Saturday 22 October 2016

Mothers by Daughters & Others - Oh, how I miss you! - Ananda Shankar Jayant

My mother Subhashini Shankar bequeathed to us three sisters, great wealth – of searing honesty, a commitment to fight for justice, positive attitude, and a bouquet of charming stories, sayings and anecdotes for every occasion and event! Born into a large family, she grew up in Chennai learning music and later violin from TN Krishnan, and also Sanskrit. With marriage bringing her to Secunderabad, she adapted to Telugu, and Urdu, even as she nearly bought – heaven forbid! - prawns from the roadside vendor, thinking it sounded like Vendakkai (Okhra) in Tamil! Blasphemy or what to a vegetarianTam Brahm!
Contrary to popular choice and wishes for a male heir, during pregnancy, she prayed for a daughter, who she would train to be an artiste – maybe to fulfil her own dreams. And so, her first child was introduced to dance at the age of 4. Yes, that was me - as she found my first Guru Sharada Keshava Rao, at the Subrahmanyaswami temple. A gold medal at a national competition, followed by a summer holiday in hot Chennai, a visit to Kalakshetra, a blessing from the great Rukmini Devi Arundale herself,  saw a teary eyed 11 year old daughter bid farewell at the hostel gates of Kalakshetra to an equally teary eyed mother, as I was enrolled as a full time dance student


  1. That was a perfect Ode to Amma, Ananda Akka.

    I always wonder how our parents had such foresight and raised us accordingly. It was quiet gutsy for our parents to send their first born a mere 11 year old off to Kalakshetra, a good 700 kms by train from Hyderabad. Akka wrote about Amma from her perspective. Here is mine.

    I guess they knew that I would live far away from them in US and hence taught me Home Economics early on. I remember my parents asking me to count the money and pay the milk man, newspaper bills etc., or Amma taking me to the grocery store to purchase rice, wheat and pulses and the Market to pick and choose the best vegetables and fruits. She taught me to keep a watch on the weighing scales, making sure that no one cheats us. Another important lesson I learnt from Amma is how to stretch the Rupee to last through the month.

    Her Erissery and Molagootal on Sunday mornings, roasting coffee seeds (a perfect blend of Peaberry and Plantation seeds), Vegetable pulav, the various festival dishes, and also the grandparent(s) death anniversary food, Amma made sure I knew it all well.

    But nothing can beat her vathakuzhumbu and Thair sadam, that she lovingly served us, telling the most dramatized and hilarious stories until we cleaned up the food and licked our fingers dry.

    All questions asked were always answered with Analogy, something I have learnt well from her. Amma was a voracious reader, I would wait for Amma to read us the stories from Ananda Vikadan, Kumudum etc., As an elementary school child, I looked forward to listening to her reading of ‘5 paisa ammu’. Some of her stories are well known to my students here as I re-tell her stories with my own thadaka.

    She always paid attention to detail. Excited to have performed alongside my akka for the first time, I was not ready to practice the next day. Amma asked me to practice Tisra alarippu and then I could do my thing. One hour later, I still had many mistakes to correct and had not received a GOOD from Amma, but just a smile and admonition, “you could have done this the first time”, now go and finish your homework”. This story is told every time to all my students who refuse to perform Tisra Alarippu.

    It is heartening to hear from students of Amma, who talk warmly about her and reach out to me through social media.

    Suganda Iyer, is the second daughter of Smt. Subhashini Shankar and lives in US with her Husband and 2 kids. She continues to teach, choreograph and run her Bharatanatyam school in California.

  2. Its a lovely account on Shankar aunty. She was a mother to all your friends and their children too. There was always a child in her that always showed in her zest for learning new things. Yes she was way ahead of her times. You are indeed blessed to have such a mother. My sincere tributes to aunty.

  3. Dear Ananda and Sugandha
    It is so good to see you doing so well! My best wishes to Sri Latha also.
    Just this evening I happened upon the inspiring Ted talk by Ananda and decided to find out more about the next-door neighbors I had left behind in Secunderabad in 1984.
    Thank you for sharing your talent and inspirational stories with the world.
    Much love and best wishes