She was just 20 years old, when she had to drop out of college and enter wedlock. For the next three decades, she went around playing the roles expected of a Malayali homemaker – a loyal wife, an obedient daughter-in-law, a doting mother and an affectionate granny.
This could be the tale of any Malayali woman – your mother or that friendly aunt next door; all perhaps the ones who advise you to get married soon, even as they dish out oodles of stories about their ‘good old days.’
Gigi Sarat of Cheranallur, a suburb in Kochi, too has a similar tale to narrate but she decided to give her story a twist in the second half.
A granny to a seven-year-old and two-year-old, Gigi returned to her true calling, the art arena, and did her arangettam (debut on-stage performance) in Kathakali at the age of 57.
But why Kathakali?
“My husband is an avid fan of Kathakali and he took me along for almost every performance he went. You cannot enjoy or appreciate a performance, unless you understand the intricate mudras of the artists. He would patiently explain the story and what each mudra meant.
“That’s how I got interested in the art form and decided to explore it further. Basically, I decided to learn Kathakali so that I can better appreciate it. Even then, I didn’t think that I would perform it before a crowd someday,” she explained.
Gigi, along with her Tiruvathira teacher, Vijayalakshmi amma, 67, took up training under the tutelage of Kathakali doyen Damodaran Pisharody. Braving the heavy traffic, the two women would travel four times every week from Cheranallur to Tripunithura by bus to learn the art form.
Mind you, they are well into their 60s and Kochi is not kind towards travelers, let alone the elderly citizens. But traffic was their least of concerns.
Though a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, Gigi was returning to the stage after a gap of three decades. And she had to prepare herself mentally and physically before getting into the nuances of Kathakali.
Mouthing actor Jagathy’s famous line from Yodha, Gigi quipped over the phone, “I haven’t studied so much even during the all-too-crucial SSLC year!”
And six years after she started her unique journey, she performed at Cheranallur Bhagavathy Temple. She donned the role of Panchali and performed the Duryodhana Vadham.
All thanks to her family
Gigi has to thank her husband – Sarat Chandaran – for his unflinching support. A retired government official, he let her concentrate on her performance and ensured that his wife is not bogged down by her domestic duties. Her grown up children too were highly encouraging and offered all support.
“It would not have been possible without my husband’s support. He was more than happy when I told him about my interest. My son Anand even offered to pay the tuition fee,” she explained.
The road ahead
“I would like to learn further and contribute to the art world in whatever way possible. But presently, I have some urgent personal commitments to look after,” Gigi said.
But Gigi isn’t complaining. The 57-year-old is simply elated to have achieved a small milestone in what could have otherwise been a mundane life. Gigi's never-say-die attitude would sure be an inspiration for youngsters in an era, where students are known to take up crash courses to win accolades at art fetes.