California-based non-profit runs inclusive concert in Chennai for the Marghazhi season

Marghazhi Matram seeks to provide musicians with disabilities a platform to perform; it is part of an initiative that has on board around 200 musicians from four continents

December 04, 2021 11:17 pm | Updated December 05, 2021 01:36 am IST

Ranjini Kaushik, founder of SciArtsRUs, with Suparna Venkatesh (right), founder of Articulate Ability, at Dakshinamurti Auditorium in Mylapore.

Ranjini Kaushik, founder of SciArtsRUs, with Suparna Venkatesh (right), founder of Articulate Ability, at Dakshinamurti Auditorium in Mylapore.

Ranjini Kaushik has not realised the Frostian ideal of fusing vocation and avocation, but she could not care less. She has let them run on parallel tracks — tracks that cannot intersect except in rare circumstances.

A California-based biochemist, Ranjini engages with visual and performing arts as an enthusiast, admittedly often taking a dilettante interest in ever-growing new aspects of it.

“I have a doctorate in biochemistry and worked for 15 to 20 years in a corporate environment, in a biotech company. I dabble with the arts and do learn music every once in a while,” discloses Ranjini, who grew up at Sundar Nagar in Guindy, and holds a flat in Abhiramapuram, which she and her family return to, particularly during the Marghazhi season.

SciArtsRUS, a non-profit she founded two years ago, before Coronavirus started hogging the headlines, is the closest she has allowed herself to attempt achieving that Frostian ideal. Though the non-profit explores the links between arts and science, it has not boxed itself into that pursuit.

ALSO READ: A step towards inclusivity

She notes that after two decades of working in a 9to5 corporate environment, she now engages in consulting as a bio-chemist; and that her non-profit plonks down on her head the demands of a regular, full-time job.

During the pandemic, as part of the non-profit, she started a project “Artabilities 4 All” to support artistes with disabilities. It rode the digital wave that swept through the home-bound world, and managed to herd around 200 artistes across four continents. The initiative also has able-bodied artistes on board to collaborate with disabled artistes.

It brought the second edition of Marghazhi Matram that hit the high note of inclusivity by featuring disabled artistes in two days of live shows at the Dakshinamurti Auditorium (December 3-4). The performances placed them alongside able-bodied musicians.

Excerpts from an interview with Ranjini Kaushik that took place on the eve of the inclusive concert.

Q: ‘Artabilities 4 All’ being a child of the pandemic, is it essentially an exercise to help differently abled artists get through financial difficulties?

Ranjini: There are two ways to look at it. One is that it is born out of an interest to help them financially also. We pay our artistes a honorarium. But I think it is truly formed to provide them with performance opportunities. If you talk to any disabled artiste, they will tell you opportunities are difficult to come by. If you are differently abled, organisers have to take that much extra trouble, go the extra mile to feature you. If you have to get blind dancers from Bengaluru, they need help: they cannot travel alone. It is not just in India, but you talk to anybody across the board, you would hear of these challenges.

One of the reasons that the opportunities are not as many as they should be is the notion that this is not doable. We want to quash that notion that inclusive performances are harder. All you have to do is plan a little bit in advance and then you will be able to do it and feature inclusive concerts. You need to take care of the little things such as having a bigger stage when blind artistes are performing.

Q: As a non-profit, how does SciArtsRUs sustain itself? Is it earning its keep?

Ranjini: It started off as a passion; and there were some kind donors who have been supporting us. It has now gotten to the point where the Mayor of the City of Thousand Oaks and the Mayor of Simi Valley, which is around where we live, have been totally behind our cause. It is even mirrored in the recognition that we are giving our artistes — not just in India but globally. Mayor Keith L Mashburn has given recognition certificates signed by him, from the city of Simi Valley. He has been impressed with the work, and the artistes and their accomplishments and he feels the artistes who have gone above and beyond are role models and must be recognised. I have brought recognition certificates signed by Mayor Mashburn all the way from California to give the artistes.

The Mayor has been asking us to apply for grants through the city over there. My hope is that we do this sustainably and scale it up. That may mean we are going to have to write grants like this from either the city of Thousand Oaks or Simi Valley or any other organisations that are trying to licence out our programmes like artability for instance. They may be asking us to curate programmes and we could be licensing it out to them.

Q: What is that one thing that is at the very core of artability? How has it grown since it was visualised and went on stream?

Ranjini: When we think of accessibility the first thing that comes to mind is the disabled population; that is one end of it and on the other end are able-bodied artists.

We felt: ‘Let us create a platform for different abled folks within the artistic space and that the disabled and able-bodied would come together eventually through all of our initiatives.’ Also because disabled artists are a marginalised lot, and if we look around, there are not many initiatives exclusively done for them; nor are there any platforms for them. Our initiative grew very fast — 200 artistes in one year globally. There are artistes from Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda in Africa, the United Kingdom, Austria and Canada. The majority are from India. I think we are hoping that globally we can do live events and through conventions together.

Q: How connected are you to Chennai?

Ranjini: I grew up in Chennai, living at Sundar Nagar in Guindy. I went to a school nearby: St. Dominic’s Convent. For high school, I went to Vanavani here on the IIT Campus. From there, I went to Ethiraj College, where I did my bachelors in chemistry, and did my masters in biotechnology at IIT-Bombay. After that, I came to the United States, doing my doctorate at UCLA. After that, I started working for this biotech company. I have been in the US for 24 years.

Now, when we come back to Chennai, we stay at an apartment that we have in Abhiramapuram. My son Rishabh Kaushik learnt Carnatic music: he started to perform although he is just twelve. We come here every year — for the last three years my son has been performing and so we figured that our base should be in the Mylapore music area and we have this apartment in Abhiramapuram.

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