Aakanksha Gupta

Dance of Life

Aakansha's passion for dance gave her every opportunity that she wanted to achieve in her life. But fate wanted her to tackle her bull of fears by its horns. She opened her own PR and Marketing Consultancy, which operates successfully in 10 different cities.

I believe I was born to dance.

I grew up in an orthodox Hindu family, and since our means were limited, I learnt the value of innovation at an early age. The music that sometimes blared from pandals in our neighbouring chawl, quickly became my radio. The free-spirited dancing, what I saw was my choreography. When I was in Class V, a scholarship helped me find a place in one of Khar’s rich schools. Understandably, I was awkward to my peers, my movements were funny, tribal even, and as some of them liked to put it, ‘low class’.

My proficiency in English saved me some embarrassment. I might not have been able to buy myself a pizza, movie ticket or that black dress for a school farewell, but I did have my dance. A part of me that no one could touch or judge. It was my escape, my secret getaway, and so I danced, alone.

I owe much to my mother. She took it upon herself to save me time and money, which all allowed me to take classes in Bharatnatyam, Hip-Hop and Ballroom dance. There were fights at home. Dance made one ‘loose’, someone who my native parlance demeans as a ‘nachaniya’. My mother did not flinch and I persevered. Fate though had another roadblock in store. When I was in the tenth standard, doctors discovered that I suffered a conjoint vertebra and a jelly spine. In India, the odds of such a diagnosis are 1:100. Medicine had spoken. My dancing and dreaming had to stop.

Scholarships helped see me through college, and though several physiotherapy attempts had failed, I was not prepared to quit my dancing shoes. I fortunately, earned a spot in our college’s most popular folk dance troupe. I started dancing professionally and went on to train in seven dance forms, but my family’s insistence on getting a degree, as also its moral conservatism, forced me to hold back. When I dislocated my ankle during a show, the final nail in that coffin was hammered in.

I might not have been able to pick up my 'ghungroos' again, but I hadn’t given up my tenacity. While growing up I’d to fight for everything I believed in, my resilience had branded me ‘nerdy’ and ‘uncool’, but I wasn’t about to give up on life. I decided to try to do everything that scared me. Speaking up is hardly the norm for children in most middle-class families, but I was done suffering in silence. My biggest fear was public speaking. I remember standing in front of an audience, frozen, anxious, wanting to run. I needed to grab the bull of my fears by its horns. I conquered my demons.

I did a lot of odd jobs to make ends meet in college - events, car parks, promotions, sales calls - anything that would allow me to return to dance or better my speaking skills. I soon found myself a corporate job, but I didn’t last there very long. It somehow lacked soul and I remember thinking – this is not only what life should be about. There has to be more. Even if foolish, I had to stay hungry.

I quit my jobs and with the Rs. 51,000 I had left in my bank account, I decided to backpack with my mother across Karnataka with limited resources. We stayed in homes, hostels, and beach hotels. By the end of that trip, I told her I wanted to start something of my own. I was going to alter my destiny. With the Rs. 22,000 I had left, I began my own PR and Marketing Consultancy. The first few clients I took on in good faith never paid me. I could not afford a legal representative and the money fast ran out. My father, who was witness to my struggle, allowed me to loan his then office for three months. Fortune must favour the brave, for I soon met my first restaurant client who put faith in me and signed my first advance cheque. I continue to work with them on the same retainer even now.

The Other Circle today handles operations in over 10 cities and for over 26 clients nationally. We work with brands that come from sectors as diverse as hospitality, lifestyle, and e-commerce. Our growth over the last three years has been quiet but not shy. My days do not come without struggle, but there isn’t a week that goes by without me counting my blessings (of which there are many). Though I might have had to substitute my dreams, I still feel in my office the wonder that I once did on stage. Press notes too can be choreographed. I am still doing what I had always wanted to - getting the message across. The people I work with - colleagues, clients, journalists - all make for a troupe that would make any dancer proud. When I tell my kids my story, I can tell it will have a twist or two.

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