KARNATAKA

These percussionists are right on the beat

In the groove:The drumbeaters have found themselves in the news lately with the civic authority hiring them to embarrass property tax defaulters.— PHOTO: K. GOPINATHAN

In the groove:The drumbeaters have found themselves in the news lately with the civic authority hiring them to embarrass property tax defaulters.— PHOTO: K. GOPINATHAN  

Swaying to the rhythmic beats, Shivaraj looks at Kalyan Kumar. With just that one look, the beat changes into an up-tempo one. Their camaraderie is infectious. Two others — Satish and Antony — quickly follow suit. No words are exchanged... just glances and the four drummers just play on, clearly enjoying themselves.

Drummers like Mr. Shivaraj and his team, most of whom are in their 20s and expert tamate drummers, are now very much in demand. They are being employed, albeit just for a few hours, by the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to recover the pending dues from defaulters.

Dropout

Mr. Shivaraj, a resident of Vasanthnagar, dropped out of school to do odd-jobs. Along the way he taught himself to beat the local drum with the most onomatopoeic name. From something he picked up to amuse himself, the business of beating the tamate has now become a supplementary source of income for him.

Thanks the BBMP’s recourse to hiring tamate beaters to perform before the properties of tax defaulters, these drummers find themselves photographed and reported about. When tasked to go for it in front of shops, malls, hotels and tech parks, the tamate beaters’ vigorous performance, accompanied by banners proclaiming the defaulter’s name and the money owned, attract much mirth and curiosity. Quite often the defaulters cough up at least part of the money owed though there have been instances where they haven’t yielded an inch.

Mr. Shivaraj’s day job is as a painter and construction labourer.

“It is not often that my team and I are hired to beat the drums. It is only now that the BBMP is hiring us. We get Rs. 300 each for a few hours of drumbeating,” he said. Otherwise, the busy season is during the Ganesha and Gowri festival. However, as Benjamin Franklin pointed out, the only things certain in life are death and taxes. And so these young men figure during the last journey too. “We are also hired when there is a death when we play in front of funeral processions.”

Mr. Antony said most drummers usually support themselves with other jobs. “There are hundreds of drummers like us across the city. Often, we work under a contractor who finds us jobs.”

Clearly it’s not just the money. Mr. Shivaraj feels happy when he drums with his friends. “We forget everything while beating on the drums. We don’t even have to look at each other and signal to change the beat: it comes instinctively. It is important that our fellow drummers also find themselves in the groove.”

Ah, chemistry!

CHITRA V. RAMANI

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