Remembering a Renaissance man

Anil Dharker’s passing leaves an aching void in the intellectual and cultural life of India. Chairman Khushroo N. Suntook reflects on his cherished association with a dear friend, erudite writer and great supporter of the arts.

If you ever imagined an Indian, particularly one representing the country in an elegant manner with distinctive sartorial presentation, an impeccable accent and command of language, I am sure your thoughts would turn to Anil Dharker. I have known Anil for a very long time, but it was only casually at first. I saw him regularly at Indian and Western classical music, jazz, dance and theatre productions at the NCPA and elsewhere, at social functions and at dinner and cocktail parties at his home where he was always a generous host. He was the epitome of a Renaissance man, well read, with a deep knowledge of a wide variety of subjects on which he could speak authoritatively. What really impressed you was the depth of his sense of values as well as erudite interpretation of today’s political and social scene. His philosophy was that life is fleeting and we must seize every moment.

When I joined the NCPA, he would often drop in and we would start with a business conversation which soon drifted to the general arts scene, the lack of support for culture and the unfortunate passing of values from what really matters in life to how much you have in the bank. Here were two minds conversing about two different forms of art, mine connected with music and his connected with great literature. I soon thought that his original thinking deserved a much wider audience than was reached sitting across a desk, and thus we decided that he would participate in writing a column for the ON Stage. He asked whether there was any particular remit or direction for it, in which case he would not be interested, and I said no, but it had to be freewheeling, honest, original and interesting. I must say he did live up to his promise.

Later, when he had the ability to convince the Tata Group to support his wonderful venture, Literature Live!, the NCPA was happy to offer their premises for a considerable amount of time every November. Invariably, he brought persons of great interest and stature from around the world, whose knowledge, eloquence and unique points of view were often controversial but fascinating, and drew in large audiences. Many of his favourite personalities, like Shashi Tharoor, had their detractors but you could never accuse him of ever allowing any irrelevant subject to pass through his curation.

Anil was a part of our Theatre Committee. He was politely observant of what we did and occasionally expressed his opinion with no uncertain vehemence. He was a great lover of classical music and was invariably present at most of our concerts whether it was our own orchestra or visiting artistes. He had a fairly sharp understanding of the interpretation of the music that he heard and surprised me very often with his understanding and depth of knowledge of the musical works.

He was as persevering as one could ever imagine a person can be and often, when it was not possible to offer him our halls for many of his creations, he was extremely forward in stressing his point of view till, at last, we had to succumb. We were happy to collaborate in a manner which I believe was not always to his satisfaction, but it was what I could do for him and in the end, he accepted it.

He was a delightful companion, universally popular among amazingly diverse people. You might meet him in places where you would not expect him to be, yet he was completely at ease with all manner of personalities. His knowledge of the waters of Scotland was fairly profound too.

Unfortunately, people like Anil Dharker do not receive adequate support in India for all their endeavours to promote culture as an important part of every citizen’s life. He was part of something continuous and we cannot let it end with him.

On the day that he was to be operated on, I received an email from him saying that he was extremely nervous, and I now think of that message as a premonition. The news was extremely shocking not only for its untimely nature but because you don’t often come across people like Anil. It was an unmitigated pleasure to have known him. He will be missed.

Rest in peace, Anil.

This piece was originally published by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, in the May 2021 issue of ON Stage – their monthly arts magazine.