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Check Out Anjali Mitter Duva’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Anjali Mitter Duva.

Anjali, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
Born of an Indian physicist from Calcutta and a Jewish writer from Massachusetts, I was raised in Paris, France. Perhaps this mixed heritage set me up for never wanting to be just one thing, and for being interested in what happens at the intersections, in the in-between spaces. I went to college in Rhode Island, and, unable to commit to a single major, I chose a multi-disciplinary one that, after attending graduate school at MIT, led me to start a career in urban planning. Perhaps not what one imagines as an artist’s background! For a few years, I worked with engineers, architects, non-profits, municipalities, and businesses in the field of water and wastewater, trying to extend services to low-income areas in and around large cities of developing countries. It was intense, interesting and satisfying work, and I enjoyed working with people of diverse backgrounds.

But life has a way of bringing the unexpected. When a project I was working on lost its funding, I was out of a job. I transitioned to freelance work–research, writing, project management. With a more flexible schedule, I was able to start taking classes in Kathak dance, a storytelling art form of North India. Within a couple of weeks, I was smitten. I’d found an art form with a rich, layered history that mirrors the history of India. I became friends with my teacher, and along with a few other students we founded Chhandika, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving, teaching and promoting kathak. Immersing myself in this history, and fresh from a recent trip to Rajasthan, India, I was inspired to write a set of four books, each taking place at a time of socio-political upheaval in India, and each featuring Kathak. The first one, set in the 16th century at the start of the Mughal era, came out in 2014, titled FAINT PROMISE OF RAIN. At the time, the dance was a Hindu devotional tradition. I’m currently working on the second book, set in the 18th century, at the beginning of British rule, when the dance was a Muslim courtesan art.

I don’t do much urban planning at the moment, but I do try to be involved locally, supporting the arts, literacy, and community. I served as Chhandika’s executive director for ten years and taught children’s classes for part of that time. I co-founded the Arlington Author Salon, a quarterly literary series, and I run a teen book club. I still study Kathak and incorporate dance in many of my literary events. So, while my career trajectory has shifted, one aspect has remained constant: my interest in being multi-disciplinary.

We’d love to hear more about your artwork. What do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I am a writer of historical novels. I am also a dancer of Kathak, a North Indian classical art form. My books–the one that is out, FAINT PROMISE OF RAIN, as well as the one I am finishing and the next one I have planned–all feature a Kathak dancer, but a different one each time, in a different historical setting. The books as a set will span about 450 years. When I conduct a reading, I tend to include elements of dance. I sometimes also partner with other dancers and musicians to bring portions of the book to life. I like to make literature a more three dimensional, sensory experience than words on a page.

I was moved to write these books when I discovered what a rich, complex history kathak has, and how the Kathak dance that one can see today on stage or in a dance studio is an amalgamation of all the cultural and religious and social influences that shaped the art and artists over centuries, through Hindu rule, Muslim rule, British rule, India’s independence, and the diaspora of Indian artists to the West. I want to share the story of this art in a very relatable way, to expand audiences for it, and to make readers pause and think how art, politics, and history are so intertwined. I’d like people to think about the role of traditions in today’s culture, and how to maintain traditions while adapting them to changing circumstances.

What do you know now that you wished you had learned earlier?
During these tumultuous, fraught times, one can fall prey to feelings of self-doubt. One can wonder why, as an artist, one is plodding along doing one’s work when there are so many immense problems to solve on our planet. But it’s important that we hold true to our vision, that we remember the power of art to bring people together, to elicit emotions, to foster empathy. I believe it’s very important to engage with one’s local community, to support each other, and to play a civic role in whatever way one can. And as artists can be particularly sensitive to the feelings around them, absorbing much of the suffering or sorrow we perceive, it is important we each take the time to take care of ourselves, too.

Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
FAINT PROMISE OF RAIN is available wherever books are sold, as well as in many libraries, and in audio form (Audible, iTunes and Amazon). The French edition is out in France as “Adhira, fille de la pluie.” I speak often in libraries, book stores, schools, literary events, arts festivals, and conferences. Information about my events is at my site, I don’t perform kathak professionally, but there is a performing ensemble of Chhandika that does local performances, and in my newsletter (for which there is a sign-up on my site) I include information on upcoming performances, both of Chhandika and of other kathak artists.

People can support my work by reading my book, of course, and discussing it with friends, and posting reviews/comments. I love visiting book clubs, and am available to do so in the Greater Boston area in person, or elsewhere by Skype. I also enjoy speaking at middle and high schools. And I welcome audiences to my readings and other events. I may be contacted via my web site.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Liza Voll, Dagmara Boryszczyk

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