Walking with Rama

Medhavi Gandhi

DSC_0013

“Sriram, I am here.”

It took me a while to figure out Medhavi’s office. After some initial reluctance I called her to help me with directions.

“Hey there,” I said after noticing a petite girl waving at me from a distance. She led me to her desk alongside a longish glass window with a gorgeous view of the lush vegetation outside.

Medhavi Gandhi, is the founder of Happy Hands Foundation based in Delhi. Her organisation trains youth in traditional craft forms like Dhokra metal sculptures from Jharkhand, Cheriyal scroll paintings from Telengana, Bidri craft from Andhra, Jadupatua paintings from Bengal under the guidance of master craftsmen. After training, these young people make use of the craft works and paintings to tell stories about heritage to school students.

“Traditional art works speak of stories, customs and rituals from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and folk lore. Our children are hardly exposed to any of these stories or these beautiful art forms,” she said.

I was impressed already.

She continued, “we also train artisans to create newer designs, improve their marketing skills and find new customers.”

Before I proceeded, a little rat paid a visit, probably curious to know about her work like me. But the hairy visitor’s sudden arrival got one of her colleagues riled up.

“We are now very excited about our new school programme on the Vijayanagara dynasty where we would get children to learn history through art, craft and puppets,” she said with the excitement of a little girl.

“I would love to start a travelling museum that would travel to our schools to teach children our heritage. Perhaps even an institute where people of all ages can learn these art forms.”

“How do you stay motivated in this lone race?” I ask.

“When I see a handmade craft, I see simplicity, I see grace, a story waiting to be told, an art dying to be promoted and I know there is a large audience waiting to hear these stories,” she replied confidently.

Standard
Stories from far and near

No strings attached

Image

“You are really stupid and have no culture”, Rani Kunjamma was furious. Raja Kodachayan was wringing his hands with a very troubled face. He knew his wife had a bad temper, but today, she had hit the roof. Raja’s ancestors once controlled over 1000 villages and administered under the Tanjore Nayaks. The rule had crumbled after Raja Kodachayan took over. After 50 years of rule, rather misrule, he controlled less than 18 villages. He was short, stout and with a big paunch. He had absolutely no interest in governance or even the vices of kings. He loved to eat, sleep and play kabbadi with the stable boys. It was Rani Kunjamma who was holding the fort, last couple of years.

Earlier, Rani had invited some pundits, poets and musicians to be state guests for the Tamil New Year celebrations. She believed that their chants, music and poetry would change the kingdom’s misfortunes. However our Raja had other plans. He along with little boys tied chameleons to their kudumi (tuft of hair) while they were sleeping. The learned men were so frightened and angry after the incident that they vowed, never to return to their land.

Raja, his eccentricities aside, still loved and respected his wife immensely; but, he had to find a way to win her trust and make her believe that he was cultured and artsy. He summoned his minister for counsel. “Let us call a famous musician to perform at the sabha, and you would enjoy his music, comment wisely and award him gifts. Rani would then realize that you’ve become cultured”, he ended it with a wicked smile. “I do not know anything about music?” Raja intervened.

“I have a plan. I will find a learned music critic, who would sit behind your throne. A string would be attached to your ‘kudumi’. He would pull the string every time the singer needs to be appreciated. And that’s your cue”. Raja knew that this was a devious plan, but he was used to being puppet.

On the day of the concert, the sabha hall was decorated with flowers, lamps and designer curtains, specially organized by the minister from faraway lands. Rani has always been a champion of the arts, so she hid her differences and agreed to attend. She had also invited her friends from other kingdoms. “I am hoping, you and your king are not playing some funny tricks?” Minister shook his head sideways, while his eyes slowly wandered behind the throne.

The singer was a very famous person and had a large fan following. He brought with him a large entourage of musicians. The minister had to pay a hefty sum to make him agree. The critic was brought from Mysore so that no one would recognize him. He was a short and lean middle-aged man, just the right size to hide behind the throne. The critic gave Raja a list of expressions that he could use, when he pulled the string. The minister made sure all the arrangements were in order. Rani Kunjamma and her friends were seated in a way that they would not be able spot the critic.

After the opening remarks and salutations, Raja raised his hand to signal, that the concert may begin. The singer had a quick chat with his musicians to check the order of songs. Sooner the tampura player began, Raja exclaimed, “Besh besh”. The critic had tightened the string and Raja mistook that as his cue. The singer was confused at the sudden and unexpected appreciation.

“Ninnu kori…”, singer was off to a flying start. There was pin-drop silence in the ‘sabha’. At the right moment the critic pulled the string and Raja was quick with his response, “ada ada”, while swaying his right hand. Everyone in the audience was surprised and delighted at the sudden change in Raja’s demeanor.

Rani Kunjamma, was a little circumspect initially, however felt happy that her husband had changed for the best.

The singer was at his best, and the minister was increasingly becoming confident that his mission would be successful.

After the initial ‘kritis’, the singer started his main piece, ‘Sri Kamalamba’ in Sahana Raaga with gusto. The critic pulled the string, at right intervals and Raja was acting to the script, with the right expressions, hand swaying and head shakes.

The singer was very excited at the response from the Raja that he decided to indulge a bit during the ‘Alaap’. He waited for Raja’s “besh besh” and “ada ada” during various points, but surprisingly Raja remained still and quiet. He grew worried, if he had done anything inauspicious that would have upset the Raja.

In the mean time, the critic was still tightening and pulling the string at the best parts and was also surprised at the lack of response. The minister who seated himself at a strategic location so that he could monitor the critic and Raja was now confident that something had gone wrong.

Raja Kodachayan though looked confident and composed all while, was now shivering. He was getting impatient and worried if the mission would succeed. He was determined to win her acceptance.

Suddenly a honey bee entered the sabha hall and went buzzing around the ears of the council of ministers, the princesses and then came on to the Raja. Raja quickly caught the bee in his right hand. He has always been good at catching insects, lizards and chameleons. A skill, he had learnt from the stable boys. Unmindful of the concert and the sudden excitement of having caught the bee, he stood up to show his capture to the audience. At this moment both the minister and the critic realized that the string had been cut.

The singer still continued singing with a confused expression on his face.

Raja regained his stance and realized that the string had been cut-off. He was afraid that Rani would think of him as culture-less because he had not appreciated the singer for over half hour now. “Vidvan stop stop.” Everyone including the singer was shaken up, as to what has come about.

“Minister why don’t you tie the string again, so that the man behind can continue pulling and I can appreciate?”

While the minister was embarrassed, and Rani was teething with anger, our beloved Raja Kodachayyan was merry looking at the bee through his fingers.

Some people just don’t grow up.

This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Standard