Mission Delhi – Vidya Rao, Lodhi Gardens
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The city is losing a beat of its music. Delhi-based thumri singer Vidya Rao will no longer be based in Delhi, where she has lived for 41 years as a performing artist, a publishing house editor, an author and as a single parent. On Friday morning she is flying back to Hyderabad, to live in the city where she spent her early years.
“I’m not going back,” Ms Rao politely interjects, explaining that “back implies a place that is home, but Delhi has been my home… I will now have to make a home out of Hyderabad.”
This evening, walking in her beloved Lodhi Gardens, Ms Rao confesses “it is not easy to say goodbye to this city where I have done all my work. But I have decided to be closer to family as I grow older.”
Ms Rao talks of her intense attachment to places in Delhi, such as Lodhi Gardens. She vividly remembers the afternoon, many years ago, when she entered the park for a moment of quiet. Today, the singer searches for the bench, or perhaps it was just the rock wall skirting the rose garden where she had sat. “I had then recently arrived in Delhi; I was alone, and often quite confused and a bit frightened even.” She slowly walks towards that jagged wall where “I had rested a while and given way to tears. The fragrance of the flowers, the calm expanses of the garden, and indeed the flood of tears all helped me regain my balance and courage to pick myself up and move on with life.”
Ms Rao looks around concentratedly as if trying to absorb all the sights. Some distance away a bougainvillaea tree is in bloom; the ground under it is littered with fallen leaves. Every inch of Lodhi Gardens holds memories for her. “The tree that my daughter (actor Aditi Rao Hydari) used to climb when she was small. The park bench on which I had smiled to see an elderly couple sharing a cone of peanuts. The huge gnarled semal tree which I have always called Grandmother Tree. The grassy expanse near Bara Gumbad where I joined a Tai Chi class.”
Ms Rao settles down on a bench. Her silent reverie is broken by two young students, surprised by the sighting of their beloved singer. Minutes later, she heads to her longtime apartment in Mehrauli, which shall soon cease to be her home.
[This is the 479th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
To other shores, other cities