Sunil Janah: Indrani Rahman
Born in Chennai, Indrani Rahman was instilled with a sense of independence by her mother, a dancer from Petosky, Michigan who had changed her name from Esther Sherman to Ragini Devi when she’d married Ramalal Balram Bajpai and converted to Hinduism. Bajpai was a scientist and activist for Indian independence from British colonial rule.
Beginning in her mother’s dance company at the age of five, Rahman went on to master many styles of classical Indian dance, including Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi, Mohini Attam, Kathakali, and Orissi. She was the first professional dancer to perform Orissi on stage.
In 1952, Rahman became the first Miss India and competed in the Miss Universe Pageant in California. As a dancer, she toured the world and was seen as a cultural ambassador for her country. She performed for John F. Kennedy, Haile Selassie, Queen Elizabeth II, Mao Zedong, Nikita Khrushchev, and Fidel Castro, among others.
She spent the last two decades of her life in the US after joining the Juilliard School faculty in 1976. Rahman died in 1999.
(I took a guess on the date of the photo based on the fact that production on the Douglas DC-6—and the DC-7; I can’t really tell which the model is in the photo—stopped in 1958; Rahman was born in 1930 and was touring in Europe in the 1950’s.)