was always easy. My mother was a famous dancer in India and my father a prominent architect. Such a situation opened doors for me which may otherwise have remained closed.

"Still, the greatest high came late for me in my performing career when my older son arranged for me to perform at his college. As youngsters, my kids were often mortified when I'd appear before their all-American classmates in my exotic stage attire so I was flattered, surprised and deeply moved by his invitation. It turned out to be a full house with a wildly enthusiastic audiene. At the end of the performance, my son stepped up on stage and handed me a bouquet of flowers. The audience cheered and made me feel like a rock star. I decided instantly that it would be my final solo performance because how could anything else ever top that. Today, that remains my one precious memory.

"Now, most of my costumes are in shreds and stuffed in suitcases at home. But as for some of the saris and ornaments, I still wear them when I need to dress up. I find the idea of leaving a legacy rather presumptious but if some of what I've loved pursuing might fire up younger artists, that would be wonderfully satisfying.

"The most challenging part of researching Dancing In The Family was doing justice to my grandmother's story. She died before I decided to write the book.But even in her lifetime, she cloaked herself in mystery and would simply make up stories about her life.

"I was not computer savvy and much of my research at the New York Performing Arts Library and the New York Public Library was poring over micro-film records and tattered, yellowed reviews, programmes, handbills and of course, intimate family letters. It was thrilling, never painstaking!

"I wrote my book over a long period of time while I was still juggling family, dance, touring and my art work. Time away from the children was always painful though whenever we could my husband and I dragged them along on our travels. Because my book was completed over a long period of time, it went through several incarnations.

"As for the photos in my book, they're all from archives. Still, my brother, Ram, who works as a professional photographer and designer, helped me a great deal with the re-shooting and restoration of certain photographs. It's not at all easy writing about your family and while there were some ups and downs, there was also a great deal of support and encouragement.

"Sometimes I think I would love to try my hand at fiction, but I'm quite daunted by the very thought!Writing this book for me felt like giving birth - with a much longer gestation period involved - and by the way, giving birth to my children was not followed by post-natal blues.

"Seeing my book finally in print was the most terrifying part of the process. Turning the pages, I remembered that when I was growing up, my childhood felt like a stage set. But on looking back, I feel today that I was greatly priviledged to have the unique family and the upbringing I had.

"I would say to aspiring writers who are engulfed in research for fiction or non-fiction, not to give up. I have ended up with a file full of wonderful letters of rejections. Let me tell you that working with a good editor is critical. For me, the entire process of gathering facts and collating informationa often felt like I was lying on a psychiatrist's couch, asking myself questions and answering only to myself.

"I think that the internet has made the research process much easier overall. In my case however, my greatest resource turned out to be personal family letters, many of which I had saved over the years. So the solution here is "don't throw anything away...

"Now and then, I do think of writing another book. Already, there are things bubbling in the back of my mind. At the end of the day, the art of dancing did bring to me the gift of endurance for my present years.

"And as for Dancing in the Family, the book itself rewarded me with a great sense of preserverance and accomplishment and preserverance yet again..."

Originally published by
HarperCollins, Delhi, 2001, pp 158, hardcover.
Hardcover is out of print
Dancing In The Family has been ressiued in paperback. Cover design by Ram Rahman/Sukanya Rahman
Now in paperback, published by Rupa & Co. Delhi, 2004.

A limited number of signed copies available by sending a check for $19.00 (includes shipping and handling) payable to
Dance in Maine Foundation,
124 Bayview Road
Orr's Island, Maine 04066 Photographic Content reprinted with kind permission from the author.

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