Mallika is a reluctant learner-turned-artivist

Mallika is a reluctant learner-turned-artivist

Mallika Sarabhai was in the city for a performance.

Dancer, author or ‘socialite activist’, call her what you may but the one thing that strikes you instantaneously about Mallika Sarabhai is her admiration for her mother Mrinalini Sarabhai.

Mallika mirrors her mother in her dance and her activism and, that their dance academy in Ahmedabad is called Darpana, is just a coincidence.

‘Reluctant learner’

Here in Bengaluru for the birth centenary celebrations of legendary danseuse Mrinalini Sarabhai, Mallika says that she was actually a reluctant learner and took to dance only because everyone else in her class was learning and there was nobody to play with. “I was also not taught by my mother because she trained only professional dancers then. I started off learning from Kittapa Pillai, the last of the lineage of the Tanjore quartet brothers,” she says.

 Watching my mother during the initial years influenced my aesthetics and passion to use dance as a means to communicate. I soon began to believe that arts can be a very persuasive language for social change, she says. 

Brand of activism

 My activism was inborn but the ability to use the arts as a medium came much later, she says. “Till 1990, when I was associated with Peter  Brook’s adaptation of Draupadi, I thought of myself as an interpreter for the arts but never as a creator. But playing Draupadi for five years made me realise how much I was affecting women across the globe so I came out with it thinking I’m an activist and an artist but I  need to merge the two. Somebody actually coined the word artivist which I adopted, she says.

Foray into politics
“Five years before I joined politics in 2009, I went around the country to collect a band of 200 people who believed that the country needs governance and not politics. Such a band was needed to be committed to their country and not their bank balances, not to perpetuating their own wealth and not being the kind of vile and vinyl people we see constantly. If 50 of us had got elected from such a group, we could have brought about a change,” she says.

Failing in her attempts, she went solo and stood for the 2009 elections against BJP stalwart L K Advani. She lost miserably. “Had it not been for muscle power, physical threats given by ‘neutral party workers’ standing inside each booth and the fact that the Gujarat Congress pitted a rich Patel NRI candidate against me, I would have had a chance,” she says.

She refutes rumours that she was ever the “ghost candidate” for Congress, as was rumoured back then. “I was in fact offered a ticket by Congress from 1984 but I never accepted it as I was opposed to the nepotism in the party,” she says.

Ask her about her joining  AAP, and she says that she was an admirer of Arvind Kejriwal and believed in his line of thought.

“However, within 24 hours, the kind of people joining AAP was so appalling that I exited the party. I was averse to the misogyny, casteism and corruption and thus disassociated myself with the party,” she says. She does not regret the one and a half months of elections and calls it the biggest learning. Sadly politics cannot be fought without “goondagardi”, muscle and money power, she rues.

Unique tribute 

Mallika’s unique tribute to her mother when she died was much talked about. “It was completely impromptu as how else could I wish her all the best for her future journey,” she asks.

 It also brings back bitter memories of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ignoring to acknowledge Mrinalini Sarabhai’s contribution to Indian culture. “It was sad that a public figure like Modi, who tweets continuously,  chose to keep mum. It was not about me and not about politics but he chose to not pay a tribute, that was wrong,” she says.

 ‘No Bengaluru no Mallika’

 “My parents met and got married here so if it was not for Bengaluru, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” she says. Mallika loves the city as she spent many holidays here as a child. “My Cubbon Park breakfast is a taste in my mouth that I don’t want to alter by going back to eat a dosa there because if it doesn’t taste the same, then my memories would get ruined,” she says. I also hate trees being cut here as back in Gujarat, trees don’t grow, she says.


About Mallika


Mad about my dogs

A passionate
multi-book reader

Can’t cook

Food tastes completely Dravidian