Gene Junction: Isha Sharvani | Verve Magazine
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February 19, 2016

Gene Junction: Isha Sharvani

Text by Simone Louis

Dancer Isha Sharvani talks about being a global person and speaking four languages growing up

“I’ve been a gypsy since the age of 13….  A global human is what I am.”

Whether it is within the structural margins of Kalaripayattu or Chhau, Malkhamb or Kathak, this nymph-like dancer moves with grace, strength, precision and power. The lead performer of the Daksha Sheth Dance Company, she has been the most noteworthy practitioner of aerial dancing in the country for a significantly long time. And, like her Gujarati mother, Daksha Sheth — a pioneer of the Indian contemporary dance movement — and Australian father, Devissaro — an esteemed musician, composer and music director — Isha Sharvani has always taken the road less travelled.

“I was born in Gujarat but lived in Delhi, Bengaluru and Odisha, and have spent the last 20 years in Kerala. Add to that travelling for dance…I’ve been a gypsy since the age of 13. I belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time. A global human is what I am.”

An unconventional upbringing
“My dad taught me things like how to change a tyre, and made sure I could fend for myself. It came from his own upbringing, where he learnt the importance of being self-sufficient regardless of whether one was a girl or a boy. He also had the Australian approach to sports, and always pushed me to be very physically active. From my mother’s side, I learned wonderful things about festivals, traditions, Indian naturopathy and, of course, dance.”

The firang tag
“Being very light-skinned and growing up in Kerala, it used to really upset me that, very often, I had to prove my Indianness. Why should I have to try harder just because I’m fair?”

Traditional tongues
“Growing up, my mother would only speak to me in Gujarati and, even though her English was flawless, she wouldn’t reply if I addressed her in it. In Kerala and when we lived in the North, I spoke Malayalam and Hindi, and with my father I conversed in English. But even today, when I speak to my mother, it tends to be in Gujarati. It’s funny because sometimes I have to catch myself when I’m abroad. One minute I’m speaking to someone in perfect English and the next moment when she calls — I switch so fast that I barely even realise it!”

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