Song of Surrender

Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Essence and Grace of Mrinalini Sarabhai

“Break a Coconut” ….
“It will relieve the stress..”

These words echo in my mind almost 18 years after I heard them from Mrinalini Sarabhai “Amma” at Darpana in Ahmedabad.

There was an issue with a copying machine; and these were the words that Amma used to assure the person dealing with the copier that everything would be all right.

Yes, “Everything will be alright” was the reassuring place that she came from. There was no issue hard enough; it would all be resolved. I still think of her words any time I find something stressful.

Amma then was almost 80; just a few years younger than my grandmother. She was from that generation that had been born in the pre-electricity era. She was in the big league along with folks like Lakshmi Shankar; a South Indian who had made a name for herself all over India and the world, outside of the world of Karnatic Music and Bharatanatyam – very strongly grounded in her native art form. She had built institutions and had taken art forms to new dimensions.

And she radiated simplicity and majesty at the same time; elegance and poise were the words that came to one’s mind when you saw her. She was part of day to day affairs of the Institution, yet she was a transcendent Goddess in her Office – a space that was full of history of art that had broken barriers for about half a century.

There was majesty, calmness, artistry, wisdom, unbounded love and hospitality and of course Godliness. To her Krishna and Shiva were not abstract and distant entities but ideas that she could relate to in everything that she did and in everything around her. To her, even the pair of Katputlis (puppets) sold in the Law Garden area were “Shiva and Parvati”.

Grounded in her native art and sound in her wisdom she experimented and encouraged experimentation. She told me once: “I tell my instrumentalists – not to exude the machine-like sugar coated perfection; I like spontaneity; an occasional apasvaram, even an intentional apasvaram is what makes it interesting”.

Her words urging you to break the proverbial coconut and get rid of stress echo in my ears almost two decades later. Her life ended three years before her centenary. But her legacy will live on for ever.

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