My good friends Sekar and Vidhya are quite unusual and have been since the day they were born! Sekar grew up in a middle-class family lawyers and describes himself as the “black sheep” of the family- he loved singing, and started hanging around me and my other American hippie friends in the early l970s, picking up the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and the growing panoply of American and British rock stars. Sekar played with a small-town based Indian band called the Bluebirds back then, and still plays with several of those aging musicians today. Perhaps many of his audience members don’t fully grasp the lyrics and meanings of this counter-culture music, but he is very popular among his fans. Sekar is also mentoring a younger band of Indian fellows who are learning the rock and roll craft in Madurai, hoping that they can become a successful band as well.
Vidhya is from a proper, upper caste Brahmin family, but also didn’t follow the prescribed path of arranged marriage and family life. She has pursued studies in the US and is an ardent advocate for equality and justice- for women, for lower-caste and poor folks, and for non-traditional education techniques. She formed her own non-profit organization to support American and European scholars, the Chella Meenakshi Center, many of whom come to South India to study its traditional languages, arts, culture, and politics. The University of Wisconsin in particular has hosted American college student programs in Madurai and in North India as well, and both Vidhya and Sekar have spent many years providing training, support and other services to these scholars and visitors.
Sekar and Vidhya have a very independent style of marriage, more independent than most American marriages are. They have two beloved young adult children, whose upbringing and care they have shared. But Sekar travels to play music, and Vidhya is devoted to her causes in Madurai. They share a quiet life together when Sekar is home in a family neighborhood, with a comfortable house, areas for classes and workshops, and an office with a loyal group of women staff members. Vidhya has rented a nearby house as an affordable guest house for visitors. Staff are treated with great respect and care and everyone eats breakfast and lunch together at the facility. This non-hierarchical, democratic atmosphere is unusual in India.
Daughter Rohini is an aspiring writer and teacher of youngsters in Bangalore. Son Arun is studying traditional music at a local college. What a delightful couple and sweet family, living in the rather traditional temple-city of Madurai.