Art

Listen up folks!

Through dance they speak: Nehru Awareness Group Photo:M.Periasamy   | Photo Credit: M.Periasamy

It's business as usual at the vegetable market on Mettupalayam Road. Some men unload pumpkins from a truck, women walk out with wire baskets laden with vegetables, a tea-shop outside does brisk business as a crowd gathers for its just-off-the-pan bondas. A colourful van pulls over, and with a musical clinking of salangai, people hop out. Everyone stops what they're doing. The team arranges six karagams on the ground and faces the crowd. They are members of the ‘Nehru Awareness Group'.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” announces K. Tamilvaanan, the team's organiser, into a mike. “We are here to tell you something important. We will perform karagaattam, oyilaattam, oyil karagam and lavani paattu. But, do listen carefully. Our songs carry precious messages.” Then, they take position, balancing the karagams atop their heads. Tamilvaanan sings a Tamil folk song to the beat of the thavil, and the dancers begin their performance.

The song is pulsating, the dancers agile in their movements. In his dynamic voice, Tamilvaanan conveys a message for pregnant women through the song. “HIV test is a must for pregnant women,” he sings. “This is so that a mother can save her child from HIV if she is infected. Not just women, men should undergo the test as well.”

Quiz time

As motorists park their vehicles by the road and look on, Tamilvaanan asks, “What test should a pregnant woman go through?” at the end of the performance, hinting at a prize for those who get the answer right. After some reluctance, a man comes forward and walks away with the prize. Karagaattam, when performed with slight modifications with a small red cloth in hand, is oyil karagam. The team performs this dance as Tamilvaanan sings on the importance of blood donation. “Anybody aged between 18 and 60 weighing over 45 kg can donate blood,” goes the lyrics. “Watch out for unclean syringes. Apart from unprotected sex, HIV spreads through infected syringes. Hugging, sharing food or wearing the clothes of an HIV positive person will not infect you.”

Next is a lavani paadal, a folk dance in which women performing karagattam are accompanied by male oyilaattam (folk dance using a red cloth as a prop) dancers. This time it is a song on counselling and testing centres (Nambikkai Maiyam). “The centres are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can get your HIV test done there free of cost. The result and your identity will be guarded,” sings Tamilvaanam. He also invites the audience to get their HIV tests done right there in the van. “The result will be given within 10 minutes,” he says. About 25 people walk in, including Saraswathi, a 45-year-old homemaker.

Effective medium

Tamilvaanan and his team look on with satisfaction. “It's a privilege for us to spread awareness on such issues through a medium we love,” he says. The team includes R. Madhan, the director, his wife Rani, S. Mallika, P. Azhagu Jothi, M. Dharmar, V. Sathyamoorthy, Bala Murali, R. Dhiyan Karthik and S. Surya.

While Madhan is a street-theatre artist, Rani has studied nursing. Dharmar and Jothi are farm hands and Karthik is studying fashion technology. Sathyamoorthy is pursuing agricultural business management and Surya is a tavil player. It's love for the folk arts that brings together these people from villages deep within Tamil Nadu. They have travelled across 114 villages in Coimbatore district over the past 38 days, danced bare-feet in dusty village squares, temple mandapams and markets to teach people about HIV as part of an awareness campaign organised by Tamil Nadu District AIDS Control Society (TANSACS) and District AIDS Prevention and Control Unit.

The troupe was selected from over 40 folk dance teams in Coimbatore to perform in the district for the initiative. According to district programme manager Dr. Mohammed Ali, the troupe's performance in Race Course on September 23 will complete the 50-day campaign, which was flagged off on July 28 by District Collector M. Karunakaran.

The performers underwent rigorous training for five days in Trichy for the purpose. “We trained under R. Kaleeswaran, an expert in folk arts,” says Madhan. For the close-knit members of the troupe, each day brings a new experience. “It's in villages that we've had our most attentive audiences,” says Madhan. “For programmes after 6 p.m., people gathered by the hundreds. They sat on the ground with friends and family and watched us perform with eagerness. This was not the case with city folks.”

Nehru Awareness Group has been part of several Government awareness campaigns. “We've helped spread awareness on Vazhndhu kaattuvom thittam, water management, importance of green cover, right to vote and so on,” says Rani. The team will next meet on October 2 for a programme on cancer awareness.


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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 2:26:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/art/listen-up-folks/article2446629.ece

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