It was a cool Saturday in August and grey clouds loomed overhead, threatening to rain any moment. Behind us, in a closed shed, the last Kattaikkuttu artiste was giving finishing touches to his make-up and was set to play the jester opening the show in the next five minutes. The Parai attam performers started circling the park inviting the audience. Interested visitors followed the artistes to the designated performance space. A few minutes later, the two jesters appeared and the show began with a dance and a few jokes. Over 140 people enjoyed the performance at Natesan Park in T. Nagar that day.
Six weeks laterGana music was performed at the Perambur Park. On Saturday last, at My Ladies Garden Park in Periyamet, Monali and Nivedhita Louis rendered the forgotten songs of the past, written by our people under the oppressive British rule. The evening highlighted the way development is perceived. The connection amongall these programmes was evident, the common voice of the Tamil people, our collective history and our unique arts being presented in our own public spaces. These shows were curated keeping in mind the space and that particular area’s history, challenging the relevance of our arts today.
This initiative brings art, music and dance to our doorstep. We’re talking about the Chennai UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) and The Greater Chennai Corporation. The committee consists of persons who head The Music Academy (N. Murali), Kalakshetra Foundation (Revathy Ramachandran), Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (K.N. Ramaswamy) and Sruti magazine (Sukanya). The power behind it is Aanmajothi (Natarajan), the cultural wing of Saraswathi Vidyalaya.
A dozen of these ‘Concerts at the Park’ have already been conducted. The carefully curated shows are presented by fifth or sixth generation artistes. The performances have a way of influencing the audience and evoking a sense of pride and developing a cultural identity. Many attendees commented that they learnt to appreciate an art form that they did not even know existed.
A gentlemen at the K.K. Nagar Sivan Park left the Thol Paavai Koothu Bommalattam show midway to buy a beautiful silk shawl for the artiste. He honoured the artiste at the end and turned emotional with nostalgia. He had watched Bommalattam in his village 30 years ago. The residents of Arumbakkam (Jai Nagar Park) at the end of the Devarattam and Oyilattam show offered Rs. 1,000.
We truly believe this is the most democratic way of presenting the arts today. The context of space is critical when presenting a form, choosing a space that is accessible, approachable and welcoming to people of all backgrounds. I (Prabha Sridevan) learnt about the initiative only when I was invited to read my translation of Thoppil Mohamed Meeran to the accompaniment of a sitar. After that the members of the group Meikalaikoodal staged a short play which spoke of what happens when we cut trees indiscriminately. My reading was about a tree, a Moodaatti maram, and the entire event was under a tree in Independence Day Park.
According to Mr. Murali, while all of them attended the meetings, the real impetus came from Anmajothi’s Natarajan and the Deputy Commissioner Revenue and Finance, Lalitha. When people talk of making arts accessible, this initiative by the State Government deserved the limelight, he said. The initiative, however, could do with some publicity. This initiative is about forms of art which too may vanish unless they receive greater visibility and focus.
By increasing accessibility and by creating the stage for them in public spaces, we instil in people a sense of belonging, commitment and pride for our culture and make arts relevant. Follow UCCN events at www.chennaiuccn.org
Prabha Sridevan is a retired Judge from the Madras High Court and translator. Shreya Nagarajan Singh is an Arts Development Consultant and Fulbright Scholar (Instagram @shreyanagarajansingh).