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In the Words of a Shishya

Padma Subrahmanyam

Edited by Leela Samson
Penguin Viking, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 243, Rs. 550.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 12 December 2010

The book under review written by an eminent artist with emotional appeal has twelve hapters with impressive photographs and lay-out and is not too unwieldy for capturing the salient features of the life of a colossus that Rukmini Devi was. In the preface the author says that she started her research in 1992 collecting data regarding years, dates, people and places. When she returned to Kalakshetra after 13 years, many documents she had put aside were missing and diaries eaten by white ants. She gratefully acknowledges her resource persons Sankar Menon, Dr Padmasini and Kamala Triloksekar and has dedicated the book to them. The chapter Early Years opens dramatically with a scene in 1978, when Rukmini Devi in ripe age is interacting with yet another senior Engineer, D. Appukuttan Nair, for completing their Madhyama Vikrishta type of auditorium with concepts from Natyasastra coupled with modern facilities. Nothing in the theatre had passed without her scrutiny—for example—the soaring roof with steel girders painted in the same colour as timber. This is perhaps her last and most ‘concrete’ contribution to the stream of Indias arts that she loved with such a passion. She had touched the lives of many individuals. Her own connection drew many to strive for ideals that were dear to her—she was Rukmini Devi Arundale. The dramatic or even cinematic projection of her introduction is followed by the documentation of her childhood. The treatment of the biographer connects past and future like shades of colours on canvas. Rukku was born during Mahamagam festival on 29th February 1904 as the daughter of Neelakanta Sastry and Seshammal in Madurai. One of her maternal ancestors was a friend and follower of Saint Thyagaraja Swamigal. The chapter delineates on the large family and paints a picture of the times and values. The author beautifully and logically links Rukku’s inherited values of vegetarianism leading her to head the vegetarian movement years later on an international level and her listening to the Valmiki Ramayana from her mother having been the seed for her unparalleled chorography of the epic in six parts, creating history in dance. The chapter gives valuable information on the who-is-who in the family and society at large. The author’s narration in the flash-back method throws light on the memory of the brutalities in the Education System of the British period that probably she had, while setting up the Montessori school for ...

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