“She taught me to see”, says Soumya looking at her mother with pride and admiration. Born into a family of luminaries, Soumya Aravind Sitaraman is orbiting success like her ancestors who defied the norm during their times. Her paternal grandmother Alamelu Viswanathan, acted in the first black and white Tamil talkie and her maternal grandmother Kumuda, was one of the first woman pilots in India. Her mother, Usha Kris is a renowned freelance photographer and a guest lecturer at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Trailing on a rich lineage, Soumya’s artistic adroitness comes as no surprise. Authoring a book that has been well received by readers is just another feather in the cap for this award-winning artist and illustrious freelance writer.
Growing up in Chennai, Soumya was exposed to music, dance and art. Her tryst with tradition began at a tender age. She graduated with a degree in Environmental Science and wedlock took her to the Silicon Valley where she established herself as an eminent artist. Soumya’s penchant for art manifested in myriad forms. She used art as a medium to bridge cross-cultural differences. Her work has won accolades from various quarters.
A patron of the arts, she pioneered many initiatives that supported artists from different backgrounds. While in California, she founded Shakti, a coalition of contemporary artists of Indian origin. Under the aegis of Shakti, budding artists exhibited their work at the Euphrat Museum of Art in Cupertino. This was the first of many exhibitions to follow. Shakti was an amplifier of the unheard voices of talented Indians in the Bay Area, California
Soumya was the cultural coordinator of the 1995 Santa Clara chapter of Las Madres, a support group for mothers. For two consecutive years, she curated exhibitions that showcased talents of stay home mothers. She was the first Indian to be conferred the artist-in-residence award at the Works Gallery in San Jose where she created “Lifelines”, a series of 12 paintings that depict powerful stories of individuals living in an environment of diffused, diverse cultures. Soumya painted a 1972 model Volkswagen Bug that was featured in documentary filmmaker Harrod Blank’s movie “Wild Wheels” and book titled “Art Cars”.
Chachaji’s Cup, a children’s book that has illustrations by Soumya is another work to her credit. In 2004, the book won several awards including the Skipping Stones Honor Award in the Multicultural and International Category, the Paterson’s Prize for books meant for the young and the Papertiger’s illustrator’s award. “Tea With Chachaji”, a musical based on the book Chachaji’s Cup is the latest production of Making Books Sing, an innovative arts organization based in New York. Stanford Lively Arts produces and presents performances in Stanford University and has added three shows of “Tea With Chachaji” on its calendar of events for the year 2010.
Soumya did not rest on her laurels. Relocating to Bangalore with her family gave her an opportunity to immerse herself in the lore of India. The feeling that we don’t always appreciate age-old traditions that are based on scientific reasoning kindled her quest for a deeper understanding of Hinduism. She sought explanations for religious practices and rituals. Answers prompted more questions and that led her on a path of discovery.
Her research took her to remote pockets of the country. “One gets to see a different dimension of India that you can’t experience being out of the country ”, says Soumya, while talking about her dive into the depths of our rich culture and heritage. “You come face to face with life”, she adds. The wealth of information that she had accrued over the years shaped up as a book. Follow The Hindu Moon, a comprehensive guide to the festivals of South India marked Soumya’s debut as an author. “Celebrate”, the first of the two-volume set portrays the fervour and revelry of festivities. The second volume titled “Understand” is a treasure trove of information about various customary practices covering Hindu cosmology, culture, traditions, festoons and recipes. The richly illustrated coffee table book contains over a thousand photographs by Soumya’s mother.
In India, celebration is a way of life. In keeping up with the spirit of celebration, Soumya is hosting a television show called “Let’s Celebrate”. This festival special will be aired on Sri Sankara TV. Being a perfectionist who leaves nothing to chance, Soumya co-ordinates the entire spectrum of activities from shooting to editing of episodes of her show. When she is not facing the cameras, she is behind it directing the shoot. “Creativity is a channel of expression”, she asserts while talking passionately about topics ranging from the vedas to colours on the canvas.
This article was published in The Hindu on the 04th of March 2010. Below is the link to the online version of the article.