City Life – The Love Life of Vidya Rao, Thumri Singer


The other woman in her life.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Vidya Rao, thumri singer, actor and part-time editor at Orient Longman, lives with Sufi in a sunny second-floor apartment, not far from Qutub Minar, in Mehrauli, south Delhi.

Like most live-in companions, they have only a few things in common. While both share a dislike for milk, Ms Rao love chocolates and Sufi doesn’t. Ms Rao has read all the seven Harry Potter novels, Sufi hasn’t. Strangely, Ms Rao, the possessive owner of around 2000 books (she never lends them though The Delhi walla flicked a lovely edition of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy from her bookshelf), has never tried to hammer reading habits into Sufi. She thought there was no point since Sufi is a cat.

They first met one monsoon afternoon when Ms Rao was returning from Hazrat Nizamuddin, the 14th century Sufi shrine. Her daughter, Aditi, spotted a kitten lost in the road. They brought her home and named her Sufi. Why Sufi? “You see she was, so to speak, taken from one sufi dargah to the other”, says Ms Rao whose house is walking distance from Sheikh Bakhtyar Kaki’s shrine.

Eight years have passed. Aditi has married and lives in Panchsheel Park while Ms Rao is left with her books, music, and the cat. “She is my feline daughter.”

A tiny bell around Sufi’s neck helps Ms Rao in tracking her movements. As a kitten, Sufi had broken her leg and so has a slight limp. When she feels claustrophobic, she is permitted to prowl in the apartment complex. Always concerned, Ms Rao intently watches for her from the door till she returns.

If not doing riyaz, yoga, meditation, or reiki, you might as well catch Ms Rao chatting with Sufi, who, by the way, is not the only kitten in her life. There are cats painted on her cups, saucers, and also on her tablecloth. There’s even a cat-shaped blackboard stuck on her refrigerator.

Then there are memories of other cats that lived with her at other times. “Meew Tansen was a monster who bit everybody but Puss-Puss was sweet,” Ms Rao recalls.

While Ms Rao prefers vegetarian food, Sufi is a fish lover. Her meals are never complete without rohu. She also has a weakness for chicken. “Sufi is lucky to have you,” I told Ms Rao. “I’m lucky to have her,” she replied.

Hello Sufi

Vidya Rao, The Singer and Her Sufi

Hello Vidya

Happy Beauty

Two for company

Vidya Rao, The Singer and Her Sufi

The Qutub view from Ms Rao’s apartment

Qutb View

Is it Sufi?

Good News?

Such a darling

Such a Darling

Cat on her cup

Vidya Rao, The Singer and Her Sufi

Two lovers

Vidya Rao, The Singer and Her Sufi

Thinking of Sufi?


Is Sufi jealous?

Vidya Rao, The Singer and Her Sufi

Mother-Daughter bonding

Vidya Rao, The Singer and Her Sufi