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A life devoted to art

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CREATIVE: Folk artiste R. Mohan (right) teaching `Poikal Kuthirai Aattam' to his students. Photo: G. Moorthy
CREATIVE: Folk artiste R. Mohan (right) teaching `Poikal Kuthirai Aattam' to his students. Photo: G. Moorthy

T. Saravanan

Poverty does not deter this person

MADURAI: Art has no boundaries, it defies confinement of any sort, asserts R. Mohan, an expert in the folk art `Poikal Kuthirai Aattam' (dummy horse dance), whose prime objective is to spread the knowledge he has acquired over 34 years.

His love for this art was not inborn but an accident. He ran away from his family unable to digest the treatment meted out to him by his stepmother. He reached Chennai, but life became bitter for him. What more can you expect for an eight-year-old boy, all alone in a metropolitan city?

He was picked up by director Vincent from a restaurant. Born in the family of `Isai Vellalar' community, he had music in his blood. His grandfather, Subbiah Pillai, was a `tavil' vidwan. Hence, he was interested in the film industry. He joined a film production unit as a labourer in set designing department.

Spotting his penchant for the `Kol Kal Aattam' (false-leg dance), K.T. Perumal, a popular folk dance master those days, expressed willingness to teach him.

It proved to be a turning point in his life, as he learnt all the nuances of the art in much shorter period. After eight years of study he returned to his hometown, but he was better known as `Madras Mohan'. He performed with other troupes.

His approach to the dance form was totally different from others in the troupe. Soon he excelled and introduced new movements in the dummy horse dance and was widely known for this art form. He was awarded with `Kalainanmani' for his contribution to folk arts.

"It was a credit for the hard work I have put it in. But I never stopped with it. I wish to achieve more and would like to spread my knowledge in this subject. At present, I have more than 100 students, including 50 girls," said 54-year-old Mr. Mohan.

He is an illiterate but has a strong desire to learn. He has fond memories of the performances at the folk art festival in Puducherry and at the Republic Day function in New Delhi. He has put up more than 1,000 performances.

His patriotism is so strong that he even declined an offer to teach folk arts to the students in Germany.

Though his achievement in the dance field is exemplary, he still reels under poverty. Living under abject penury, he still thinks what best he can do for the art. Already, he has introduced a novelty in the false-leg dance by increasing the length of the sticks to six feet.

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