Free spirited, passionate, an unconventional woman, a phenomenal mother and an amazing human being, filled with tenacity, courage, zest, curiosity, laughter and kindness - these are words to describe the late Protima Bedi.
Born into a respectable middle class Gupta family in Haryana, in 1949, Protima Bedi was a prominent model in Bombay in the late-'60s and early-'70s.
An Odissi dance recital changed Protima's life.It was in August 1975 that Protima's life changed, when she ran into the Bhulabhai Memorial Institute by chance when she saw two young dancers giving an Odissi performance. It filled her with her with a kind of passion she'd never known before, in spite of its extremely complex rhythms, patterns and sophisticated hand-and-eye gestures.
She transformed herself from being the tight trouser, halter neck,
off-shoulder girl with gold streaked hair to Protima Gauri or Gauri Maa, as she
was affectionately known.
To her dance was a way of life. She stayed with her teacher - Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra where she learnt dance for 12 to 14 hours a day and faced a lot of hardship as a beginner. She was an extremely dedicated student filled with a passion to excel in her pursuit of learning. She felt that her working so hard did her mind and spirit a lot of good.
She set up Nrityagram to encourage dance .To perfect her dance, she started studying abhinaya from Guru Kalanidhi Narayan of Madras. From then on, she started giving performances all over the country. Around the same time, Protima started her own dance school at Prithvi theatre in Juhu, Mumbai. It later became the Odissi Dance Centre. After her separation from Kabir, she was looking for an anchor and she found it in her dance.
Protima wanted Nrityagram, situated on the outskirts of Bangalore, to be India's first dance village for all classical dances. There would be seven gurukuls for the seven classical dance styles. She wanted to revive the guru-shishya parampara in the right kind of environment. Nrityagram was inaugurated on May 11, 1990, by the then Prime Minister, V.P. Singh. The dance school has a small community of students from all parts of India, but with a common aim - dance.
Nrityagram, created as a model dance village, was constructed by master architect, Charles Correa. It had even won the 'best rural architecture' award in 1991. To raise funds to run Nrityagram, a tourist resort Kuteeram was built in 1992. Nrityagram is also the venue of the annual dance festival Vasantahabba, which was first started in 1994, and is now a huge success.
It was during her wild modelling days that she met Kabir Bedi. Within a few months of their meeting, she walked out of her parents' house to live with him. They got married in 1969 and had two children - Pooja who was known for her sizzling appeal, and a son, Siddharth.
Protima believed in the karmic circle and the eternality of the soul. Protima lived by the principle that to fear death is to fear life itself; it is all part of a karmic cycle. The body may age and eventually perish, but the soul is eternal. She firmly believed that life's experiences could and should make one better, not bitter.
Before she left for her pilgrimage to the Himalayas, she went about things as if she had made up her mind not to return from there. Her death on August 17, 1998, came as a blow to all. She may not be physically present, but her spirit cannot die nor can her memory.