Back on December 22, our visit to the Yatra Arts Foundation began with beautiful kolams as we entered.
We watched Yatra Srinivassan’s short film “Maattram” about the dangers of illness and environmental damage from garbage, and heard about other programs that Yatra runs including after school tuition for children to get help with homework. On weekends, children can learn in many arts programs including painting, classical or folk dance, and the Saraswati veena. Four girls gave us a fantastic demonstration of both classical and folk dance. One girl was professional enough to dive off stage to have her skirt fixed and then jumped right back into the dance!
After finishing our scheduled visits for the day, we were invited to visit a village that night to see a street theater performance by Yatra’s company of very talented actors.
Finding the village was a challenge in itself, and our taxi had to stop briefly for directions. But once we were off the main road you could hear the theater. In a quiet countryside, the loudspeakers carried the Yatra Theatre Team’s amplified performance further than I would have expected. But once we turned the last
corner, we found them right away. The lights lighting their stage were simple shop lights. The sound system was an electric drum and effects set, three wired microphones, two speakers, and an amplifier. Their backdrop and backstage was the van they had arrived in, draped with their theatre’s name. It was a simple set up, but very effective – especially if the cheers and responses from the village children were anything to go by.
There were musical performances, including dances by some village children, and Yatra helped them discover some dance moves if they were struggling. Some of the women standing with me saw me kind of bobbing along with the children dancing and tried to get me to dance a little more. I did for a little bit, and they laughed. It was interesting to see the women laugh so freely when they had been so reserved when we first arrived. There was an adorable baby girl who played peek-a-boo with me and my pashmina while her mother watched the show.
Then came the all Tamil, no subtitled, live version of Maatram. This time, instead of garbage being the culprit it was dirty water. Once the cricketer son appeared on stage and said, “Hi daddy!” and “I have strong body,” the english ended. The kids were laughing and hopefully learning along with their parents and other villagers who wandered into the performance.
This short clip, in Tamil with some muttered english translation that is not really necessary to understand, shows the good bacteria in the water and the bad bacteria. Listen for how the children react.
As we were leaving, the taxi driver told us we had just left a Dalit village. As I spend the next few weeks here, I am looking forward to learning more about this caste divide and to see how what I saw in that village compares with what I learn.
See Yatra’s short films here : http://www.yatramultimedia.org/videos/
Learn more about Yatra Arts here : http://yatraarts.org/
By Felicity Foster