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Making a celebration of each festival

Amutha Kannan
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Orphanages, private ‘homes' prepare, organise programmes to entertain inmates

Happy faces: Deepavali celebrations at Saranalayam near Pollachi.
Happy faces: Deepavali celebrations at Saranalayam near Pollachi.

Celebrating festivals with family and friends with a spirit of joy and camaraderie is a given in any society. This Deepavali was also celebrated in the same manner with families, in new attires, exchanging sweets and bursting firecrackers together. But a look beyond the surface revealed that such celebrations were not confined to families alone. Even the less fortunate, who did not belong to families in the conventional sense, celebrated, albeit in a small manner, with mirth and amity.

Parents deserted by children, children deserted by parents, people living with HIV / AIDS, the terminally ill, and the mentally challenged, living in orphanages and private ‘homes' got a chance to celebrate the festival of lights. And the celebrations did not stop with sweets and crackers. It extended to cultural programmes organised and performed by the inmates themselves.

Trend

According to the heads of the homes that house these people, the earlier trend used to be to bring in an orchestra or drama troupe to entertain them. But this has now reduced with the television telecasting latest movies and cinema-based song and dance programmes on festival days. However, the interest in hosting programmes by inmates has not waned.

This Deepavali too saw heightened activity in many homes. Saranalayam near Pollachi, which has four units - Saranalayam Jeevan for those living with HIV / AIDS, Saranalayam Jyothi for the mentally challenged, Saranalayam Preetham for the elderly, and Saranalayam Daya for abandoned children - saw all members come together to celebrate the festival.

N. Vanitha, chairperson of Saranalayam, says that members of all the units are encouraged to participate in the events. However, it is the children who rule the roost. The 150 children of ‘Daya' prepare a host of programmes that they perform for all the other unit members. A special cracker show is organised for the mentally challenged.

“Most of the festivals are celebrated involving our own people. Orchestras or drama troupes are brought in only for a change. Interested inmates are trained to play folk art instruments and perform folk dances. Fancy dress competitions and fashion parades for the elderly are held,” Ms. Vanitha says.

Ratan Vidyaakar, facility manager of ‘Sakthivanam' and ‘Thanjam', the psychiatric units of ‘Udavum Karangal' at Myleripalayam, says that festivals such as Deepavali, Christmas and Pongal are opportunities for the residents to showcase their talent.

“Our social workers train the members, a few who volunteer and some who are selected, for about 15 to 20 days in singing or dancing or acting if it is a play. Most of them are eager to take part and show interest during the practice sessions. They put up the show on the day of the festival for the other inmates. Even occasions such as Independence Day and Republic Day are observed by the inmates. The maximum involvement however is during Pongal,” Mr. Vidyaakar says.

Going one step further, the boys at Don Bosco Anbu Illam prepare many programmes not only to entertain themselves and their peers at the Illam, but also others who could use such entertainment. Their festival celebrations begin a week before the actual day. They visit the Juvenile Observation Home and prison, besides some old age homes and orphanages, on invitation, to perform for the inmates there.

Fr. Santhanam, former Director of the Illam, says that both the boys along with some staff, who are trained in folk art forms, perform songs, dances, and plays at places where they are invited to do so.

“A theme is fixed and the form is decided based on the type of audience. The boys have been involved in this for the last seven to eight years and the response has been very good. It is a form of sharing the celebration with others,” he says.

The effort and time that goes into preparing for the programmes keeps the inmates occupied and also helps them concentrate on something else other than their predicament or ailment.

Experience

The organisers also feel that while such forms of entertainment are cost-effective, they also serve as a learning experience for those involved in it. More than anything else, it ensures that the lack of a family does not deprive them of celebrating a festival.

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