By Shilpi Madan
Ishitta Arun, a passionate stage actor (founder of Ikigai and Co), proficient dancer, fun veejay, lyricist and quirky furniture designer, brings with her much more than just a clutch of skills in her quiver. Add to that, playing a lovable mommy, and Ishitta is raring to go. Even after having wowed audiences in over a hundred live stage shows as a host and folk dancer, across the world. She’s currently between designing the latest outpost of the restaurant Mia Cucina in Bandra along with conceptualising and producing Gaa Re Maa, a music-based comedy that features as part of the 40th year celebrations of the iconic Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai. Ishitta consistently makes time to play parent, with her musician husband Dhruv Ghanekar, to their adorable girls Amaala and Alaaya.
Excerpts from a conversation:
Yes, I have. Motherhood has, sort of, anchored me. I tend to introspect on my own behaviour. A mother of two kids, I feel I am the primary influence for my girls. I feel more responsible.
Of course, you yell once in a while….
Of course! And it is good to do that (laughs). But honestly, the best thing that I did was to have kids. I believe motherhood pushes you to be a better person. I have made friends with my kids, and in the process reflected on my own values and thoughts. It has been a big learning curve for me and I am extremely grateful for my daughters. I must have done something right to deserve them.
How old are the girls?
They are 15 months apart to be precise. So six and four years, respectively. I planned the age gap that way. Of course, some days are good, and others bad, when I wonder what I was thinking (laughs), but they are good girls.
Were you prepared for the short age gap?
I had put on tons of weight after having Amaala. Since I was always clear that I wanted to have two kids, being my practical self, I decided to go ahead with the second one soon enough to save myself the hassle of losing weight all over again. It worked out for the best.
What helps you stay sane?
Chanting. My day starts at 5 am. This is my slab of solitude. I do my chanting, finish my prayers. The kids get up at 6 am and are ready at the breakfast table in half an hour and then off to school at 7 am. Obviously, there is a change of momentum when they leave!
What made you move to a quieter part of the manic city, to the lush expanse inside Aarey Milk Colony?
I had not met my neighbours for nine years, when I was staying in Bandra. Here, the neighbour might drop in to borrow some sugar. It is such a close-knit community. I have always been an urban kid. But perspectives change once you have children of your own. Dhruv (Ghanekar, my husband) and I decided we wanted to bring up our kids in sync with nature. My cousin, who also has two children in a similar age group, stays in the next row-house here. So, one family member is always with all the children.
The biggest change that life has brought in after moving here?
The knit with flora and fauna. Earlier, when we used to spot a snake in the garden, there were collective screams of horror and fear. Now we have the snake catcher on speed dial. So when you see a snake, it is no big deal. You simply call Kaushal (laughs). Ten years back a leopard had wandered into the premises of my cousin’s residence next door.
When you have a child, you appreciate your own mom more. True?
Yes! My mom (singer Ila Arun) has been most honest and sincere with her efforts in raising me as my father was constantly sailing when I was young. She always encouraged me, her only child, to spend time with my cousins. As a result, I am very close to them. I have been lucky enough to inherit the love for fine arts from my mother. She exposed me to music, singing, dance, writing, theatre and developed in me the love for family since my early years.
So how does this theatrical element translate to the time the kids spend with their grandparents?
You know, my parents are kids, with my kids. I am the villain (laughs). They play act with the children, for instance enacting Munshi Premchand’s famous short story Hamid ka Chimta. There is role play with characters pulled out from mythology – the wicked demoness Tataka from Ramayana, the strong monkey king Bali…it is so much fun. Then there is a treasure box called Jhumku ka Pitara that carries surprise items like peanuts and candies. I keep telling them not to spoil and pamper the kids (shrugs her shoulders in mock disapproval) but no one listens to me.
How close are they to Dhruv’s side of the family?
Aji (Dhruv’s mom) is a Maharashtrian and speaks to them in Marathi. The girls are in great rhythm with their Nani. She is a superb artist and has exposed them to painting, fabulous Maharashtrian food…they simply love Aji.
So grandparents are a blessing?
Absolutely. We are all lucky that their grandparents are able-bodied and willing to indulge in fun activities with them. This time spent together is so precious. It makes for countless special moments. Our parents are our support system. Dhruv and I are also able to take independent holidays, as we can leave the kids with their grandparents for 8-10 days without stress.
One thing you love doing daily?
Dhruv and I go for yoga twice a week. We love reading books to the kids while tucking them in around 7 pm after dinner at 6:15 pm. I like this life. Earlier I used to be awake till 2 am, wake up at 10 am. I was very clear I did not want my children to follow this crazy body clock. Those days are gone for me too, luckily
But do you bend the rule on bedtime?
On weekends, they nod off around 10.30 pm. There is always movie night on one weekend when I make popcorn and we watch a movie together. I love baking with the girls. So Sunday is sugar rush time.
How does Dhruv chip in?
He is a very good father. He puts them to bed when I am not there. Dhruv has taught the girls cycling, singing – he has an entire music setup in the basement and records their songs. He has even taught them to rap! Both the girls are musically inclined. They learn classical music.
Be honest. Do you want them to become musicians?
We tell them to become anything but musicians!
What do you want your children to learn from you?
The struggle to go after your dreams. This is the legacy I want to give my girls. I realise now, in the current scenario when things are so radically different, how tough it must have been for my mom, in the 1980s to follow her dream to be a singer. Her grit and gumption were with her and she succeeded. That is what I want my kids to learn: Never say never. Also, you must listen to your heart. You must listen to everyone, but make your own independent decision and then take full ownership of your decision.