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My mother, Sitara Devi, wasn't adept at playing 'the game'

November 28, 2014 17:30 IST

"She chose a path less trodden and turned it into a road paved with gold as far as her dance was concerned. There will never be another Sitara Devi."

Sitara Devi
Image: Sitara Devi
Photograph: Rediff Archives

A free-spirited woman, a passionate devotee of her art form, an artiste who refused to be bound by any norms... Sitara Devi was an unforgettable muse.

Musician-composer Ranjit Barot fondly remembers his mother in this e-mail interview with Prasanna Zore/Rediff.com.

Could you share your fondest memories about your mother?
There are probably too many to mention here.

I remember how she wasn't all that excited when I decided to become a professional musician. And it was not because she didn't want me to be one. I suppose, based upon some of her life experiences, she was more concerned with the uncertainty of a career in the arts.

After a tumultuous week of tears and 'Why don't you pursue an academic career instead', she surprised me by giving me some money and said, 'The drums you play aren't that good, are they? I think you had better find an instrument that will further your playing'.

That’s how I travelled abroad to buy my first proper drum set.

What was Sitara Devi, the world renowned Kathak dancer, like?

She was a force of nature who refused to be pigeon-holed into any pre-conceived idea of what you expected her to be.

She was demure when she wanted to be and, more often than not, as fierce as a full force gale. 'Never a dull moment' is the phrase that jumps to mind.

She was known to say what she wanted to say and do what she wanted to do. Do tell us a little more about this aspect of her personality.

Not much more to say really. She spoke her mind, didn't pander to populist ideas or to the back benches. She wasn't ever politically correct nor adept at playing 'the game'.

In an interview with Rediff.com, Pandit Birju Maharaj fondly recalls your mother's humility when interacting with other artistes. Could you tell us more about her camaraderie with her fellow artists -- senior as well as junior?

I've read it and, with all due respect to Briju Maharaj who states in this article that my mother touched his feet because she regarded him a mentor and was in awe of his art form, this is not really the truth.

The truth is she learnt from his father and, as a form of guru bhakti, she was actually paying her respects to his father through him.

I think his idea of that interaction needs to be re-calibrated.

She was associated with Bollywood at one point. Could you tell us what you know as far as that aspect of her life is concerned?

I actually wasn't too familiar with that part of her life. It stopped a long time before I was born and, by that time, she was so deep into the classical tradition of her dance that she didn't talk too much about it.

I mean, yes, all her film world associations were apparent and some idea of who she was kept creeping into our consciousness. I think, if she had pursued a career in the films farther than she did, she would have been as big a luminary as she was a Kathak dancer.

She chose a path less trodden and turned it into a road paved with gold as far as her dance was concerned. There will never be another Sitara Devi. I say this with all humility and without any bias, if you can take my word for it.

Ranjit Barot's emotional goodbye to his mother.
Image: Ranjit Barot's emotional goodbye to his mother.
Photograph: Sahil Salvi

Could you share your mother's influence on you as a person and as an artiste?

Everything I am and I have is because of her. My spirit, my talent, my outlook on life and the fact that I too cannot suffer fools.

My need to reinvent myself every so often. Any semblance of bravery I have, any recklessness… all this I get from her.

Did she have any regrets in life? Any dreams/desires that were left unfulfilled?

I don't think so.

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers about your mother?

May we all be blessed with a mother like the one I knew.

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Prasanna Zore