Distinguished, stylish, elegant, courageous, ever-supportive of young people across generations, Rati Bartholomew passed away this morning at the age of 95. Rati taught at Indraprastha College, Delhi University, but her reputation as a theatre person went beyond a single institution; in fact her name was almost synonymous with campus theatre, so intimately connected was she with student theatre work and student Drama Societies. When I joined Delhi University, Rati, along with Frank Thakurdas, came to watch student work, led workshops, helped young people connect with theatre makers beyond the university, and inspired generations of students to make theatre their calling. Rati Bartholomew helped many of us transit from university theatre to the amateur theatre. That was because she was active in many of the theatre groups that were being formed at that time in Delhi. She was one of the earliest members of Yatrik and the vice president of Dishantar – two of the most active theatre groups in Delhi in the 1960s.
Rati is also remembered by generations of students of the National School of Drama (NSD), where she was often invited as examiner by the Director of the School, Ebrahim Alkazi. She looked keenly at the work of the NSD students and, as Ram Gopal Bajaj reminded me earlier today, supported their work and opened up opportunities for them when they stepped out of their studentship. For instance, in 1965 she wrote a review in a publication called Thought, of the first Hindi production of Adya Rangachari’s Suno Janmejaya, directed by Mohan Maharishi and performed in the Studio theatre of NSD, where she talked of the coming of new forms and new languages forged in the hands of a new generation of theatre-makers.
From the late 1970s onwards Rati was active in street theatre; she collaborated and helped shape Theatre Union’s production of Toba Tek Singh that was performed across many cities in India. She travelled to Pakistan and Bangladesh to work with activist groups there, leading workshops and directing productions.
SAHMAT’s campaign against the 1876 Dramatic Performances Act took the shape of the first All India Street Theatre Festival, Chauraha, in September 1989. The catalogue marking that festival carried an important essay by Rati Bartholomew, who was one of the founding members of SAHMAT, ‘On the Dramatic Performances Act: Censorship in Theatre’. This essay catalysed discussions that followed SAHMAT’s remarkable intervention on the issue of censorship and theatre. She also researched the Dramatic Performances Act for Anamika Haksar’s spectacular production on the Act called Raj Darpan, performed with students of NSD in 1994 and then later at NSD Repertory Company.
Rati’s presence in the rehearsal room or in the audience produced a current of energy. My last memory of Rati at a show is of her in the audience at Max Mueller Bhavan on a freezing winter evening seeing Antigone Project, in 2003.
Farewell, Rati! You will be ever remembered for your contribution to the theatre – for passionately channelizing that love to those who had the privilege of knowing you.