Ati Sundar-i: A personal homage
- Ashish Mohan Khokar
February 20, 2022
Sundari amma was my father's friend of college days. I mean he treated her as one and she was just his age, even if she had a fancy title in Kalakshetra. He found her pesky and a typical domineering type who took her title of Deputy Superintendent too seriously. Hailing from Punjab, first male student of Kalakshetra from North, a real defence commissioner's son didn't listen to her instructions one bit. That made her more pesky and he teased her more. Once she was asleep on her cot and as he was passing by on his cycle, he saw her braids hanging, so in mischief he just cut off one! This was their friendship, which remained till the end. His gene transferred to me and I also always joked with her. She was always indulgent and nice. There was no age difference almost. She could talk kid stuff to kids, grown up things to grownups. Besotted by Sankara Menon and in love with Mohan Khokar, she was a true sundari of heart.
Mohan Khokar worshipped Sarada amma, his teacher, also called Periya Sarada, as later another Sarada (Hoffman) joined and there was confusion as to who was who. Periya Sarada amma was the most benign and kind person I've met in my life, second being Mrinalini Sarabhai. Sundari stayed with Sarada amma and Sarada amma with Sundari. For like, forever. SnS.
Whenever we went to Madras, a visit to SnS was a must. 46, Theosophical Society, Adyar became a temple for us. When I married, Sarada amma and Sundari were the first to moot the mandap idea opposite their abode, saying a sarva dharma marriage can take place there. They were like two kids conspiring we have kids quickly as they felt "GOOD VALUED KIDS ARE NEEDED in a country where more than half the population was of just no value addition." I said what guarantee? Today this may not sound politically correct but 35 years ago it was okay to say, especially by someone of their ilk. They were a darling twosome. Each looking after the other. They lived simply but thought highly.
Once, their cottage got flooded. I saw them crying and drying rare books. Best of precious old Kalakshetra saris or stolen jewels they didn't care for but they cried over books gone wet. Shame on all libraries and cultural institutions that no one supported them. Sundari was outspoken and rough too, so insecure staff and directors of Kalakshetra didn't like her often. One even stopped her pension. She suffered indignity for her beliefs but stood her ground.
In Delhi, they always stayed with us, since father's days at SNA. I'd fetch them from the station in the blue Dodge car and take them shopping. They bought nothing. Only copies and books! They were frugal. They were appreciative of each single thing we did for them. They took fancy to my wife Elisabeth Hall and told her to leave me and horrible cold Delhi and go stay with them. I wondered if at heart they were secret divorce agents! They just laughed it off, saying I alone should not have the benefit of such a good lady. Both SnS were such fun aunts - giving much, expecting nothing.
They doted on their nephews who lived abroad. After Sarada amma passed away, it was not easy for Sundari to manage. She couldn't ride her moped after 2 falls. I continued to drop in on her. She tattled so many tales but none malicious or vicious, just informative. Who did what and said what in the dance field. I got good FEEDBACK on most Madras movers-shakers in one visit to her.
Sundari was a people's person. She enjoyed company of most. There was nothing negative about SnS. They were real art lovers at heart and do-gooders. Such warm and genuine people will rarely come again. An era is truly over, of graciousness, goodness and greatness. I'm very, very saddened. Madras seems over. Chennai chugs along.
Khokar is a critic by profession, historian by nature, author by occupation, administrator by experience and celebrator of art and artists by spirit. attendance-india.com
What a soul Sundari Amma was. Bold, brainy and beautiful. Such a nice tribute to her reading which I felt I have met her.
- Gayathri Keshavan (Feb 22, 2022)
I loved this article.... khup sundar... SnS come alive through your pen.
- Sucheta Chapekar (Feb 22, 2022)
Heart touching read, with so much life that they lived & I liked the part that you interacted with her so much & so much of kindness... really nice to read it.
- Prashanth Gopal Shastry (Feb 21, 2022)
Moving and touching tribute.. May her soul attain sadgati....Om Shanthi
- Ravishankar (Feb 20, 2022)
A beautiful tribute to a wonderful lady who was bold and way beyond her times. Your beautifully worded touching article brought her alive and rekindled my memory of her and my association with her. May her Atma attain Shanti!!
- Minal Prabhu (Feb 20, 2022)
Though I've heard about such amazing people, these memoirs make them a piece of art. A perfect recipe for life (the real dance drama) - It has music, poetry, theatre, dance, fun and spontaneity. People like me (youngsters), find the content motivating and inspiring, that shows different facets of life. I feel blessed to be part of Kalakshetra, fortunate enough to walk on the soil where legends have walked.
- Vardaan (Feb 20, 2022)
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