Dignified function celebrating a dignified guru  
Release of 'Bharatanatyam Bhakta Guru M K Saroja'  
- G Sundari, Chennai 
Photos courtesy: Vivek Khokar 

August 7, 2008 
At a dignified ceremony held at Narada Gana Sabha mini hall in Chennai on 27 July 2008, the biopic of Guru M K Saroja titled 'Bharatanatyam Bhakta Guru M K Saroja' authored by her son Ashish Mohan Khokar, was released by N Murali, President of the Music Academy and MD of The Hindu, who also released the 10th anniversary issue of attendance, the dance annual of India. The function was short and sweet.  

Padma Subrahmanyam, M K Saroja
MK Saroja's principal disciple Vidya from Paris, 
M K Saroja, Kalanidhi Narayanan
It was hosted by Dr Padma Subrahmanyam. S Janaki, art-lover and Executive Editor of Sruti, readily compered the function. After an invocation song by Gayatri Kannan and lighting of the lamp by the dignitaries present on stage, Padma Subrahmanyam welcomed the guests and introduced Saroja.  
Ashish Khokar, Padma Subrahmanyam, M V Narasimhachari, N Murali
N Murali, M K Saroja, Leela Samson, Alarmel Valli
ABHAI President guru M V Narasimhachari received the first copy of the book and guru Leela Samson, the copy of attendance. Leela Samson introduced the book and fondly recalled Saroja's life and times while Alarmel Valli warmly felicitated her, recalling how the Khokars have served dance. N Murali said that M K Saroja had dedicated her life to art and the book reflected a journey in divinity and self-effacement. When Ashish Khokar spoke about the book, he said dance is a visual medium and the book contained less of text and more of photographs, especially since her guru Muthukumara Pillai, her husband Mohan Khokar and son (himself) were all avid photographers!  The brief and pertinent speeches, interspersed with humour, held the attention of the select invitees. What came through was that Saroja is not only known as a good dancer, but a good housewife and mother and a friend to all.  
Gurus Kalanidhi Narayanan, Adyar Lakshman and Usha Raghavan, V A K Ranga Rao, Kannan, Krishnaswamy of Narada Gana Sabha, artist Maniam Selvam, Guru  Muthuswami Pillai's son Selvam, Dr. Nageswaran, Saroja's principal disciple Vidya from Paris, Uday, Stephenie and Sylvia (European students), dancers and members of the media attended the event.  

A rare film spanning 70 years of Saroja's dance with her mentor Ram Gopal, an excerpt from the film 'Aum Shiva' was shown too.  

Ashish Khokar
M K Saroja
Ashish has done a good job writing this book on his mother, who was a well known dancer in her days. I have seen her dance in a sabha in Mylapore when she was known as Baby Saroja. Her guru Kattumannar Muthukumara Pillai taught Bharatanatyam to my sister Leelavati, who was the first pupil of Kalakshetra. That's why I knew him well. Pillai never taught for making money. He was one of the rare nattuvanar gurus, who was  happy to teach and see his students flower forth as dancers.  

He used to stand and execute adavus while teaching. His postures were perfect. He was a god loving man whose repertoire of Tamil folk dances was vast. Saroja admired him and she was one of his favorite pupils. Even now when I mention his name and talk about him, her face lights up. The book is written in simple style and holds the interest of the reader. The photos show how Saroja developed as a dancer and carried her dance to different parts of the world. Her friendship with giants in the field like Ramgopal and Mrinalini Sarabhai broadened her vision.  

Saroja carried on with her dance career, at the same time caring lovingly for her husband Mohan Khokar and her four sons. Elizabeth Khokar has ably assisted her husband in editing this book on her mother-in-law, whom she loves.  

When he was the Secretary of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Mohan Khokar had a photo of Saroja in his office, but her back is to the camera, and all one can see is the back of her costume and hair decoration. I asked Mohan why that was so, and he said, "I want people to know I'm not using my position to boost her career." But he admired her, and married her at the Thiruvanmiyur temple in Chennai with the assistance of my school teacher P S Krishnaswami.  

When I last visited him with Peria Sarada before he passed on, Mohan was very emotional. He put his head on Sarada's lap and wept and I had to console him. As we were leaving the house, he called me and thanked me for bringing Sarada to see him. Then he pointed his hands towards the room in which all his lifelong collection on Indian dances was stored and said, "Look, all this will go to waste." I sat next to him and said, "Mohan, get rid of this silly idea which is bothering you. I'm certain that Ashish will use all this collection to bring out several books." 

His answer was a beautiful smile.  

G Sundari is a good friend of Mohan Khokar and his family. She retired as Assistant Secretary for Performances, Kalakshetra, Chennai.