April Vignette : Anita Ratnam - Finding Beauty

Chennai-based, internationally acclaimed classical-contemporary dancer-choreographer, presenter, curator, scholar and commentator, trawls through Kanakavalli and curates a fascinating collection that is as instinctive and interesting as her own attractive and eclectic personality…

In an exclusive interview with Akhila Krishnamurthy, she back-tracks her own journey with the world of beauty and how that word is really a composite of ideas and experiences, sartorial, sensual, sensorial...

Below, read Anita's reflections on finding beauty, and view her favourite picks from Kanakavalli's kanjivarams.

Finding beauty 

 “We don’t choose our name, the colour of our skin, the shape of our nose… our DNA… In a sense, we don’t grow into our skin until it’s really time. I was no different. I remember, as a young girl, not being comfortable with what I saw in the mirror. The two sides of my face aren’t even; I could never ever centre-part (Ner Vagudu, as it is called in Tamil) my hair and braid it into two plaits the way all young girls in school did. My mother would part my hair on the side, and braid it into two plaits. I remember spending many hours in front of a mirror, examining a little bump that I had on the right side of my head and wondering why I didn’t have one on the left…
At 14, I was already five feet eight inches tall; I shot up too quickly. I didn’t like the shape of my hips or the size of my bust or the length of my arms… I was always worried about my weight and getting rid of it wasn’t ever easy. Oh, and I was a dancer! For the traditional world of classical dance, I was a bit awkwardly built. You get the picture, right?
To cut a long story short, it took me a while to grow into myself; to come into my own, so to speak. But despite the concerns I had with my physical self, I was a bundle of confidence with a bubble of curiosity. Born into a family of industrialists with a mother and a grandmother who were both aesthetes and among my greatest sources of inspiration, I grew up into a very independent woman with a mind of my own.
All through my growing years and in my journey with the world of dance, both classical and later contemporary, I was always excited and stimulated with design and the visual aspects of things. And even though my mother wore sarees that were in vogue at that time, I was particularly attracted to the kanjivaram and to handloom saris.

My career in broadcast allowed me the opportunity to experiment with fashion and my designer friends, Rina Dhaka and Rohit Bal, helped me find a design aesthetic of my own; I’d pair my saris, for instance, with quilted jackets and cholis allowing people appreciate the culture of my home but also admire how I had made it contemporary and in a sense, my own.
In the 90s, fresh from a bad divorce, two kids and with more weight to carry, I returned to India, for good, after 14 years in New York. My mother packed me off to Jindal Naturecure Institute, near Bangalore, for a two-week detox programme and even though I literally lost only five kilos, I returned with a renewed sense of energy and faith in life and in my own self.
I haven’t lost that faith, since. I continue to cultivate a sensual appeal for life – I find it in tastes, textures, textiles. Constant stimulation from everywhere – people, things, travels – have enriched me and allowed me to craft for myself an identity that I made my own. My mother always told me, “You are the first born. Be the first one on the moon...nobody remembers the name of the second…you have to go and make a mark.” I allow these words to continue to inspire and encourage me to retain a zest for life.
You know, beauty for me is a composite of many ideas, things and experiences; it is sensorial… it is the smell of freshly baked bread, an antique store that sells fascinating curios, a beautiful kolam in my ancestral village home, a smoothly shaped stone, the sun coming down… It’s ever-changing; beauty isn’t always about a person; it’s a sensation…
But finding beauty is a process; it comes with not being shy about who you are; it comes with cultivating a keen sense of self-awareness and an abundance of confidence. Over the years, I have learnt to well hide my disadvantages and maximize my advantages…

As I strike a pose for this photograph that you see of me, wearing one of my many Kanakavalli saris, a gorgeous blue kanjivaram I paired with a shocking pink blouse and a slew of accessories that I put together, I realize why Kanakavalli is distinct in its showcasing of the kanjivaram: it celebrate the beauty of this heritage textile, allowing us to admire and appreciate its weaves, colours and revival palettes and we in turn, become a part of history, the very warp and weft of a textile tradition intrinsic to the south of India.




I remeber Anita when she was in New York. She was alwsy so well dressed and waa so chariamatic. That showed in her taste of clothing and jewelry. If she has sarees from kanakavalli in her wardrobe they must be truly beautiful and apart from the run of the mill kind.
I am particularly intrigued by Kanankavalli as I operate an online kanjeevaram store out of New Jersey for US customers.

Rekha PRasad April 19, 2017

Wonderful to learn a bit more about Anita Ratnam. Am inspired by her wonderful dancing style and sartorial elegance! At 56yr of age I am hoping to do my arangetram this year and am busy looking for a couple of sarees to convert into a costume…your site is a veritable treasure store…am enjoying browsing (unfortunately takes me away from the much needed dance practice I should be engaging in instead!)

rama mark April 14, 2017

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