Personality Society

Vimala Rangachar — a saga of service

Vimala Rangachar

Vimala Rangachar   | Photo Credit: Jayasimha Reddy

Vimala Rangachar has left indelible imprints in every field that she has been associated with — art, theatre, craft, education and so on

The little girl playing hopscotch with her friends in the compound of her palatial house stopped and stared in awe at the tall gentleman. He was wearing a white borderless Paeta (turban) on his head, a brown long-sleeved coat and an impeccably pleated pristine white kachche panche dhoti .

“Is Ramanuja Iyengar home?” the gentleman asked with a pleasant smile on his face. The little girl said, “No, he has gone out.”

“Who are you little girl,” asked the gentleman. “I am Vimala, Ramanuja Iyengar’s daughter,” she replied. “Please tell your father that Radhakrishnan had come,” he said and left.

Later in the evening, Vimala encountered a furious Ramanuja Iyengar. “It was Prof. Radhakrishnan, my teacher in Mysore University. How could you send him back without inviting him in? Why did you not call out to mother?” A tearful Vimala realised her mistake.

The gentleman’s daughter Shakuntala later became a dear friend of Vimala even after Dr. Radhakrishnan became the President of India. The two founded MEWS with a few other friends. The women who were interested in arts, crafts and education felt that there must be a hostel for young working women and a ladies club.

Vyjaynthimala Bali with Vimala Rangachar

Vyjaynthimala Bali with Vimala Rangachar   | Photo Credit: V Sreenivasa Murthy

But when they went to register the organisation, an explanation was sought about the name, MEWS. Malleswaram Enlightened Women’s Society said one. Malleswaram Elite Women’s Society said another, but Shakuntala came up with Malleswaram Enterprising Women’s Society to make it broad in range. Today, MEWS has its own building and has been a shelter for hundreds of young women.

Vimala and Dr. Rangachar escorting the Mysore Maharaja

Vimala and Dr. Rangachar escorting the Mysore Maharaja   | Photo Credit: JAYASIMHA REDDY

Vimala is 90 and as busy as ever. This interview was being constantly interrupted by phone calls from people inviting her for programmes or officials from the MES (Mysore Education Society) college coming in to get her signature. “During admissions we give priority to those pursuing fine arts and performing arts,” says Vimala Rangachar. Prof. M.P.L. Shastri had invited her to become the president of MES when it started a college. Vimala felt that it should help students from the lower economic strata and those into music, dance, theatre and crafts. ‘Kalavedi’ was started to present budding talents. MES college is now a reputed educational institution and Vimala is still involved in its day to day running.

In 1936, Nobel laureate Sir C.V. Raman’s wife Lokasundari and her friend Rajivibai established Seva Sadan, a home for destitute women and children. In 1950, Rajivibai asked Vimala to look after it. Today, Seva Sadan has a big building and a theatre that plays host to artistic activities.

Vimala Rangachar, Crafts Councili Chairman, with the then Minister of State for Kannada and Culture Rani Satish inaugurating the centenary celebrations of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay at the Chitrakala Parishad in Bangalore in 2003. With them is the Founder-Secretary of the Parishad M.S. Nanjunda Rao

Vimala Rangachar, Crafts Councili Chairman, with the then Minister of State for Kannada and Culture Rani Satish inaugurating the centenary celebrations of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay at the Chitrakala Parishad in Bangalore in 2003. With them is the Founder-Secretary of the Parishad M.S. Nanjunda Rao   | Photo Credit: T_L_PRABHAKAR

Vimala celebrated her 16th birthday soon after her marriage to Dr. Rangachar, who was a captain in the Indian Army. He was from a family of Ayurveda doctors and had himself studied it too. But he also did his MBBS. The year was 1945, when the Second World War was raging, and Rangachar had to go to Italy on duty. But by the time he reached there, the war was over. Vimala suggested that he retire from the Army. Rangachar started a clinic in Bengaluru and was a popular physician. He encouraged Vimala to complete her graduation in English literature and Psychology through distance education learning of Pune University.

Vimala Rangachar with R. Narayana Murthy, Chairman Emeritus, Infosys, during the special lecture at MES College of Arts, Commerce and Science, Malleswaram, in Bangalore 2012.

Vimala Rangachar with R. Narayana Murthy, Chairman Emeritus, Infosys, during the special lecture at MES College of Arts, Commerce and Science, Malleswaram, in Bangalore 2012.   | Photo Credit: K_MURALI_KUMAR

Vimala developed a passion for theatre because her father would take her to watch plays. She was the president of Kalajyothi, a theatre company. In the first play she witnessed, Vimala saw a young man doing a female role. He had worn the petticoat high above his ankles and his legs were visible through the transparent sari. Vimala turned to her husband and said, “How can I allow such unaesthetic dressing when I am the president of this company?” “Why don’t you act yourself,” he countered and later joined her too. Thus began a long theatre innings for the couple, apart from the so many other things they were doing. They performed plays by Kailasam, Parvathavani and other stalwarts. Their most famous play was ‘Ammaavra Ganda’ (madam’s husband) that was translated into Hindi and staged in Delhi, with Jawaharlal Nehru in the audience. Vimala roped in her cousin Goda Ramkumar, Nagaratha and several friends to act in plays not just in Kannada and English, but also Sanskrit.

Space for plays

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay asked Vimala to head the Karnataka chapter of Bharathiya Natya Sangh, a theatre school she had established. Vimala and her friends felt the need for a good space to stage plays in Bengaluru. They identified one full of wild shrubs on J.C. Road. And the Amateur Dramatic Associates Theater (ADA Rangamandira) was built. Later, during the birth centenary celebration of Rabindranath Tagore, Ravindra Kalakshetra came up right opposite. Architect Mahadeva Swami consulted Vimala on every aspect of that building.

In 1971, Vimala was asked to head the committee looking after Bal Bhavan, the children’s area at Cubbon Park. The building was called Victory Hall, where events were held to provide entertainment to soldiers during the Second World War. Dr. Rangachar suggested the Kannada translation Vijaya Ranga, but Jawahar Bal Bhavan was the name given. Vimala set up a library and a play garden next to the theatre. Members of Bangalore’s little theatre, V. Ramamurthy, S.G. Ramachandra, David Horsebrough, and others got together to get a children’s theatre going at Bal Bhavan, in which greats like M.S. Sathyu, Chandrashekara Kambara, B.V. Karanth, Prema Karanth.

When Vimala was invited to be a director of Canara Bank, she launched ‘Kaushalya,’ a project to help craftspersons with soft loans. A shop for crafts and a training institute were started in the bank. Vimala was also involved with the government crafts emporium, ‘Cauvery’, in its initial years. Sunita Gopalan, who worked with Vimala, and Mrs. Reddy at the emporium, recall how Vimala made sure that craftsmen were paid as soon as they brought their wares and not after 40 days as was the norm. She travelled in bullock carts to villages to collect information about crafts and craftspersons. Her craft-loving mother, Ammani Ammal, used to design all her saris. Weavers would come to seek advice from Ammani Ammal, who also taught her daughter Carnatic vocal and to play the veena.

Besides her daughter Revathi, Vimala looked after her cousin’s daughter, Asha. Both trained in Bharatanatyam initially under Krishnarao and Chandrabhaga Devi. Later, they learnt from Kittappa Pillai and then, from his uncle Muthiah, whom Vimala recalls was a strict teacher.

When in 1973, Revathi was chosen as a delegate for the Expo World Fare in Montreal, Canada, Vimala made sure that Asha accompanied her. In Montreal, Revathi met Dr. Satyu. They got married and settled in Dallas, while Asha married Satyu’s brother and moved to Phoenix. They started a dance school Arathi, combining the letters of their names.

Revathy Satyu

Revathy Satyu  

Artisan’s gift

Vimala lives in a beautiful home, ‘Viravathi’ (Vimala, Rangachar, Revathi) in Malleswaram, Bengaluru. Beautiful artefacts occupy every little space. Near a 100-year-old gold Mysore-style painting of Lord Ramanuja is a painting of Lord Venkateswara presented to her by a craftsman. “He came and left this here as a gift for me. He refused to take money,” says the gracious and charming Vimala. She shows me the swing in the courtyard on which Vyjayanthimala likes to sit when she visits her and points out to the large green ceramic jar with plants that Vyjayanthimala gifted her.

Many music and dance exponents have stayed in her house. She recalls with sadness that when Pt. Ravi Shankar stayed at her house after a concert in Bengaluru, well-known art critic G. Venkatachalam too was there. That night, Venkatachalam felt uneasy and was taken to hospital, where he passed away.

 

For her 90th birthday, a diary that she had kept when she visited Russia in 1956 as part of an Indian delegation was published as a book. Artist S.G. Vasudev, her cousin, designed the cover.

She points out to the large art work of Vasudev, done in 1974 and the carved wooden doors of her study and puja room. “They belonged to Sir C.V. Raman,” she says.

She brings out a photograph of Mysore Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar looking affectionately at Revathi. He was the chief guest at her arangetram. “In his honour, Kittappa Pillai choreographed “Baale Briad Srishti Moole…,” composed by the Maharaja.There was a smile on the Maharaja’s face as he kept talam with his hand in his coat pocket.”

Perhaps, as an ode to Vimala Rangachar, one could sing another composition of the Maharaja — ‘Vandaeham Sada Sharadam…’

Revathi (front) and Asha

Revathi (front) and Asha  

Honour for Revathi

Revathi Satyu turned 70 on November 5. She was honoured with the title, Natya Chintamani, by Sapthami Foundation, for her pioneering work as a Bharatanatyam educator and choreographer in the U.S. Revathi is also the president of the Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation and has conducted the arangetram of more than a hundred students.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 1:04:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/vimala-rangachar-a-saga-of-service/article29908773.ece

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