The Artful Teacher

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AT 82, acclaimed classical dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai has a curious relationship with memory. She loves to read but can’t remember her favourite authors. Nor can she remember her age. She forgets, too, that the tree-planting drive she initiated with her group Prakriti is not in Ahmedabad’s post offices, but in its police stations. But Sarabhai doesn’t think she’s forgetting. “There are so many more things to remember with age,” she says. “There is life itself.”

Mrinalini Sarabhai
Mrinalini Sarabhai
Age: 81
Profession: Classical dancer, choreographer, teacher, writer
Secret pursuits: Loves Zen philosophy and is a manic player of word games. Has a sweet tooth and can’t resist puddings. Loves flowering trees Photo: Trupti

Sarabhai’s own life is full. In the mornings, she looks in on the classes at the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, striking a pose for 6-year olds here, guiding posture for 20- year-olds there. Then, there are evening performances and guests to host. And there’s her own writing — the most recent is a poetic drama on global warming to make the concept accessible to children. At home in Ahmedabad, there are board games to play with the grandchildren and soufflé recipes to be passed on to the cook. She continues the tradition her father-in-law started — Indian food at lunch, western in the evening, “so the children know how to behave when they travel.”

The only thing Sarabhai regrets is not being able to move her body in the way she used to. “I dance when I feel like it, but not on stage,” she says. “I miss that very much, but through my daughter Mallika and through my students, I’m still dancing.”

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Special Correspondent

Tusha Mittal has been with Tehelka since March 2008. She was educated at La Martiniere, Kolkata, and has a bachelor’s degree from Depauw University in Indiana. While in the US, she worked as a reporter and a special sections editor for a local newspaper in Boston. She also interned with CNN Internationalin Atlanta and NBC Universal in London. In her final year in college, she studied the idea of peace journalism and the role of the media in covering conflict.

She travelled to Kashmir for her graduation thesis, which dissected the role of the Indian and Pakistani media in shaping public perception of the Kashmir conflict. Her journalism interests include reporting on environment, human rights, and conflict. She has recently won The Press Institute of India award for best articles on humanitarian issues published in the Indian media. AtTehelka, she has written extensively on land rights and displacement struggles. She is based in New Delhi.