Of danseuses and upholding liberal traditions.
By VK Cherian
Mallika and her mother Mrinalini Sarabhai’s are unquestionably the cultural icons of India. Mrinalini, not just an icon, but with her husband, Vikram Sarabhai, and his family has been able to make Ahmadabad ad Gujarat a cultural and intellectual power centre of India, with institutions they promoted. Their daughter, Mallika, took Darpana, their cultural Academy to the world, with associating and acting as Droupati in Peter Brook’s rendition of Mahabharata in Paris. So when Mallika protests against Prime Minister Narendra Modi not expressing condolence on her mother’s death, there is a deep anguish felt across India.
Mother Mrinalini, not just started Darpana Academy was also instrumental in making Gujarat crafts, especially Kutch Kala, the toast of urban India. Her association with Gujari, the craft promotion body of the Gujarat government made Gujari the first and most successful of the craft and traditional arts promotion, making its products a must in urban households across the metro cities of India. In New Delhi, there is no professional in 80s who did not drape a Gujari Shawl during winter. It was almost like a personal cultural statement; that of a true blue Indian. Husband Vikram Sarabhai, was an ace scientist and adjudged as one of the most good looking man (in his hey days) and also paved the way for establishment of two important milestone institutions in Ahmadabad; The Indian Institute of Management and National Institute of Design.
Yes, Mrinalini was form a Nair Tharavadu of Palghat in the true matrilineal tradition, father being a Tamil Bhramin who was the senior British educated lawyer and mother a beautiful Nair lady , who got herself educated after her marriage and went on to become member of Parliament from Madras, where the family settled down. Very few know that Cpt Laxmi Sehegal of Indian National Army is the sister of Mrinalini and family carries a radical/liberal tradition in politics and arts. Needless to say Mrinalini was in the charmed circle of the then Prime MInister Jawahar Lal Nehru. Her mother Ammu Swaminadhan, was a friend of India Gandhi and one of the first Vice President of Federation of Film Societies of India (Southern Region), a pet project the Nehru’s, apart from being an member of Parliament in 50s.
In the true liberal tradition of the family, Mallika has been a rabid anti-Modi campaigner in Ahmadabad and even contested Lok Sabha polls against BJP leader LK Advani. What drove her to that was the 2002 riots, which she witnessed at Nizampura in Ahmadabad, where her Darpana Academy is situated. Friends say she began to identify more with her liberal Malayalee tradition more than the Gujarati elite one, after 2002. Her activism has been a pin prik for Modi and his bandwagon for years and her voice against the Modi regime remains shrill even today. Interesting, that she has not joined any political party, but remained a powerful voice against Modi and his brand of politics even in voicing protest against the silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi about her mother’s death.
Modi’s silence may have broken his silence on the death of Mrinalini Sarabhai with a message to her son from Prime Minister’s office. But even on this issue Mallika Sarabhai has upheld the liberal traditions of the family and the generation of dedicated people in building a liberal India.