There is a lot of weight given today to holding space. In the context of social or professional circles, holding space for others is being seen as a crucial aspect of care, of balance, of the health and well-being of a society or community and the people it encompasses.
We’re tweaking this sentiment – and mixing metaphors while we’re at it! – to turn the spotlight on to people who hold our beloved physical spaces for us. They’re there before us and they stay much after, they’re at work on holidays, during all kinds of festivals and lately, even during a global pandemic.
Here, Ujwala Rao talks about her visit to Shoonya in Bengaluru.
When I walked into Shoonya on a Saturday afternoon, I was greeted by young, enthusiastic interns and I immediately felt old. The interns politely invited me to take a seat in their charming cafe and offered me a beverage. I chose to have a glass of water, of course, because it was still afternoon and I was working. It may seem hard to believe but even as a Bangalorean, you sometimes feel the urge to follow the rules of civil society. While I sat there in the cafe, sipping on my water, feeling excited and hydrated, Sai Nikita walked in to say hi. The rest of the team soon joined us. I realised that most of them were relatively new to Shoonya, which explained why, despite being a regular at the space, I had never met them before.
As I am not someone who would ever miss an opportunity to make myself feel like I have a ‘proper job’, I am going to call this casual chat I had with the people who make Shoonya the space it is, an ‘interview’.
So, the ‘interview’ began with Nikita, an ex-investment banker-turned-Community Team Lead at Shoonya. One fine day, at the ripe old age of twenty-three (her words, not mine), she decided to say goodbye to her cushy job to pursue a career in the arts. That’s when her mother – who is an Arts Manager – introduced her to Shoonya. Nikita has been part of this place since December 2022, and she can’t stop gushing, “I absolutely love it here!”. What excites her the most is the fact that her ideas are always welcome and never shot down. Nikita also happens to be a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and a passionate painter. She happily participates in Shoonya’s workshops, but prefers to take a managerial role rather than tread the boards herself. She earnestly claims she’s “too old” to start performing; I just sit there and nod along like the dinosaur I feel like at the moment.
Now, you do not want to get on Nikita’s bad side by leaving your food and beverages strewn about the studio. And don’t even think about traipsing around the studio in your shoes, especially if they are heeled, as they can badly damage the floors. As she shares this with me, she leads me to the terrace, Nikita’s favorite spot in the theatre, which apparently offers the most breathtaking sunset views in Bangalore city centre. Regrettably, it is only two in the afternoon, so I cannot validate the claim.
Rohit Daniel, the Creative Coordinator at Shoonya since April 2023, joins the conversation to express his fondness for the terrace as well. However, he quickly adds that his true favourite is the cafe. Rohit boasts a background in Biomedical Science and a passion for the arts. Much like Nikita, he prefers to work behind the scenes and has absolutely no desire to perform. Apparently, he suffers from stage fright of epic proportions. He recalls how he was assigned to introduce a music gig to a crowd of seventy people, and when he finally took the stage, he just muttered a few words about Shoonya and promptly made his exit. Nikita chimes in with a similar experience she had when asked to introduce a team of performers last minute. She remembers her desperate struggle to pronounce their last names and opting for the safe route of sticking to their first names. You know the drill, folks – if you want your team to receive a grand or even proper introduction, be kind and give the staff enough time to prepare.
On my third water, in walks the legendary Sudeep. If you have ever set foot in Shoonya, you must have seen him, either at the box office greeting people with his wide grin or in the tech room, lighting up the stage. When asked about his role, his colleagues unanimously declare, “Sudeep is the heart and soul of this place. He is Shoonya itself!”. We agree to settle for a less exciting title – ‘Technical & Operational Director’.
Before joining Shoonya, Sudeep used to work in a corporate office. Bored out of his mind, he decided to ‘do something fun’. Like any millennial worth their memes, he did the obvious thing and googled for fun jobs—and that’s how he stumbled upon Shoonya. Sudeep recalls his initial impression of the activities in the space, “I used to wonder why these folks were dancing like they were mad!”, he chuckles. But before he knew it, he was sucked into the groove. He swiftly learned the art of designing and executing lights and sound, and he confesses that he absolutely loves it. He vividly remembers one hilarious incident during a show when he had explicitly instructed the performers to stop their act when the lights went out. But those relentless performers kept going, even in a full black-out, and Sudeep had to step in and announce to the audience that the show was indeed over. Speaking of audiences, Sudeep reveals that he absolutely despises dealing with latecomers.
And it is not just a tardy audience that gets on his nerves—it’s also artists and performers who approach him with last-minute technical demands, despite him requesting a tech rider weeks before the show. When asked if there is anything performing artists can do to make his job easier, he exclaims, “If everyone could be like Masoom Parmar, my favorite Arts Manager (Masoom, if you’re reading this, Sudeep says hi!), it would be fantastic!” Sudeep excitedly adds, “I’m addicted to this place! I never want to go home!” And among all the things he loves doing there—meeting artists, lighting shows, and watching comedy gigs—his ultimate guilty pleasure will always be sneaking in a cheeky little nap in the loft. Shh, don’t tell the boss!
Meanwhile, behind the cafe counter, I catch sight of Ravindra Tripura, grinning at all the stories being shared. Ravindra, who hails from Tripura has been Shoonya’s chief housekeeper for the past month and a half. From being the first one to open up the space every day, to tidying up, running the cafe, tending to the plants, and lending a hand in the tech room, Ravindra does it all to ensure that Shoonya remains a warm and inviting space for performers and audiences alike. Although he has no interest in taking the stage himself, he thoroughly enjoys watching the performances (dance performances are his favourite) and attending workshop sessions, even getting involved with light and sound setups with Sudeep. Sudeep swears that he has never met anyone who learns as quickly or executes tasks as efficiently as Ravindra. And here is a golden nugget of information for you: Ravindra brews the most extraordinary ginger tea ever!
I also got the chance to meet the fantastic interns who recently joined Shoonya: Zoya, Aditi, Chandrashekhar, and Poorvika. Each brings their own unique background and enthusiasm to the team. Zoya, a performance studies student, is excited about stage design and leading open mics. Aditi, a literature student, is eager to learn backstage work. Chandrashekhar, pursuing a science degree, is passionate about acting and aspires to perform on the Shoonya stage. Poorvika, a theatre studies student, loves designing and aspires to direct a production one day. Together, they contribute to the vibrant atmosphere of Shoonya.
As a regular visitor to Shoonya, I hadn’t expected to feel any differently about it this time around. I had been going there for a decade! But talking to these lovely people left me with a newfound appreciation for the space. And it got me thinking… Many of my visits to performance spaces are scheduled around a rehearsal or workshop or performance. But maybe I should visit to just talk to the people there, who are first in-last out, come rain or shine. Because every space has its Ravindras, its Nikitas, Rohits and Sudeeps. And I bet they are all great to talk to.
PS: Remember to visit Shoonya during the sunset hours.
PPS: Try out Ravindra’s spectacular ginger tea.