Nancy Grover – the pioneer promoter of classical Indian art in Australia

By Neena Badhwar

Nancy Grover has fond memories of all the classical greats she helped bring and thus foster and nurture Indian classical art in Australia

She sits elegant in a Kashmiri Kaftan, off-white in colour with exquisite red Kashmiri embroidery, her bangles match, and there is this beautiful pin tucked on to its neckline. We are meeting Nancy Grover who is ready to meet you as she greets you with firm hands and a kiss on your cheek, warm, loving as she welcomes you with keen smiling eyes. Nancy Grover, more Indian than us Indians, she has been the supporter, organiser and a great friend of Indian art and culture from the early seventies to mid-nineties. She will turn 94 on February 12 this year. And her little unit in the Emu Plains has shelves full of albums as she has duly journaled the history of Indian classical art events remembering 1973 as the opening of the Sydney Opera House when she helped organise Indian cultural items with artists Krishna and Shakuntala Nair who performed at the opening ceremony. “I was working for this charity ”“ Robin Hood and they contacted me if I could help look after the Nairs who had come from Fiji for the performance.”

Krishna Nair

“Krishna stayed in Sydney for seven months on contract and then had to go back to Fiji. He came back in 1976 when I took him to Albury for a performance. So impressed were the residents and the school where he performed that I asked them to help him in his visa and write letters of support for him.”

“They did by the thousands as I am sure the immigration must have been impressed with the huge response as they granted him PR in 1978.”

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, remembers Nancy, the handsome Sarod player of India

Nancy goes into the past over thirty years back remembering all the names and when you goad her a bit she goes into details, names, places, the help she got from various quarters as she organised many Indian artists from India ”“ namely Amjad Ali Khan, U. Srinivas, Najma, Zakir Hussain, Ustad Asad Ali Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Uma Dogra and many more.”

The proof is her diligent journaling as one goes through her albums, to which she points out at the exact spot in the shelf, says she, “The third one from the left in the bottom shelf.” And that is where exactly you find it, the albums titled by the years from 1930s, she says, when she worked as an air hostess in those days, she was in love with a man, “He married Miss Australia instead of me,” she laughs.

When you ask her about the years of second world war Nancy says she worked and made bandages for Red Cross, “Silly me being curious I accidentally got my finger chopped off.”

She shows you her index finger, “I just remember that I did not feel any pain”¦only just kept on talking a lot.”

Krishna, Shakuntala, Raghavan and Nisha Nair with Nancy

Nancy not only sponsored Raghavan Nair and Shakuntala Nair, she even brought Pundit Ram Chandra Suman, Pundit Ashok Roy and ran Australian Institute of Eastern Music (AIEM) under the Asian Music and Dance Centre of Australia, an organisation that she was running by then.

The Indian cultural scene more or less was looked after by this feisty lady who would fight tooth and nail with anyone who dare come in her way. She would walk in and talk to the director of the Opera House, or the university Dean who she befriended for the sake of organising the artists from India. “One time when I went to Bhartiya Kala Kendra in Delhi they said I was stealing away all their talented artists.”

Raghavan Nair, younger brother of Krishna, then also joined in as he was sponsored by him, as Nisha Nair, his wife says, “Nancy was so dedicated that every time she organised a concert she had to sell her house as she kept on down grading to meet the enormous expenses.”

Nancy only laughs and when you ask her, “Did your family not object to how you were spending your money on these events.”

Young Nancy

“I was single, alone and there was no one to ask me that’s why I could do all what I did. I feel proud to have done what I have done and made some very good friends in the Indian community.”

“Indians are very warm and loving people. I cannot say the same for us Aussies. We are a cold people.”

Nancy Grover, the promoter of Indian art in Australia, at age 94, remembers all the great classical artistes she helped bring down under, as if it only happened yesterday. TIDU salutes you Nancy, a life well lived for the sake of art !  

Pandit Ashok Roy

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