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Mrinalini Sarabhai (May 11, 1918 - Jan 21, 2016)
- Ashish Mohan Khokar

January 23, 2016

Mrinalini with Ram Gopal and my mother as baby Saroja!

Born to the most illustrious family of Ammu Swaminathan, Mrinalini Sarabhai was most low key about her high pedigree and station in life.

It was Santiniketan that shaped her interest in art (Indira Gandhi was her hostel mate!) and she then learnt Bharatanatyam properly from two greats - Guru Muthukumara Pillai of Kattumannarkoil, Chidambaram and Guru Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai of Pandanallur. She partnered Ram Gopal and won world acclaim before marrying eminent scientist Vikram Sarabhai, from whom she has two children Kartikeya and Mallika Sarabhai.

Her first choreographic work was Manush. This was a path breaking work. In male dominated world of Uday Shankars, Ram Gopals and Gopinaths, she was among first women to do so in that period (other being Madame Menaka). In 1949, in the wilderness of dusty dry Ahmedabad she created DARPANA, an institution that has stood the test of time. She called her guru Muthukumaran Pillai to come teach there. She created many ballets and productions.

My last meeting with her in Nov 2015

To say she headed Gujarat Crafts Council, Gurjari or Gujarat Sangeet Natak akademi or created many art institutions is stating the obvious. What is more important is her bringing dignity and depth to each endeavor in public domain. MS amma leaves behind not only an illustrious family where even her grandson Revanta is making a mark in dance or granddaughter, who runs the Darpana institution with mother Mallika but a legion of students, admirers, fans.

She was humorous, shy, lover of life and deeply spiritual. Once when a rabid dog (fellow jealous critic) bit me trying to induce rabies, she took me in her car to a small Sai temple and said, "Ashish, I will pray for your welfare, don't worry." Additionally she let President Kalam, who worked with her husband Vikram, know my credentials in dance. How many would do that?

She never talked ill of anyone. This showed her class and content. She remained an elegant lady till end and inspired many generations. She was wise, affable and adorable. A giant tree has fallen and many will feel the tremors for long. It is a very sad day for dance. Knowing her, she will be dancing in the heavens and teaching many. A quintessential guru, genuine, great and god's gift to the art world.

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed dance historian, biographer, critic and author of many published articles and books on Indian arts and culture. He is the curator of the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection and chairs the Dance History Society which hosts an annual convention and dance discourses that afford many talents a platform. He edits and publishes the dance yearbook 'attendance.'

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