August 11, 2012 | 4 Comments | Betsy Woodman
I’m looking through my dad’s address book. It’s got a worn green leather cover, and is bulging at the seams with stuff he inserted. He obviously copied some items over from an earlier book, but also taped in addresses from torn off corners of envelopes, return address labels, scraps of notebook paper, stickies of every color. Some things, especially notes to himself, he didn’t tape down, so you have to turn the pages carefully or bits of paper flutter out.
One such scrap has the names of two Indian movies and “tell Padmini when we talk.” What he was going to tell her was that he and my mom had watched the movies, which had recently become available on DVD, and in which she had starred.
Padmini (1932-2006) appeared in over 250 Indian movies, in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Hindi. She often portrayed a sassy, independent-minded young woman. In Mera Naam Joker, she even played a woman masquerading as a man street entertainer with a performing dog. (She was fierce in that role.) As a dancer, she was nothing less than divine.
Padmini was the middle sister of the Travancore Sisters, so called because their family came from Travancore, now mostly in modern day Kerala, in South India. When we moved in next door to them in Chennai, Lalitha, the oldest, was twenty-three, Padmini was twenty, and Ragini, the youngest, about fifteen. They were already well established in their film and dance careers.
They quickly added suffixes meaning “older sister” and “older brother” to my parents’ nicknames. My mom became “Poochie-akka” and my dad, “Evie-anna.” My mom, a trained ballet dancer, learned Bharatanatyam dance from their guru and performed once with them. Here she is, on the left, with Padmini, center, and Lalitha, right.
Later, Padmini married and moved with her physician husband, Dr. Ramachandran, to New Jersey, where she founded her own dance school.
Being on the same continent made visits and phone calls between her and my parents a lot easier. One such visit took place about 2001, on a fall day when there was a nip in the New Hampshire air. Padmini considered our neck of the woods unreasonably cold, and we had to find a wool shawl she could wear over her silk sari. She is several months shy of seventy in this photo, and my parents are in their eighties—old friends. Old friends who jotted down things to tell each other “when we talk.”