17 January 2008

Folk Arts

"The 20 or so members of Ramu’s troupe have already made their way to the bus that will take them to their performance venue. A shrill announcement on a loudspeaker nearby not so kindly urges him to hurry up. Before he can dig into his lunch, he drops everything, grabs his grand, flowing, bright red costume and hurries on his way.

That’s the life of a travelling folk artist in a nutshell: the needs of your troupe always come ahead of your own, and when the road calls, you have to answer.

Ramu who represents the last generation of a long line of stunt performers from Periyanelaikuzhu in Tiruvannamalai, is currently performing in Chennai. His troupe has travelled all over the country to perform at various events. They had recently been to New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and several towns in Orissa.

The many events his troupe attended last year are a testament to the recent resurgence in patronage for folk art. Folk festivals in cities are becoming more common, and performers attract huge crowds when they perform during temple festivals in villages and towns across the south.

Twenty or thirty years ago, it was much harder for my father and grandfather to get by, but now there are many more opportunities with festivals. Despite growing patronage, many families still want their children to find more stable and settled source of livelihood.

"We love performing, we all do this full time and even make a good living out of it," Ramu says. "But it's a tough life. We spend most of our time on the road, away from home, as we have to go wherever we get the opportunity to perform."

Another factor that keeps the younger generation away is because of better access to education, they can find jobs that offer more security. Both of Ramu’s children are enrolled in local schools, and he believes education is a much better prospect.

"I am proud of the fact that they are both in school," he says. "I did not have that opportunity, so I want them to make a living using their education."

Although a good living wage is available to younger performers, there is no source of income after retirement. Some think that the need is to develop a system in which the Government pays a pension to older, retired folk artists."

[By Ananth Krishnan]

1 comment:

Eileen said...

It is good to hear they get good work nowadays, though I can understand the need for more stability, especially for retirement.