Saumya Baijal

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What are you like? What character attributes define you?

Well! I am tenacious, empathetic and sensitive. Not sure if that’s a good thing in the insenstive world we live in! To be honest, am an idealist who likes to live in a bubble of what she wants and how she wants it. The inconsequentialities of several truths, the apparent mindless run that we are all a part of, the inconsistencies and blatant lies all around us, the increasing sense of self absorption across humanity- all of these perturb me at a very personal level. I am also very indecisive yet stubborn! So I might take sometime to get to a decision- but once I do, I stick to it. I am also very inquisitive, so I want to keep learning more and more, sample new things! At the same time I return to things that give me the comfort of familiarity! Interesting contradictions, no?

I’ve always believed the personal is the political- and that reflects across what I do.

What is keeping you busy right now, both work and passion wise?

I’ve just returned from FTII after completing a course in film appreciation- and also joined the voices of dissent there. So I am trying to keep alive everything I learnt there- that is steadily slipping away from my grasp- the way sand does from a fist! But- apart from office- I am busy with my own writing- snippets, stories & articles (a few can be read on Paperless Postcards, Jankipul, my blog amongst others), dance rehearsals for a baithak coming up and our annual show next year, and a few performances for Aatish!

Tell us something about your childhood and growing up years, college days.

My childhood was delightful! I grew up in the PGI hospital campus in the outskirts of Lucknow. It was a space that was a beautiful mix of the old world charm of Lucknow, and the modernity that threatened to engulf it. It was egalitarian from a gender perspective, and I grew up with my closest friends being incredible boys.

Mom and me

With her mother

My parents, typically from the middle class , have been instrumental in shaping who I am. Little reflections, debates, fights- were all encouraged in our home. My parents exemplify transparency, trust, respect & equality across relationships they make. Their relationship with me was no exception. Our home had conversations across topics- anytime anywhere. My father being a feminist by behaviour- showed me no other way of living. The lush greens of the campus, the outdoorsy life, a culture based on mutual trust- made PGI the rare Ivory Tower we all hope for. I grew up surrounded by sports (I didn’t play though), with friends being family as well. My little dog Silky, who came to me when I was standard 6 student also helped transform my behaviour to someone who tries to feel what others do.

My father and me.

With her father

Miranda House was instrumental in several ways. The window to a world I’d stayed away from, the very real need for vocal and active feminists, the power of theatre, street theatre and its varied forms, meeting like-minded people from across the country- all of this came to me at Miranda. Celebrating womanhood, growing into a one who had a mind of her own with desires of her own- Miranda was conducive to these thoughts. I don’t think I’d have chosen to be elsewhere at all during college. The theatre bug consumed me while I was here. Incessant performances, the power of being recognised on campus as good actors, the unabashed nature of the artist in me found an expression.

Advertising, writing, films, dance, poetry, theater you seem to have mastered it all… first tell us how do you manage to do all these… 

Honestly, the love for the arts ensures I extract time. I can’t survive without all of these. These are devices of expression for me. They allow me to express who I am like nothng else ever can. And I give myself no credit for that. I am lucky that the arts emraced me, and I choose to return to them every day. I m just hoping to now give them even more time to understand better, try different things within the gamuts of these arts. There is so much to learn, unlearn and create!

I am also a very passionate feminist. And the need for gender equality sees a reflection in all of these. A little less in advertising because it isn’t entirely under my control.

Photo credit- Ashwini

Now tell us which one is the closest to your heart? 

Tough one! I think it will be a toe between writing, theatre and dance. The latter two entwine themselves with the common love for the stage. And how silences can be efectively everything. Actually, in its simplist forms, one for me is expression with only words, one very interestingly can be, not entirely dependent on them. What attracts me is this polarity. Nothing compares to the trill of the lights flooding the stage before you have to step on it. Or the applause afterwards. Similarly, nothing ompares to the gooseflesh of the dimming lights of a theatre and the titles unfurling.

So what I am really getting at, is that storytelling drives me. In writing, film, theatre, poetry or dance. It is about how differently each art allows for the story to be told.

Photo credit- P Ravi Kant

Any painful incidents/experiences which made you stronger as a person?

Several. The very fact that I have been caught in the web of stability and kept away from much more theatre that I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve tried again and again, but things hadn’t worked out. I think more than a single incident, it is usually the everyday thwarts that transform you as a person. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Also, to have a mind of your own where it is clearly detrimental. In coprorate structures, it isn’t always easy to stand by personal beliefs. That struggle makes me stronger everyday.

And, heartbreaks teach us everything. J

What is your biggest fear?

Losing my parents. And losing the last bastions of free speech.

Any career ups and downs you would like to share?

No cause to complain at all. I’ve been very lucky with mentors and organisations- who’ve seen whatever little potential there is, encouraged and allowed my personality to stick out! Despite being in advertising, I don’t know how to market myself! And I often short sell myself too. But when notions drive opinions instead of work, it isn’t easy.

What does your next five years look like?

I want to be able to write much more, dance more, and create more compelling theatre. And I want to be known for these. I am still finding my way through- but I am hoping this comes true.

As a feminist, I want my voice to also be heard. A voice that compells itself to be heard. That matters enough for people to sit up and listen. And if 100 listen, but at least 1 acts, I’ll still think of my existence to be worthwhile.

Any message for the readers?

Labels mean nothing. If they have to, let them only mean something because you have to break them.

And also do what you love as early as you can. Making mistakes is fine. Unless you try you wouldn’t know. Unless you fail you wouldn’t learn. Fail. But fail better everytime.

Poetry reading- JNU

Poetry Reading at JNU

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Please Note: This interview has been conducted online via emails by Rhiti Bose for IWI. 

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