Two Ammas and a Ba. That’s how we’ve known them and heard of them. Three beautiful women from different backgrounds. Well… maybe different worlds. One is a legend from the world of dance, another from the education space and the third from the world of music. Two of them are in their mid- nineties and going strong! The third lives on in her elevating music woven with Bhakti.
Nirmalaben was born in Bhavnagar. A freedom fighter, educationalist, and principal of a renowned girls’ school. Later in life, she and her husband relocated to Pondicherry for many years of their life. She faced many ups and downs, including the loss of her husband and later, her 22-year-old daughter who died in an accident while studying in the US. Accepting all this as the Mother’s will, she continues unfazed. Fiercely independent and courageous, she chooses to stay all by herself, taking care of all her chores and even helping many others! Well into her mid-nineties, she retains a warm heart, a cool head, a sharp mind and busy hands.
MS Subbalakshmi Bharat Ratna lives on in our lives with her elevating music. Even today, mornings in many Indian homes, temples and towns would be deficient without her Suprabhatam! Born in a devadasi family, she broke the barriers of caste, class and gender to be the acknowledged as a goddess of Indian music! A young vocalist, she ran away from home to escape being ‘given off’ to a wealthy suitor, as was the custom in her community those days. She then got national fame with the super hit film ‘Mira’. Quitting films at the peak of her popularity, she accepted life with its trysts, twists and lifts. Reading a very well written biography of MS last fortnight, I was deeply inspired. The one thing that clearly emerged was her inherent sweetness, sincerity and supreme faith that melted away impossible obstacles.
A danseuse and choreographer par excellence, 95-year-old Mrinaliniben Sarabhai is still a glowing picture of grace and beauty. Going beyond the mundane to create exquisite productions anchored in classical dance, she emerged as a lifetime contributor. Having lost her father at a very young age, she met a similar fate when she lost her husband, the legendary Vikram Sarabhai, in the prime of her life. In spite of these setbacks, she chose to give her best to dance, her family, Darpana, the institution she built and society at large.
Let us salute these three bold and beautiful contemporary devis today on the auspicious occasion of Vijaya Dashami. Their paths to excellence were paved with numerous challenges and setbacks. All throughout, they remained confident and collected…fearless, focused and full of faith. They maintained poise calm yet full of power – like live wires! Juxtaposed with many such heartwarming stories of great women, we come across, almost daily, reports of young women committing suicide or shattered with instances of sexual harassment, dowry deaths and domestic violence. How can we fortify our young girls with the courage to deal with the terrible ups and downs drawing power from their inner poise?
The recent movie ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ was an excellent bio-pic. Can more such bio-pics on the lives and struggles of women such as our own Ba and Ammas be made? Young India could then walk tall & straight, with pride and a clear faith in their destinies designed by aspiration, sweat and sincerity!
The author is a Harvard educated civil servant and writer, now working in the education sector