Vrindavan, 2015.11.01 (Padmashri Geeta Chandran, Indian Express) It was about twenty years ago that I began visiting Vrindavan often to have a dialogue with Shrivatsa Goswami at the Caitanya Prema Samsthana, the foundation that he runs from the place that is celebrated in Indian mythology as the playground of Lord Krishna.
It was there that I met Robyn Beeche, an Australian citizen, who had made Vrindavan her home and whose energies were fully invested in making Vrindavan a better place. I soon recognised her as an incredible human dynamo who could not be blunted even when the temperatures in Uttar Pradesh crossed 45 degrees celsius.
The NGO she worked for, Friends of Vrindavan, did amazing things for that town. Garbage disposal and solid waste management were at the heart of Robyn’s efforts. She was so excited when a series of ramps were constructed in the parikrama path (the pedestrian route around Vrindavan that linked all the sacred sites of Vaishnavism in that town); wheelbarrows full of waste and garbage could easily ride up those ramps and the garbage just dumped onto a waiting truck with a simple tilt. No messy hand labour required to dispose garbage. A simple tool but with a technique that assured human dignity. That would remain Robyn’s leitmotif for life.
Another fabulous experiment she motivated was the cleaning of plastic waste from the dying Yamuna river. The plastic bags and the pan supari wrappers gleaned from the river were used by women basket makers who wound their grass with this recycled plastic. The baskets were tied together with string made from cement bags that she would have unwound. The gorgeous baskets were the talk of the town with eager markets in Delhi, Mumbai, London and Paris. A simple twist to a local craft bathed with sustainability made Robyn a heroine to the simple folk whose lives she touched.
She was an ace photographer, and every shade and inflection of Radha Raman Temple was meticulously documented over three decades. She offered to photograph me for a calendar; and the project we developed of using dance imagery to showcase the five elements was a wonderful example of artistic collaboration that she was so good at. Only recently, she collaborated with painter Anjolie Ela Menon in creating a series of collaborative portraits that will soon welcome travellers at Mumbai’s artistic international airport.
Robyn was immersed in Indian culture. Her knowledge of the crafts of Uttar Pradesh: sanjhi, music and dance was extraordinary. She knew all the ordinary crafts persons and was always warmly welcomed in their homes.
She would also narrate her early professional life in London as a fashion photographer and an art catalyst. She had worked with Zandra Rhodes and Andrew Logan, and had created a stunning series of visual images where shadows and special effects were painted on to human faces by expert make-up artists. Those legendary prints were shown at museums and art galleries in England and Australia.
This sacred life blessed by Lord Krishna recently passed away with a short bout with cancer, a battle she braved and gently lost. RIP dear friend! We will miss your collaborative spirit and your zest for everything beautiful and the aesthetic.
A celebrated artist and a star-performer, GeetaChandran is synonymous with the Indian classical dance: Bharatanatyam. She frequently performs for Radharaman jiu (VT article with pictures). She is Artistic Director of the NatyaVriksha Dance Company, known for the high aesthetic quality of its group presentations.