Rekha Reddy - Moved by Nature

Inspired by her mother Shamala and her way of bringing nature indoors, Rekha Reddy decided to take her love for nature forward after her marriage and the birth of her two sons. She is the first Master of the Ohara School of Ikebana, and is actively involved in promoting the art form to children and adults alike. Read on to know more…

How and when did you get into Ikebana? What drew you towards it?
I have watched my mother Shamala do Ikebana since I was a child. My father, Dr Y.R. Reddy, would take us every summer on long road trips from Hyderabad to Tirupati, Chennai, and villages enroute to and around Chittoor. These trips brought us closer to nature. I seem to have imbibed my mother’s interest in bringing nature indoors through simple flower arrangements, done in the Japanese way of Ikebana.

After attaining a degree in nutrition, with two gold medals in your Master’s degree, what made you change paths?
After a Master’s in foods & nutrition, I had a Ph.D seat, and set at working on furthering research on my master’s thesis on vitamin A and iron levels in pregnant women. A quick turn of events happened: marriage and the arrival of my precious boys took over my time. Long hours at college or work were not practical, and I decided to start learning Ikebana formally. My teacher, Grandmaster Horyu Meena Anantnarayan, patiently honed my interest and skills at the art form. A few trips to Japan with intense classes there were a treat.

What are the basics of Ikebana?
Ikebana is the traditional Japanese art form of flower arrangement. It is a pleasing and soothing art form that aims to recreate nature in your vase and bring it indoors. Simple flowers, leaves, twigs, and branches – both fresh and dry – are put together aesthetically, keeping in mind the principles of design. Arrangements emphasise form, space, balance, depth, rhythm, and more. There are many schools of Ikebana; each has a slightly different approach in the way the forms are stylised, but all of them are beautiful.

Which school of Ikebana are you involved in, and how’s it different from the rest?
There are many schools of Ikebana, of which the Ohara school is most popular here. It specialises in serene landscape arrangements. I am a First Master of the Ohara school and my flower name is Ohryu, which is given by the school once you reach a certain level of learning. The Ohara School has the young and dynamic Hiroki Ohara as its Iemoto (i.e., headmaster). It is the first school to innovate and introduce Moribana, that is, arranging in a flat container using a pin holder. Earlier, all Ikebana was in tall vases. It also has beautiful Rimpa and Bunjin styles, and the newest Hana Kanade style. The Ikenobo school, though, is the oldest school of Ikebana. There are many other schools like Ichiyo, Chiko, and the modern Sogestu school.

Tell us about your Ikebana demonstrations and writing.
I have had the pleasure of demonstrating in about 14 countries so far. These have been upon invitation of Ikebana International or Ohara chapters. Some have been for other organisations. Ikebana International is a wonderful organisation that was started 60 years ago and promotes friendship through flowers. I have had the honour of being invited to Ikebana International Chapter #1 in Washington DC and Kamakura, Japan chapter, possibly the first Indian to be invited by them to do a demonstration. My husband and I love travelling, and this made the opportunities easier.

My first publication, Petals & Palette, was on juxtaposing Ikebana with paintings of M.F. Husain. He was very encouraging and said my arrangements enhanced his paintings. His son and daughter-in-law Mustafa and Najma were instrumental in the exhibition related to this. At the Ikebana International World conference to celebrate its 50th year, I was the only Asian to win an honourable mention in the essay competition they had with participants from 17 countries. Apart from freelancing articles for magazines, I have made Ikebana calendars for many years, and the next couple of book projects are on the way.

You launched a book, Flowers & Flavours, during your reign as President of Ikebana Hyderabad Chapter. What is it all about?
The book is a beautiful amalgamation of Ikebana and Indian recipes. It is the effort of about 50 Ikebana members who did a flower arrangement each, with a touch of an edible or food element in it. This was followed by two of their own Indian recipes. It was a resounding success, with a reprint being done within six months of the first publication. Launched in 2011, even today there are enquiries for the book. A few months ago at the world Ikebana conference in Okinawa, Japan (which is held every five years), participants of different countries again asked for some books. Flowers & Flavours has indeed helped spread Indian culture and put our Ikebana International Hyderabad chapter on the world map!

You also teach Ikebana to young students. What advice would you give someone who is new to the concept?
Anyone, young or old, will be advised to first start observing nature. Being attentive to the way plants grow, their natural lines, flowers, leaves, their cycle and stages of life, quirks of nature allowing a wabi sabi element in their designs are important. At the same time, respecting nature and cutting just enough material for an arrangement, making it last as long as possible in your continent is imperative.  

What is the right age to start learning Ikebana?
It can be practiced by children as young as six; they need to safely use a cutter or scissors to cut leaves and flower stems. There are many in their 80s and 90s still doing Ikebana too. My mother is an example, and derives great pleasure in doing it as often as possible. At her 80th birthday recently, the present for her family and friends was a book with a compilation of her flower arrangements over the years.

How does it help in your own growth?
Practice of this art form seems to have made me more content with life, and it gives a general sense of calm. The peace and concentration while arranging is a form of meditation. This kind of growth is more valuable than the accolades I have received for my demonstrations here or overseas, or degrees earned in the field.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
The smiles and sense of wonder on the faces of the children and adults I teach, when they see such pretty arrangements turn out from simple flowers and foliage is most rewarding and satisfying. The appreciation for nature and eventually the enthusiasm in protecting it is a welcome addition.     --- as told to Niharika