- Katherine Kunhiraman, Berkeley, California
November 13, 2005
As we move toward the future we pass milestones with a sense of victory, but at the other end, moving away from the past, we pass milestones that fill us with sadness, for the loss of a friend, the loss of an age.
It is with regret that I announce the death of Jaya Krishnaratnam on Thursday morning, November 10, 2005, here in northern California where she has made her home with her daughter Nalini for more than twenty years. She suffered a massive heart attack, and did not linger too long.
Jaya- mami, or Krishnaratnam-mami, as most of us knew her, was once a singer who accompanied many Kalakshetra performances along with the late Kamala Rani, singing for Rukmini Devi's own performances as well as for the new dance-dramas that sprang from her most gifted imagination and became manifest on the stage, and still delight us today.
Krishnaratnam Sir was the headmaster of Besant School, when they shared a campus with Kalakshetra in the Theosophical Society grounds in Adyar. They were part of the educational movement inspired and led by Annie Besant and Dr. Arundale. They lived and worked with him when he was still vibrant and active. Surrounded by many of the great artists of the twentieth century, in the days of India's fight for independence, and the early years of the new India, they set a standard we now labour to sustain.
Krishnaratnam Sir was a giant of a man, handsome, good-natured, generous to a fault. He has been gone many years, but is still beloved in the memories of many Besant School students who recall their years with him, the field-trips and excursions, the movies that he rounded up and screened for the students; Tarzan, Ivanhoe, documentaries that carried them to far corners of the world.
They will remember the beautiful and talented young woman who fed them and encouraged them, providing them a sense of motherliness as she raised her own young children. Their friendliness that endured beyond school years, that helped preserve the true meaning of gurukulam, and left all of us with a sense of family that endures into the generations that follow, is part of the Adyar legacy.
We met often with her in San Jose; she was a link to a life that always spoke to us in our imaginations. With us she shared the challenges of being in two cultures. Her grown children, Nalini, Vidya, and Sheila, with their families, live near by and have embraced American life with generous arms, their children more at home here than there, and she joyously held the first great-grandchild.
We often spoke of this heritage, sometimes with awe, sometimes with humour and teasing fun, but we never forgot it - because it was part of us. Every time another milestone was passed, another of our numbers reduced, we met together to celebrate lives well-spent in service to a dream that still survives, and sang the Kalakshetra prayer song seated around the fireplace in Nalini's American home.
Soon there will be nobody left from the days when Rukmini Devi faced down her community and became a Bharatanatyam dancer. Everyone who loves this art today has her to thank that it still fills the world with its beauty and has an established place in our society. It is good to remember the days when Jaya-mami and others like her, even Rukmini-athai herself, cut their pattu saris to make dance costumes for the early Kalakshetra productions.
In a 'know-it-all' world of dazzling technology, it is good to look back and reflect on the lives of a handful of people who were able to share the dream of one great person, and bring it to reality. Each one gave to the vision in his or her own way, and one of these was Jaya Krishnaratnam. Our own resolve is strengthened by knowing we are part of it, if only at the edge - and we must not forget.
Condolences may be sent to her daughter Nalini at email@example.com