Team Artecology met Miti Desai at her studio in Bangalore. Situated in the heart of city hustle bustle, when you enter her home, a sense of quiet and solitude envelopes you. Miti moved from Mumbai to Bangalore three years ago. It was an instinctive decision to leave the familiar art scene and comforts of her home town Mumbai to start afresh in a new city.
This is not the only radical decision that Miti has taken. She decided to quit her job within two weeks of employment in a prestigious design company in Mumbai unable to cope with its commercial centric work. She then decided to do her Masters programme in Design at the Portfolio Centre in Atlanta, Georgia. During her two-year course she realized that the western idea of design was disengaged with her own self and nature. She recognized her body’s disconnect with what she was learning and decided to return to India and to start movement training in the classical dance form of Mohiniyattam.
Miti started training in Mohiniyattam under Smt Mandakini Trivedi at the Shaktiyogashrama, Lonavla. The ashrama, with no electricity or connectivity, completely altered her life. Having been born and brought up in an affluent part of the city of Mumbai with the best education and luxurious comforts, the experiences at the ashram with basic necessities was a significant shift. She reiterates how her elite past had completely disconnected her from nature and how the eco-friendly ashram (the ashram is an educational-cultural centre) helped her reconnect with her roots and culture, completely changing her perspective on art, design and life.
She is currently the executive trustee of Shaktiyogashrama, an organization dedicated to the study and practice of classical Indian arts and sciences, suffused with spiritual and environmental consciousness. Alternating between Mumbai and Lonavla, Miti is currently working towards raising funds for the development of the ashrama and to help the rural communities in learning art forms with a sense of self-awareness and connection to nature.
Miti uses imagery from nature to describe the beauty of the movements of Mohiniyattam. The swinging, swaying and circular movements inspired by the movement of palm trees, backwaters, waves and seas of Kerala. She explains how the fauna of the region where the dance form evolved has influenced the elephantine and serpentine quality of its movements. It is common for the native Mohiniyattam practitioners to be skeptical of dancers who do not hail from Kerala; but Miti empathizes with the root of this concern and says that the connection of an art form to its natural surroundings is quintessential for a practitioner. She strongly feels that learning and professing an art form in an urban space often isolates the content from its context. She feels that a conscious attempt should be made to reconnect with nature and to rediscover ways in which the body responds instinctively.
Apart from being a practitioner and performer of Mohiniyattam, Miti is the founder and creative head of a design company called Miti Design Lab. She adapts her environmental awareness in her work as a designer and always insists on her clients using eco-friendly material. She works in the field of education too, and most recently she conducted a workshop for children in Mumbai called ‘Ask The Earth’, a storytelling and design thinking session with an emphasis on environmental awareness.
Miti does not claim to be an environmental activist and is completely aware of her dependence on the city to earn a living. She is also very clear that she wants to work within the existing rich content that Mohiniyattam has to offer. She has no intentions of changing the dance form but she hopes to create relevant contexts in which the form can be expressed.
One of her more recent performance titled ‘Ritu Ranga’ is a full-length production focused on celebrating seasons. The performance is an ode to nature and portrays the beauty of changing seasons.
Miti evocatively describes how tribal or indigenous dances emerged from the heart of the forests, while folk dances evolved as community harmoniously came together with nature. Both the folk and tribal forms celebrated Mother Earth and mirrored the inevitable changes in the living world. The classical forms, in her opinion, are a further evolution where an individual is in connection with the natural world and society, and strives to achieve a spiritual awakening. Miti emphasizes on connecting the study of the philosophy and content form with the dance forms, as well as on the importance of artists connecting to nature and ensure that their art is a meaningful, spiritual experience.