Mohiniyattam dancer Sreedevi Unni on how she overcame grief after the tragic death of her daughter, actor Monisha Unni
Sitting in her son’s flat at Kochi, Sreedevi Unni, unwound once again a real story she will never forget, that of her precious daughter Monisha Unni, who died when she was at the peak of her life. “I longed for a daughter after my son was born. And when God answered her prayers, her aspirations didn’t end there. She wanted her daughter, Monisha, to live her dreams and attain the heights she could not. To Sreedevi, Monisha was an extension of herself. Monisha like a true daughter more than amply fulfilled her mother’s longings and dreams. Apart from establishing herself as a Mohiniyattam dancer like her mother, Monisha created ripples in the Malayalam film industry. She was the youngest star to bag the best actor national award for ‘Naghakshathangal’. And after Monisha turned 21, just a few days before she lost her she told her, “You have fulfilled all my dreams. Mummy is completely satisfied. I no longer require anything else from you.”
So how does Sreedevi who had even once walked out of a movie to avoid seeing Monisha die on screen cope with the tragedy of losing her only daughter in real life? Has she managed to pick up the pieces and go on with life?
“I was devastated for apart from being the sole survivor of the accident - the driver and the accountant too had succumbed – and being in bed for four months with a broken pelvis and mangled face, the loss of Monisha made me a vegetable with no interest in life. But when I saw my husband go into pieces, I knew I was a wife too, who had a duty”. She drew strength from various sources. She took up spiritual studies, resumed teaching Mohiniyattam at her dance school at Bangalore. A few roles which came her way in films were accepted with a dignified demeanour to keep her spirits up. Besides arts she also ventured into business by getting involved in leather goods manufacture, dress designing, dance therapy etc to escape and fight the darkness that would have enveloped her otherwise. Monisha Arts – an organisation to promote art and culture was another outcome of her passionate and restless spirit.
The Karnataka government appreciating her determined efforts in promoting Mohaniyattam in Karnataka honoured her with the Karnataka Kalashri Award. Sreedevi was the only Malayalee recipient of this award.
Now 15 years after the tragedy, Sridevi still faces life headlong with dignity. Still active and open to new things she would love to foray further into Malayalam films, she says. She also has a script ready. At sixty-plus the dancer still exudes a youthful charm and grace. But above all, it is the dignity in her suffering and pain that captures one’s heart.HEMJIT BHARATHAN