Pratima Gouri Bedi





No matter what, she always managed to stay in the news. Whether it was streaking across Juhu Beach in the nude, embarking on a study of Odissi in her late twenties or setting up Nrityagram, a dance gurukul on the outskirts of Bangalore, Protima Gauri Bedi made headlines wherever she went.

Endowed with a tremendous zest for life, Protima was constantly experimenting with new things, taking risks and living her life to the hilt. Bold and spunky, even if somewhat brazen, she was ready for whatever challenges life threw at her. As Bangalore-based choreographer Prasad Bidappa said, "It's that wonderful spirit of hers that I really like. I'm impressed with her determination to get where she has, the life she led to get Nrityagram going - actually living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere!"

Married to the suave gray-eyed actor Kabir Bedi, Protima was one of Bombay's famous socialites, flitting from one cocktail to another. Once, on her way to a fashion show, she accidentally entered an Odissi performance by Shri Kelucharan Mahapatra. And thus begun her lifelong affair with classical dance. Following her divorce, she set up Nrityagram in 1990, exclusively for the preservation of the seven classical Indian dance styles and two martial arts forms. Following the ancient `guru-shishya- parampara' method of teaching, students and their dance gurus lived together for six years in the Nrityagram community, perfecting their craft, studying Sanskrit, philosophy, mythology, yoga, ayurveda and related sciences and disciplines. Her vision was to create "an idyllic dance village [that] was peopled with idealistic, hardworking, extremely talented and dedicated young dancers"

Many thought her flighty and frivolous, but as painter Yusuf Arakkal said, "It's her flamboyance, her style that has been so often misinterpreted as if she is always doing things for publicity. In the US, she would have been a cultural icon..." Protima and her troupe of dancers toured extensively, giving performances worldwide. However, increasingly deteriorating health forced her to announce her retirement from Nrityagram, and hand over the reins of her dance village to her trusted lieutenant Lynn Fernandes.

Protima had tremendous resilience, facing problems and moving on. Lack of funds at Nrityagram, failing health, even her son Siddharth's tragic suicide did not deter her from living. She kept herself busy, trekking in the Garhwals, learning Sanskrit, raising funds for Nrityagram and spending time with daughter Pooja and granddaughter Aaliya. On August 12, 1998 she left for a 33-day trek to Mansarovar, dreaming of "wandering on a yak around Mount Kailash." Never to return.

Protima Gauri Bedi, Gauirama to her students, will be remembered for many things - her wild exploits, her guts, vibrant spirit and supreme confidence, her contribution to the Indian arts, but above all as someone who believed in the joy of living, and practiced it everyday of her life.