Niharika x Shyamla
The power in reclaiming your own story and breaking free from expectations
Through an original song and dance piece, Niharika Hiremath and artist Shyamla Eswaran convey Niharika’s journey from feelings of anxiety and hopelessness to empowerment and self-love. The dance builds a lyrical narrative through classical Indian mudras, while a fusion of alternate dance styles represents Niharika finding the courage to challenge expectations and express her true self.
Niharika Hiremath (she/her)
Juggling so many roles, with none of them pertaining to the truest sense of who I am, was difficult and overwhelming. People often talk about being the rock for other people in their lives. I felt that I had to do that for the people I cared about the most, but without having filled my own bucket first. It also felt like these same people were so caught up in their own stories that I couldn’t ask for that support and understanding back. Like I didn’t deserve it – because my only role was in being the supporter, the caregiver.
Having been in a toxic relationship, whilst also managing difficult family dynamics, meant that my entire self-identity was wrapped up in what I was doing for others. Never in what I could and should be doing for myself, especially as a young person who was still trying to figure out who I was. This uncertainty and lack of self-worth translated to severe anxiety – I was constantly sick and I forgot what it was like to live a life that didn’t include stomach aches. Things felt hopeless and I felt like I had lost control.
Shyamla Eswaran (she/her)
I realised that many of the challenges and mental health issues I faced growing up in my early twenties are actually quite common amongst other South Asian women. Niharika’s story resonated deeply with my own experiences trying to balance the expectations of others with my own needs and desires.
The expression is based on classical Indian mudras, gestures and expressions, which are used to act and dance out the lyrics of this original song. Katakamukha mudra is used to represent Niharika as a woman. Traditional Indian colours – red and green – have been chosen to represent cultural expectations; red is also linked with love and marriage and therefore is used to represent the roles expected of Indian women and girls. The veil represents the challenge of balancing family expectations with one’s own true desires. Sometimes the veil blinds her, other times she dances with it in joyous harmony – the key is balance and compromise. The fusion of non-Indian dance styles represents the idea of breaking free of expectations and expressing one’s self in new ways.
MY VISIBLE MESSAGE
Everything happens for a reason - but it is up to you to decide the reason.
For me, reclaiming my story was about gaining control over what I could influence. It was about turning that love that I was so eager to show others, towards myself – in order to recognize that I could absolutely still hold all of those roles in a way that added to myself and in addition to who I truly was – not just who I was for others.
Once I started sitting with and addressing the issues I was facing, with the help of people who loved me and mental health professionals, everything started to change. The sense of control and strength I have gained since has not only pulled me out of the deep hole I had found myself in, but allowed me to break free of any expectations I didn’t want to meet. I finally feel free to make decisions in my own self-interest, knowing that I deserve to love myself fully. Giving to others is still a large and deep part of my life still, but finally from a place of balance and true loving, not just terrifying fear.
I listened to Niharika’s mental health journey and learnings and became more aware of her talent and passion for music as a form of self-expression. As she was a singer, I decided to write a song for her based on her story which she could then sing. The result is a recorded track which I have further brought to life through movement and dance. I entrusted Neale Whittaker, also a dancer and videographer, to film and edit the final expression.
Working with Shyamla was empowering, liberating and affirming. It was so meaningful to not only have someone listen and try to understand my experience, but then take it away and interpret it and represent it within the light and context of their own experiences and talent. It also allowed me to gain an alternative understanding of my own experience and reframe in the context of the place and mindset I am in now.
Niharika Hiremath (she/her)
Niharika Hiremath is an Indian-Australian woman with a passion for understanding and reducing stigma around mental illness, especially in ethnically diverse communities. In her position as an Australian Youth Advocate for Mental Health, Niharika hopes to help support culturally and linguistically diverse communities around mental health and wellbeing whilst fostering open communication and strength in these communities. Currently studying a Masters of Social Work, Niharika is also a National Mental Health Commissioner and Biomedical Science, Psychology and Commerce graduate. In her spare time, she enjoys singing, painting and travelling.
Shyamla Eswaran (she/her)
Born in Sydney and raised on Dharawal country – AKA the Sutherland Shire, NSW – Shyamla has been performing for over 30 years and is a full-time, self-represented Dance Artist, Educator and Creative Director (BINDI BOSSES). Shyamla recently won the 2020 Multicultural NSW Premier’s Harmony Medal (Arts & Culture) for her Bollykids program and is also a writer, speaker and host. She is passionate about advocating for cultural diversity and genuine inclusion; better understanding her privilege as someone who was born and raised on unceded lands; and helping to elevate other South Asian and culturally diverse artists.