Adya Kumar on Anarkalis, Hindi, and Polish Pottery

Adya Kumar is all set to begin a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A) course at the AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts next fall. Raised in a multi-cultural family, her father Avatans Kumar is an Indian and mother Agnieszka is Polish, she talks to CSP about the influence of both cultures in her growing up years.

Adya speaks to her paternal grandparents, who reside in Delhi with her uncle, in Hindi. Her father’s childhood years were spent in Patna, before he moved to the US.

Avatans Kumar is an important member of Indic Academy, which seeks to promote India’s civilizational values across the world. He spearheads IA’s US activities. He met his wife Agnieszka at the University of Illinois, where he was an international student and a teacher of Hindi. She had already been residing in the US for 10 years by then. Both of them were part-timing on a campus during the summer for a catering company when they became friends.

In this interview Adya talks about her Indian and Polish roots.

What is your interest in the performing arts? How has your parentage influenced the kind of art you have learnt? How has learning these art forms helped to understand 'culture' better....be it Indian, Polish or American?

I’m an actor, but I also sing and play instruments. I’ve been taking voice lessons (western classical) since I was about 13, and that was also around the time I was in my first full length musical. I did musicals with a community theater for about two years, and then once I was in high school I did both musicals and plays. And now I’ll be going to college for acting! I’ve loved performing and putting on shows ever since I was really little, and I think my parents saw that and put me in theater camps and music lessons. They also did a lot to expose me to Indian theater as well, which I really apprieciate. I took Kathak lessons for a time when I was 7 or 8, and my favourite memories of Diwali would be when we went and watched the Ramayana plays at the mandir.

Having a basic understanding of music theory from school has not only made me a better musician, but I can now appreciate all the things in Indian music that’s unique.

Does growing up in America make you and other children from multicultural families more aware and curious of your roots?

I’m sure it does since I’m not around all the practices and nuances of my cultures all the time, but my parents have done a great job of exposing me to those as well. I think I’m also just naturally curious to learn more anyway so it wouldn’t have made a difference where I grew up.

How often do you visit the country of birth of your parents?

I haven’t been to Poland in a couple of years now, but we visit India approximately every other year. I talk to my grandparents and the rest of my family via FaceTime and WhatsApp.

Are there any favourite dishes in your home which reflect either Indian or Polish traditional cuisine? Do your parents much the cuisine by interchanging tastes?

For sure! My dad does most of the cooking and he makes a lot of really good authentic Indian food. Christmas is the time for lots of traditional Polish food, and my grandma always supplies us with good soups and polish coleslaw (sorówka). My mom’s cooking style is a bit more… experimental let’s say. It’s a hit or miss with what she makes.

Since your dad is with Indic have his views and interests influenced you in any way?

Yes definitely! I never thought I would ever become so knowledgeable about Indian politics, but here I am? Seriously though, my dad’s work with Indic Academy and his own research and articles have really changed the way I view history and made me even prouder to be Indian.

What are some of the typical things in your home, in terms of décor, you would identify as being Indian or Polish?

Yeah, we definitely have traditional Indian art hanging on the walls and Polish pottery scattered around.

Do you like to wear Indian clothes and jewellery?

I do! Last year for prom I wore an Anarkali. I obviously can’t wear Indian clothes all the time since the weather in Illinois is so crazy, but I always wear my Indian clothes when I go to India. I try to incorporate little bits and pieces into my everyday outfits, too.

Do you watch Indian films? Do you have any particular favourites?

My family doesn’t really follow Bollywood stuff as much anymore, but one movie that sticks out to me is Bol Bacchan. It was really funny!

What are the advantages of being raised in a multicultural family in terms of exposure to two beautiful traditions?

One thing I’m really proud of and grateful for is the fact that I have access to the eastern and western philosophies about life and religion in my own home! I think as a result, I feel a lot more well-rounded in the way I view the world around me and the way I look at different issues.

Does your school celebrate diversity? Are there special days to mark this?

No, my school does not have any special days and I’m honestly glad that it doesn’t. It would feel too forced and clichéd to me! I’ve been blessed to have grown up in an overall very welcoming and inclusive town.