The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 3, 2000
Scene Stealers

Scene Stealers

Prima donna

SUNDARI K. SHRIDHARANI is a person who has selflessly dedicated herself to building an institution.To put it more accurately, she is an institution in herself and has a distinctive place in the Indian cultural world.

Sundari K. ShridharaniThe idea of setting up a centre for art occurred to her in the early 50s, when not many people knew about art galleries etc. The venture was started in two rooms above the Coffee House with an investment of Rs 200. A small writing table was bought for Rs 25 and a revolving fan, which had to be goaded to work, for Rs 30. Shridharani organised a show, Call of the Drum, in 1953, where various aspects of performing arts were introduced to the glitterati of Delhi, including ambassadors and parliamentarians. She and Vijay Raghav Rao were the sutradhars and they introduced Sharan Rani. A brochure was published on the occasion. As the last page was blank, a friend drew a proposed plan for a building on it.This little drawing gave her the idea to push further.

The show collected about Rs 6,000, "I felt really rich and promptly went to see the Finance Minister to help us get land". He asked me how much money we had, I very proudly told him, "I have Rs.10,000." He laughed, called his secretary and said, ‘Here is a woman with a will of a Bhakra Dam.’ He helped us in getting this land near Bengali Market."

Today, Triveni is the only public institution which has no ticketed shows and no membership. It is booked throughout the year. Classes in 13 disciplines, including Bharatnatyam, tabla, sculpture, vocal and instrumental music are run here. Unlike other cultural organisations, it does not take any government grants (those culture organisations who always bemoan the fact that government support is not enough, can learn from Triveni). On the contrary, it donates Rs 5.5 lakh in charity every year. A corpus fund has also been set up and donations have been banned.

Shridharani, inspite of indifferent health, gives most of her time to the institution. She has donated everything to Triveni, her first child.

She lives on the premises, "People say I have a golden touch as far as Triveni is concerned. We work with a skeleton staff and do not throw money." Triveni has a canteen where the culture vultures of Delhi gather and where delectable paranthas are served. Also on the premises are located a green house called ‘Prakriti’, which itself is a landmark of Delhi, a book and music shop. She is critical of commercial galleries and calls them shopping centres. Her eye for detail is apparent from the carefully tended lawns. One wishes there were more dedicated persons like her because Shridharani has helped an entire generation of artists.


Two of a kind

The two people with a royal lineage in filmdom are Saif Ali Khan (son of Nawab of Pataudi and Sharmila Tagore). Mansur Ali Khan was the scion of the erstwhile Bhopal estate which had the unique distinction of having some of the strongest Begums (women) in Indian history. His father was a Nawab and an ace cricket player. For this family, heritage, class, tehzeeb and education were not mere words, they were an integral part of life. Schooling and education in England was mandatory for members of the royal family. Saif’s mother, Sharmila Tagore, too has an illustrious lineage. She comes from the revered family of Rabindranath Tagore.

Saif Ali KhanSaif’s wife, Amrita, also traces her family tree to a princely state. She is the grand-niece of Khushwant Singh, the eminent writer and journalist. Her mother was Rukhsana Sultana and her father is Shivinder Singh, who lives Chandigarh. Two such people have surprisingly taken to a plebeian art form like films, just as ducks take to water.They do not have any false airs and do not bandy about their royal lineage for the others’ consumption.They have proved the naysayers, who had not given their marriage any chance, wrong . Amrita, though many years senior to Saif, has adjusted remarkably well in marriage (they have been married seven years).

Amrita says she is happy not working as she had already worked enough. She and Saif are fully engrossed in their five-year-old daughter Sara. "My daughter is very possessive about her father," says Amrita.

They love Bombay and the film line. Saif is at last getting recognition that is due to him. In Kya Kehna, he was really appreciated in spite of the negative tilt to his character. He has no hassles working in movies where there are two heroes. To his credit, even while working with the best, he refuses to allow himself to be overshadowed. His forthcoming movies are Dil Chahta Hai, Na Tum Jano Na Hum. He is working with Aamir Khan, Farhaan, Akshaye Khanna, Hrithik Roshan and is ready to break the chocolate-hero mould.

"We both are satisfied with our lot, and do not want to be part of the cut-throat competition", the better half of Saif says cheerfully.

Perfect bureaucrat

Can there be someone like a perfect bureaucrat? As things stand, most people will say ‘nothing doing’. However, even in bureaucratic circles there are people who come quite close answering this description. M.C. Gupta, a 1960 batch officer, almost fits the bill. After retirement, he was made Director of the prestigious Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi. He has had a distinguished M.C. Gupta career in the services and feels that there is nothing like a perfect bureaucrat (creature). He say, "Ican only list the attributes of an ideal public servant. He is someone who is a sensitive to the problems of the people and to the policies and programmes of the political government. The ‘perfect’ bureaucrat must possess financial and intellectual integrity. Also important is a capacity to get along with people". Not a tall order, or is it?

M.C. Gupta has just come out with a book on Haryana, alongwith L.C. Gupta (retired IAS). The book traces the historical development of Haryana from the early 19th Century onwards.It deals with the socio-economic development of the state and the reasons for the rapid rise of agriculture production. The need for a better industrial infrastructure and an investor-friendly approach is highlighted. The book is very comprehensive and deals with the power-sector, education and health services. Both have worked hard to give a detailed and a fair account with facts and figures to substantiate their analysis. But the book has not been yet labelled as an official document. Here is one ex-bureaucrat who is still working and sharing his vast experiences in public life with those who are interested in better governance.

— Belu Maheshwari