Raji Ilangovan, secretary of Nairobi Tamil Association, who was in the city recently, says creating a Tamil oasis in Kenya combines the best of both worlds
Two minutes into the interview, it is beginning to get clear why Raji Ilangovan’s ever-widening circle of friends in Kenya won’t dream of electing anyone else secretary of Nairobi Tamil Association. It may be because she credits the success of the multi-tasking Sangam to a volunteer roster or, more likely, her simple beguiling charm.
“The Tamil Sangam fills our need to speak and sing in Tamil, teach it to our kids. Here we learn Bharatanatyam, celebrate Deepavali and Pongal,” she smiles. “It is also the direct call-office for those in need of help.” She narrates how in 1998, when her husband was secretary, the Sangam tracked down a fraud who had brought three Tamils to Kenya with promises of jobs only to abandon them. She hosted the men in her house for the six months it took to make other arrangements. “You can call us for help with a vehicle break-down,” she says, adding how after the recent mall tragedy, the association stood by the Tamil victim’s family through difficult times. “Help came from everywhere,” she says. “From the Bihari Association, which we didn’t know existed.” She grew up watching her father Shanmuga Thevar doing his bit to help people in Yangon, Myanmar, and in her businessman husband, she found a kindred soul. He co-founded the Sangam, serving as secretary and chairman. “I have been involved from day one — July 2, 1995,” she says. In 2003, she formed an all-woman committee, and took over as secretary.
Since then the Sangam has been extra busy. Seventh Channel shot Neengal Kettavai with Kenya-Tamil residents for DD Podhigai, singer Unnikrishnan came for a concert, Solomon Pappaiya landed to moderate a pattimandram, Sun TV made Sollunganne Sollunga — a programme broadcast in four parts.
Over 300 families
“The Tamil association was started to bring together the Tamil society of Nairobi, and being in a foreign country, we can handle situations better as an association than otherwise.” Committee members — Raji included — call, visit to bring Tamils into the fold. “Our primary source is e-mail.” It is with pride she watches 350 to 450 attendees enjoy themselves at the Sangam get-togethers. “There are 350 to 400 Tamil families comprising engineers, chartered accountants, bank officials, horticultural experts, businessmen, IT professionals…,” she says.
“The focus is making sure our children and those after them do not forget Tamil culture and heritage,” she is emphatic. Tamil cultural programmes spread through the year, sports day and the annual South Indian Cricket Tournament are never missed, an 800-book library located in committee member Chitra Seshadri’s house encourages people to read Tamil scriptures. “We also carry out events for charity, organise free medical camps.” As example, she refers to how the community collected funds for tsunami victims and sent it through the Indian High Commission. “Many people have stood by us in our work,” she says, listing their names.
She insists she is like everyone else. “I love shopping, enjoy reading Tamil novels. My all-time favourite is Ponniyin Selvan. My favourite authors are Kalki and Sujatha.” She lights up talking of her children. “arangetram Because they are mature and responsible, I’m able to spend time for the association.” She makes a telling statement: “Here husbands are proud of the wives’ achievements and back them to the hilt when they do public service.”
To her, creating a Tamil oasis in Kenya is combining the best of both worlds. She can’t think of a better place to live in. Kenya brims with natural beauty, she saysth wonders of the world gives one great peace, helps unwind after the busy city life – words that could go into any brochure. “Watching sunrise over the plains of Mara is a magical experience,” she avers. The people of Kenya are another reason to live here, they are “the friendliest in the world!” Nairobi has year-round even climate (12-13 degree C to 25-28 degree C); there’s hardly any traffic congestion, no noise. The air is free of pollution as the population “is under control”. You get 100 per cent natural fruits / veggies. “Kenya is a country easy to fall in love with.”