Mrinalini Sarabhai
Culture and Society

The Quintessential Lady


Mrinalini Sarabhai
Mrinalini Sarabhai

She is a dancer, a writer, an activist, an environmentalist and so on. Wife to the great scientist Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and mother to the dynamic Mallika Sarabhai started at a very early stage of her life and came to realize that she is nothing else but a dancer. Alumni of ‘Shantiniketan’ – Mrinalini Sarabhai says “Rabindranath Tagore was the most wonderful person I’ve ever met. I think he influenced me the most than anyone else in the world.” According to Mrinaliniji “art is movement and life is movement. “ It’s such a beautiful way that the artist compares art and life and lives the idea of ‘change’.


“The territories of our rules and regulations have sometimes been very difficult for new generation. My generation was brought up with certain kids of habits and I took it for granted. It’s such a habit that I used to go to the temple and ring the bell and pray and we never think that why do I do this and why do I do that? But, as we grew up we began to question things, question religion, question our parents who were a bit authoritative about things and my children question me even more. I have children who themselves are thinking people and who have gone onto new path. I’ve often had arguments with my children. I tell them this shouldn’t be done, they ask me why and often I find I have no answer. In certain times in Gujarat it was wrong to dance like ballroom dancing at all. They’d say why? Why shouldn’t we dance? “– Now, this is exactly what we call open mindedness that comes from the idea of accepting change for better.


Mrinaliniji belonged to a very westernized family and though Dr. Vikram’s family was westernized as well there were still certain boundaries and expected behaviour. Dr. Vikram used to study at Bangalore in Indian Institute of Science and he used to love dance and music. He used to attend all the dance and music concerts held in Bangalore and it was then when Dr. Vikram fell in love with Mrinaliniji as he saw that sincerity in her about her dancing and whatever she did. There was quite an agreement about dancing with the Sarabhai family but it was the surrounding of theirs that was a challenge for Mrinaliniji. Guajarati people used to say “Oh Vikram has married this ‘dancer’ girl from South!” in disgust. Mrinaliniji’s father-in-law used to attend her dance shows to show his approval and Mrinaliniji used to say dancing is like praying to god because she used to do Bharatanatyam performances full of ‘bhakti rasa’ and that’s when slowly people started accepting her.


She says in her interview with ‘In conversation’ to Mr. Rajiv Malhotra that if she writes her autobiography, it can be described in two gestures- initially disgust and disapproval saying “Ooh! Dancing girl comes to Gujarat” and today with respect “Amma, namaskaar” that’s it. The dancer used to be performing alone mostly but then she started needing people to convey her messages even better and she couldn’t find people to dance with her and that’s when Dr. Vikram had suggested if she wants many more people to dance with her, she should train them from scratch and that’s exactly the idea with which ‘Darpan’ started in the year 1949.


Mrinaliniji had started Darpan with a nice blend of Indian classical dances like Bharatnatyam, Kathakali and Mohiniattam and yet she was open and welcoming enough when her daughter Mallika Sarabhai brought the contemporary styles and choreographies to the stage when she took over the administration of ‘Darpan’. Mrinaliniji says “It changes its patterns and with every new generation it has to change. After all Darpan is creativity, change and also tradition. From tradition the tree grows and Darpan takes on new phases in its life perhaps even more creative than when it had started.”


To me, Mrinaliniji is the perfect example when we talk about ‘Kal, aaj aur kal’. A true Quintessential woman whose life overall was all about change and acceptance of change. Be it as an individual by accepting the next generations’ trends or be it as one of the pioneers of dance in Gujarati society and changing the peoples’ mindset towards dancing or be it as a global human being contributing her tiniest bit to bring about the change in peoples’ approaches towards nature and environment.


Originally written for ‘The Quest – an intra personal critique’  issue #6

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