By Vanita Shastri
Rekha Chitre was a pioneer, an institution, and an inspiration. She leaves behind a trail of beautiful relationships and a rich tapestry of classical Indian culture in New England.
My first memory of Rekha-ji is from a Kalavati music program in Paine Hall at Harvard University in the early 1990s. We had gone there with much excitement, having left our young children with friends. The program had not yet started and the crowds were still coming in. We were standing in the lobby when a concerned Rekha-ji came and recruited my husband, Shekhar, to serve the artists. Of course, Shekhar was happy to oblige – a conversation started and the two of them, both aficionados of classical music, hit it off! Thus began our lovely friendship with Rekha-ji.
In the early 1990’s, before the era of email and internet, the Kalavati flyer was the medium through which we received information about upcoming cultural programs and performing artists visiting the Boston area. To be connected to the umbilical cord of Indian classical music in New England, you had to be on the mailing list of Rekha Chitre! I remember calling her once to make sure she added our address to her list. Those purple and blue tri-folds are etched in my memory and I am sure I have some saved in our basement.
When in 2001 we started the Meru Education Foundation, a nonprofit to promote Indian arts and culture, she became an instant supporter of our efforts. By then, she had stopped hosting Kalavati music programs, and told me that she saw in me her successor of sorts, and attended all Meru programs. She was a great Sai devotee; once she called me over to Shikha Kapoor’s Lexington Sai temple, and blessed me to continue and take Meru’s cultural work forward. She presented me with Sai Baba’s prasad, a sari and flowers. She saw me as her little sister and I was so blessed to have her guidance in our work.
She religiously came to the Sai temple every Thursday and brought flowers for offering. I would often meet her there. One day she said, “you know, I don’t know what color dress Shikha will put on Baba, but the flowers I bring each week somehow match Baba’s outfits.” Such was her intense intention and devotion.
Many years back, she came over with a large stack of books; these were all music and literature books in Hindi, Sanskrit and Marathi from India. She told Shekhar that she had brought these for him as no one but he would value them.
She was an admirable representative of Indian culture, and valued it immensely. She was a big proponent of teaching Indian culture to the next generation and was so happy to see her grandchildren learn about their heritage and dress in Indian clothes. She would share these moments on social media for all of us.
She was always so beautifully dressed and had a great sense of the aesthetic. Always present at the Learnquest music festival and would sit in the front row each day, to support the community effort. An attentive listener, she had to breath in the music, to soak it all in, in her unimpeded enjoyment of classical Hindustani music. She was truly a cultured human being, full of grace, always pleasant and smiling to all. Thank you Rekha ji for being part of our lives and for these memories that are etched in my being. We will miss you.
Here is a tribute by Shekhar:
रेखा चित्रे के लिए
रेखा, इतनी दूर चली गई तुम –
याद है वो दिन?
जब गीतों की पुस्तकमाला ले कर आई थी,
रागों और गीतों कि जैसे बहार आ गई थी।
लेकिन, वो तब की बात थी-
जब कभी उन पुस्तकों के पन्ने पलटता हूँ
स्पष्ट लिखा हुआ, दिखता है, तुम्हारा नाम – रेखा चिटनीस
तुम्हारी संगीत साधना के श्रम बिन्दु
हस्तलिखित टिप्पणियाँ अभी भी सुरक्षित हैं।
जन मानस के हृदय में –
कलावती के प्रांगण से निकला आलाप अभी भी जारी है
स्वरों से संचित वो मार्ग, तुम्हारे प्रेम का सूत्र अभी भी जारी है।
कृपा और आस्था का क्रम हमने भी हृदयंगम कर लिया।
आज स्मरण से पुनः स्मित-मुखी रेखा चित्रित हो गई
उसी मधुर मनोहर स्मृति को श्रद्धा के यह सुमन अर्पित हैं।
(Vanita Shastri is the founder-director of Meru Education Foundation, based in Lexington, MA. She is the Dean of Global Education & Strategic Programs at Ashoka University, India.)