Dr. Suresh Desai (2 Nov 1937 - 13 Dec 2022)
- Ashish Mohan Khokar
December 14, 2022
A beady-eyed man was furtively buying books at Darpana at launch of Gujarat issue of attenDance, 2005. I was surprised anyone in Gujarat bought books! I had done a survey before and in this city of millionaires there were only two, read TWO bookshops. It shows the index of culture and reading habits too. Bangalore had 30; Delhi being publishing HQ, 55; Bombay 15 , Kolkata 70! Chennai about 30. I'm talking of 2005, pre-Internet penetration and coming of kindle etc. He bought each past copy of attenDance and the new one too. He looked over his shoulder that no one was watching and quietly paid the monies. I didn't know him then, else would've gifted him most.
Mrinalini Amma (Sarabhai) with Mallika were my hosts and whole Darpana amphitheatre was full of dance and art fraternity. Earlier in the day, Amma had shown me around and taken me to Saibaba temple before launch saying, 'Let me introduce you to my best friend!' He was mine too, having just done India's first pictorial book on him, for Rupa & Co. in 2004.
After the launch function, Desai sahib met me and took autograph on the books he had bought. "Very few people read English here or can write it," he shared! "I am the drama critic of Times (of India)." I immediately requested him to write for us from Gujarat, for precisely this reason: very few wrote correct, readable English! He did. Nicely so, as he taught it too, at college level. A professor through and through. A decent man, unassuming and cultured too.
We remained friends since then and I eventually requested him to guest edit our 15th anniversary issue and boy, did he turn out a fine copy! It was among the better issues we have had. I chose a very unusual cover with Sayeed Jaffrey! Inside was, of course, the grand dame of dance and culture, Mrinalini Amma.
Suresh Desai remained in touch and we exchanged confidences and news. He was prompt in replying. Due to his senior age, I called him Dada. He said, 'But you are Dada of dance.' I said, 'You are Dada of drama!' Mutual admiration society? No, an affectionate bond.
Kashyap Bhai Thakkar was our go-between. He would surely meet him once in a while and every year, I'd give him a complimentary copy of attenDance. He wrote back courteously and was always well mannered. Wish our younger folks learnt something from him. Good behaviour is first sign of culture. Not ability to dance or sing.
He asked me if he could write for other platforms once Times dropped dance and drama reviews. I said approach narthaki.com, they are open to well written contributions, especially from experienced writers. He wrote and contributed much from that region and city.
Dr. Uma Anantani with Dr. Desai
Am I glad I met him one last time last August in 2022, when senior Bharatanatyam dancer Dr. Uma Anantani called us both to release her book. He sat next to me and we shared old memories and when I walked him to his taxi and opened the door for him, he said, "You should not be doing this but you are so kind and courteous, I'm very touched." I said, "Dada, give ashish to Ashish." He hugged me and is now gone. He was 85 and recently celebrated his 85th birthday. His wife Mridula had pre deceased him by almost a decade. His son and daughter were his anchor.
He studied English Language and Literature at Gujarat University. He was Professor of English and Communication, writer, author (English and Gujarati), Performing Arts critic, has written and translated plays, guest edited 'Naatak' (2007) and Attendance special issue (2013) on Classical Dance in Modern Times.
He had many health issues of late. He shifted houses too and managed to keep safe in Corona times. He lived with dignity and was a man of depth. He touched us with his demeanor and pen. May his soul rest in peace and I'm sure he is reading this with a smile and saying, Chalo English theek chhe!
Ashish Mohan Khokar is a senior critic, author, historian, archivist and an artivist. Active in mainstream media in last 40 years of writing, teaching, filming, mentoring makes him an original voice in dance documentation field. He is devoted to Indian dance.
I first entered India landing in Ahmedabad in 1968, and its reputation as a "banya city" soon faded away as I came to know people like Vikram and "Mirnal" Sarabhai, Balkrishna Doshi, Parmanand Dalwadi, Piraji Sagara, and many more like Sureshbhai Desai. But it haunts me that these people, many of them, are slowly leaving us and we only have their good values, and the true principles they taught us, having said goodbye to their amazing personas. But these gifts are a wealth for us to live by!
- Christopher Benninger (Dec14, 2022)
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