By Sapna Rangaswamy
“I am dance, dance is me,” says Mrinalini Sarabhai in her autobiography titled Voices from my Heart. The famous Bharatanatyam dancer married scientist Vikram Sarabhai and made Ahmedabad her home. She performed and propagated fine arts in the city in a big way. She launched the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts to nurture traditional and experimental arts. On 3 July, the arts community in Ahmedabad congregated to celebrate the memory of Amma (that is how Mrinalini liked to be called). Antarnaad – the Gujarati translation of Mrinalini Sarabhai’s autobiography – translated by Bakula Ghaswala and published by Gurjar Prakashan was released in the presence of dignitaries like architect B.V. Doshi, Bharatanatyam guru Ilaxiben Thakor, Kuchipudi dancer, teacher and Darpana alumnus Smita Shastri, artist and art curator Amit Ambalal and sitarist Manju Mehta.
“As Amma lived in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, the Gujaratis should know about her life, and work, hence her autobiography in Gujarati," said daughter Mallika Sarabhai. The book has also been translated into Malayalam.
It was an evening of dance dedicated to Mrinalini's memory. It began with a mallari – malla kusti with the god. The concept was playful and so was the dance performed by Pooja Purohit, Manoj Bagga and Hemvati. This was followed by alarippu by D. Padmakumar (Pappan sir) and Hemvati, an item rarely presented today in dance programmes. Mallika Sarabhai and students of Darpana performed a traditional varnam, and it was refreshing to see Mallika perform traditional Bharatanatyam.
After the varnam, the backdrop came alive with video clippings of Mrinalini talking about her best friend Lord Krishna. She described how her mother had closed her eyes and led her to the pooja room – a child's first memory of being introduced to Krishna. There were other clippings of Amma explaining to a journalist about her choreography, feelings and emotions as a dancer, and rare footage from Darpana’s old production Rigveda. Chatunni Pannikar, Bhaskar Menon, Mrinalini and several great gurus of Indian classical dance came alive on the screen. It was a memorable journey down memory lane.
The high point of the evening was Natanam Adinar danced by Revanta, grandson of Mrinalini and son of Mallika Sarabhai. He got a standing ovation. It was heartwarming to see the third generation take up the dance for which Mrinalini lived. A contemporary tillana by Mallika Sarabhai, Anahita, Pooja, Hemvati and Padmakumar was the concluding performance for the evening.
Educationist H.C. Kapasi, Kishan Trivedi, and Damini Maheta recalled their close collaboration with Mrinalini in Gujarati theatre. When Mrinalini – a trained classical dancer from south India – was introduced to Rangmanch, Gujarati theatre, not only did she learn Gujarati in just fifteen days, she even directed a Gujarati play Chando che Shyamlo by Pannalal Patel. She also directed another Gujarati play Koi Pan Ek Pool nu Nam Kaho along with H.C. Kapasi, in which Kishan Trivedi and Damini Maheta also participated. Damini later became an integral part of Darpana and its drama department. These veteran artists of the Gujarati Rangmanch remembered ‘Ben’ (Mrinalini Sarabhai) and shared their memories of their bonding over art.
Even as everyone was celebrating Mrinalini the creative artist, Kartikeya Sarabhai, spoke about his mother Mrinalini. He recalled how she had kept awake the whole night holding his hand when he was ill and how she had cancelled her dance tour because her young son needed her by his side.
Although Mrinalini Sarabhai passed away on 21 January 2016, Ahmedabad continues to celebrate her life and achievements.