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by Sapna Rangaswamy, Baroda
May 12, 2002

I had gone to see Amma when Ahmedabad was burning. It was the first week of May. I had already heard that Mallika didi was fighting for the cause of women who had been raped during the communal riots that had torn the city asunder. Women from both religions - Hindu and Muslim!! Shabana Azmi, Deepti Naval and Nafisa Ali were out with her, rendering solid support in a rally that Sonia Gandhi had led in the city.

I was shocked to see so many security men at the gate of Darpana - where everybody used to be allowed to walk in at any time. From the gate to Amma's library, I was accompanied this time by a security guard.

I met her after almost two years. Meeting her and talking to her was almost like reliving one's childhood and the carefree days associated with those times, a time when one was not worried about the big bad world.
Amma was very worried about the current situation in Gujarat particularly Ahmedabad.
“See these girls… Mallika, Nafisa (Ali), Deepti (Naval), and Shabana (Azmi). They are fighting for those women who were raped during the riots. They are fighting for justice towards these women with no support. .. I don't know who is going to save these innocent people from the power hungry people. When Indira was in power she used to listen to me at least. Many times she tried her best to help. But Vajpayee has let us down…….”

The Sabarmati river is almost dry now.
She said, “It will dry up. Where are the trees? I am trying so hard to grow some flowers in my garden here but they refuse to grow. Do you know there are now only 10,000 trees left in Ahmedabad ? I am the only one fighting for their protection. Whenever we at Darpana have tried to do something, people have criticized us. Hundreds of people came to stop us. So now I have decided to go it alone and do some good work on my own. Very quietly. And as long as it is possible. People do not appreciate any good work done by you.”

The different projects at Darpana?
“Now Mallika is totally involved with her social work. She has taken up a 'Vidya' project where women come from financially and socially backward parts of Ahmedabad. She is teaching them here at Darpana. Those who cannot come here…well we have got a van from a friend…I think he is British…. This van has a screen that opens up and there is audio-visual teaching which is more interesting.”

“How old are you now, Amma?”
“I will be completing 80 soon”.

“Do you still dance?”
“Yes, I do. When asked to dance.”

“Amma, whenever I look at you and look at the energy you generate, I think I am just a new-born..”
“Yes, when you have something to do, you never grow old. There is always something to be done.”

And your lovely grandchildren?
“Revanta is a born dancer. Anahita is forced to dance. Maybe she is too young, yet. But, Revanta, well he is amazing.”

Your read a lot. How do you relax?
“ I do my reading at night. I like to read all kinds of books. I enjoy thrillers most. Right now I am reading a book by Osho and, yes, I have got 'Star from the East' by Reynold Vernon…”

That is Amma for you. So energetic and so positive. Talking to her is like breathing pure oxygen.