Life & Style

Everyone loves Prabu, Madurai’s dancing guide

Last Sunday, V S Nagendra Prabu missed his family’s weekly get-together for the first time in two decades. Interviews with the media have kept him busy ever since a Canadian tourist catapulted him to celebrity status. “My family is making fun of me for suddenly becoming so sought-after. Only my mother understands,” he says in between disconnecting umpteen number of calls during a breezy chat with Metroplus in his house at Ellis Nagar.

Everyone knows Prabu now, the city guide who explains the nuances of Indian culture and our intangible heritage through classical dance moves to tourists from abroad. A video of him taking overseas visitors through the history of Thirumalai Nayak Palace with graceful postures of bharatanatyam and kathakali took the internet by storm three weeks of ago.

Everyone loves Prabu, Madurai’s dancing guide

“For years, it has been our family ritual for us siblings — four brothers and two sisters — to have Sunday lunch together with our respective families as we all live nearby. But for the last 20 days, I have not had the time to even speak with my wife and daughters,” says Prabu.

Prabu was getting ready to leave for work that day when a travel agency informed him about his video going viral. “I did not think of it much because I am not on social media,” he says, “Till more people started texting and calling to congratulate me.”

Everyone loves Prabu, Madurai’s dancing guide

From that day till now, Prabhu has given countless demos of his rhythmic steps and movements to TV channels and media persons, his smile not fading even for a moment. But what nobody knows about is his pain. Prabu had a spinal injury four years ago when he was hit by a bull at jallikattu in Avaniapuram.

“I was with four tourists from UK and fortunately, they escaped unhurt. But I was goaded from behind, lifted and thrown metres away,” he recalls. The incident damaged his two lumbar bones, put him under a year’s treatment and eight months of forced bed rest. Few months ago, while lifting a flower pot, he hurt himself in the back again and the pain returned. “But I cannot stop doing what I love to do,” says Prabu.

Everyone loves Prabu, Madurai’s dancing guide

“I have been taking tourists around Madurai and Chettinad for 12 years and going that extra step in explaining things differently with mudras and abhinayas. But it is only now people are acknowledging me as an artiste,”he adds.

The soft-spoken guide with Tamil Nadu Tourism department says he is not a trained dancer; but he knew he had it in him from his childhood. “I could easily break into a jig anywhere to any kind of music. Expressions and communication came naturally to me but both my parents being teachers, were strict about academics,” he says.

He was interested in history and after completing his MPhil in Public Administration from Madurai Kamaraj University, he started working as a history teacher and changed four schools in seven years. “Though I enjoyed teaching, I was more engaged in curating the schools’ annual day programmes and kept shifting to wherever I found a vibrant atmosphere for cultural programmes.”

Everyone loves Prabu, Madurai’s dancing guide

While he was able to partially follow his childhood passion for music and dance, it was not enough. “I had this feeling of being incomplete and briefly shifted to organic farming in my native place Nachikulam near Sholavandan till my brother, who was already an established tourist guide, suggested that I too join the profession,” he says. “And never has there been a day of regret. All that I loved and wanted to do, converge in my job as a guide. I found myself,” he adds.

Prabu says he enjoys his job because it gives him the liberty to tweak tourist packages. “Information about historical sites is available in books and much more easily on the internet now. Therefore, I take my guests on experiential tours and make them happy”, he says and likens his job to a pizza. “The base is providing information to the tourists and everything else that I do are the extra toppings.”

For instance, if he does a banana market trail with his clients, he will dance his way into a posture that resembles a banana tree or flower, give details about usage: from the outer core fibre used as a thread to the white stem juice for good health, the benefits of the fruit, and finally, treat them to a meal on the leaf. If clients have Tiruparankundram Temple on their itinerary, he takes them to see the young priests learning Sanskrit. “Even if it is not included in the schedule and if time permits, I take guests to see the Vilachery doll makers or to the Saurashtrian weavers’ colony to showcase our vibrant arts and crafts,” he says.

Prabu feels that of the 70-odd accredited guides in Madurai, he is the only one who gives tourists a demonstration of his knowledge and skills. And in return he earns respect and love.

As one of the few ‘only English’ language guides, Prabu says he has handled groups as big as 70 tourists at a time. And he cannot forget a Dutch batch that helped him with home remedies when he caught a throat infection in the middle of a ten-day package tour. “And when they learnt that my birthday fell during the tour, they even bought me an air ticket from Kochi to Madurai so that I did not waste time in travelling and could be with my family,” he remembers.

He says he wants to keep pushing himself; but had never imagined that his job would earn him such recognition. “As an artiste, I am now enthused more than ever to perform better and guide tourists in more interesting ways,” he adds. “But I am still pinching myself to make sure all this is not a dream. People recognise me now and want selfies with me,” says Prabu, unable to stop himself from grooving to music.


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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 5:04:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/tourist-guide-nagendra-prabu-gives-his-job-a-whole-new-dimension-by-incorporating-classical-dance-moves-into-his-tours/article29735081.ece

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