My first brush with Triveni (Kala Sangam) must have been in the late 70s or perhaps the early 80s — my maternal uncle had put up an exhibition of his batik works at Shridharani Gallery. A couple of visits happened thereafter during my college days with friends but only to grab a bite at Triveni’s Terrace Café (then called Triveni Canteen) which is as famous today as it was back then. Then there was a long, actually decades-long, gap — I got a chance to be there this September to cover an exhibition. After a quick chat with the artist, I let myself soak in nostalgia. I went around, only to find that though there had been lots of cosmetic changes, the character of one of the most happening destinations for art-lovers in the heart of New Delhi hasn’t changed a bit.
The sound of chitter-chatter at the café minus the smoke, thanks to the smoking ban at public places, which once filled the air, was there. The sound of music that emanated from the rooms on the first floor, representative of the dance classes being in progress, existed also as before; so was the silence that made its presence felt, from the art classes in the new block that is.
What made Triveni what it is today? I went around looking for someone who could feed me on this and imagine who I bumped into? Triveni herself… Now, that’s what I call luck… I’ll let Triveni now take you through the journey of her life.
Over to Triveni:
“Let us go back to the beginning. That is the year 1950. The idea about my existence was the brainchild of the former student of Pt Uday Shankar, Sundari K Shridharani, who wanted to provide a platform for creative artistic expression with an emphasis on promoting classical forms of dance, music and also painting and other arts. She had just moved to the National Capital after her marriage with noted poet-playwright-journalist-freedom fighter Krishnalal Shridharani.
Famous flautist Pt Vijay Raghav Rao christened me Triveni Kala Sangam (confluence of arts) and I feel honoured about this. My first home was a room above a coffee shop in Connaught Place which was rented with a donation of Rs 100 and started with two students under artist KS Kulkarni. But Sundari kept her efforts on with full zeal and enthusiasm which prompted the then Prime Minister Pt Nehru allotting her a piece of land to construct a building for me.
The construction started in 1957. Unfortunately, Sundari lost her husband while my home was under construction but her determination did not fail her from completing her vision. She was ably supported by her friend, Vidyaben Shah. Finally, in 1963, Dr S Radhakrishnan, the then President of India, inaugurated my new home which was designed by renowned American architect Joseph Allen Stein. Little wonder then that this house (for me), an institution for most, is famous for its unique and brilliant architecture, consisting of art galleries, classrooms, an auditorium, an open-air theatre, a cafeteria and a lecture hall.
Over the years, my endeavour has been to make art and culture more accessible to and inclusive to everyone. My educational and training initiatives aim at spreading cultural literacy among people across all age groups and social classes. Have you had a look at my art department? Come, I’ll take you there.
Designed for artists who are looking to develop an individual style or a beginner wanting to explore and practice drawing, painting, sculptures, photography, glassworks and mix media or children who want to have fun with colours along with basic ideas about art or experienced artists aiming to further their art in a beautiful atmosphere, my painting department operates under the overall guidance of renowned artist Rameshwar Broota. Look, he’s there, guiding one of his students.
Brootaji has been with me as the head of the arts department since 1967. Ask him about his more than five decades’ association with me — though he has never complained, I think he has a few. “Life has been very satisfying with Triveni. She has been very cooperative all these years and has let Rameshwar Broota be himself. In fact, to be honest, I was so much attached to her that I moved in here with my wife to be with her always,” shares Brootaji.
The artist adds that I have spread so much love and welcomed each and every one over the years that people keep coming back. “Just the other day, I was walking out of one of the galleries and an old couple, probably in their mid-80s, were walking in front of me and I overheard them talking, ‘Here we are to celebrate our golden jubilee anniversary at the place we first met,’ as they slowly headed towards the café. Such has been her charm and love which never ceases to exist.”
We took leave from Brootaji and headed towards the dance section where Triveni introduced me to Jayalakshmi Eshwarji. Internationally acclaimed Bharatanatyam exponent, Jayalakshmiji heads the dace form’s department here and has been associated with me for over three decades. Listen to what she has to say about my founder. ‘Mrs Shridharani was a connoisseur of fine arts with a meticulous eye for perfection and a sense of aesthetic in whatever she did. Her untiring efforts combined with her dedication and determination saw her develop into a self-supporting non-profit registered society. What never fails a visitor’s notice is her aesthetic ambience which has resulted in it blossoming into one of the Capital’s prestigious multicultural centres,’ she shares with pride. Other dance forms are taught here too.
As Triveni and I were alighting the stairs from the first floor where the Bharatanatyam and other dance classes are held, I asked her if there was more as I had to head back and file my story.
“There is lots but I’ll quickly tell you about them all. There is an auditorium and a lecture room in my name. Then there is the Art Heritage Gallery and Prakriti, a tropical boutique. These all have stories behind them so come back when you have some time and I’ll be too happy to share them with you,” Triveni signed off. I got out of the complex, planning my schedule to know more about Triveni on my next visit.