“A dream is a wish the heart makes”

It all started with a small wish in my heart. One day when I was ready, I made up my mind to go forth with this wish and live with a simple and strict rule of taking out a minimum of 15 minutes every day to work towards my goal. 

I have struggled with an autoimmune condition for most of my life. My condition affected me the most towards the end of high school and start of college, as I grappled with the effects that it had on my self-image and mental health. Although I was challenged in my search for a silver lining of positivity during that phase, I always knew that I was privileged to have the kind of support and resources from my parents, Guru and educational institutions. The underlying sentiment behind Umeed is that I want this support system to be something that others feel like they have access to as well. 

Photo courtesy: Lijesh Karunakaran
Photo courtesy: Lijesh Karunakaran

It was with this thought that I came up with this tiny wish to use the platform that I had already established for myself through kathak, to tell my story and to help others in finding their own sense of hope. I want my production to create awareness, and even if it simply starts a handful of conversations, that would define success for me. I really strongly believe that the first step to dealing with chronic illness, mental health and self-image struggles is to want to help yourself. It is important to not just accept that you have any of these issues, but to either try to change them, or in the cases where that is not possible, to acknowledge that you can grow from them and still grasp positivity from them. 

When I pause for a moment and think about my production, “Umeed: Colors of Hope”, I can really only think of one word to describe the experience: surreal. Performing in Singapore, London and New York were all such uniquely special experiences for me. What really keeps me going is the messages and comments that I receive from people afterwards, when they tell me that they related to the story, or that it helped them to feel less alone and encouraged them to reach out to someone. 

Photo courtesy: Rajesh Paravoor
Photo courtesy: Rajesh Paravoor

I am most excited about performing in India this August, because I think it will go the furthest in terms of creating awareness and hopefully removing some levels of social stigma within the India community. When I read about the study that the World Health Organization had conducted on the perception of mental health in India and learned that only 10-12% of sufferers actually pursue help, I was determined to have a go at increasing that percentage. I believe that stigma, a lack of awareness and understanding, and limited access to professional help are all obstacles that India has the resources to overcome. 

The reason why I have chosen to combine mental health and chronic illness in my production is to demonstrate that the experience and the pain is the same. I want to raise the question to the audience that if what the person is going through is the same, then why are both types of illnesses perceived by society so differently? 

Photo courtesy: Sapna Dabade
Photo courtesy: Sapna Dabade

From an 18 year old girl that was once scared to leave her room, to touring a self-directed production in front of thousands of people around the globe, my Umeed is that those who attend my shows and share the experience with me, are encouraged to also try to transform the worst thing in their lives into the best. 

‘Umeed: Colors of Hope' is a solo kathak production that depicts the story of a young girl navigating her journey through mental health, chronic illness and self-image issues. Umeed will be performed in India in the following places:

Delhi – 9th August 2019, 7.30pm at India Habitat Centre
Chandigarh – 10th August 2019, 6pm at Pracheen Kala Kendra
Gurgaon – 14th August 2019, show for DPSi community
Bangalore – 18th August 2019, 4pm at CHRIST University

Author
Sunena Gupta
Sunena Gupta – Contributor

Sunena Gupta commenced her kathak training at the age of seven. She has learnt under many Gurus in the past and is currently a disciple of the esteemed Guru Mulla Afsar Khan at the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society. Through her journey thus far, Sunena’s passions and sincere efforts have been rewarded. Sunena was honored with the ‘Natya Visharad’ best student title in her eighth-year diploma examination and was the first student to complete her Manch Pravesh.

 

Sunena performs in a plethora of events across the globe,  notably twice for the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She has also been blessed to train under Pt. Birju Maharaj in London and then perform in his presence in New York. Sunena is currently also entering her final year as an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, pursuing degrees in Politics and Economics. At Berkeley she is the captain and choreographer of the competitive kathak team. Sunena is dedicated to using her platform of kathak to make a difference in the world by raising funds for charities and raising awareness for social causes, as she believes strongly in the versatility and power of kathak as an art form.

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