Unannounced, Srini and his troupe enter the small fishing village of Thanthirankuppam. Twenty minutes later, there is a stage, a lively audience and a buzzing ‘happening’ atmosphere. For years already the Auroville Yatra Performing Troupe has been packing their bus at night to go and stage a performance in one of the villages surrounding Auroville. With their enthusiasm they easily grab the attention of the villagers. And seemingly easily the attention stays focused throughout the performance. But Srini and his people know what they are doing. An electrifying mix of fast-paced entertainment and serious messages keeps both children and grownups glued to their places.
Before the tsunami hit the Tamil Nadu coast, the social theater plays centered around themes like the need for hygiene and the destabilizing effects of alcoholism on village and family life. But this time around it is the tsunami and its aftermath that is the central theme. The tsunami message that the Yatra troupe brings is simple and clear: let’s make each other happy and let’s talk about what has happened, so that we won’t keep on building tension, but will be able to move on.
Thanthirankuppam is a small village of 360 people off the East Coast Road, close to Pondicherry. At the moment the tsunami struck most of the children were playing at the local temple, at a safe distance from the angry sea. Some fishermen and their women were on the shore, taking out fish from the nets. The next moment they had to run for their lives. No one was injured, but houses, boats, nets, schoolbooks and other belongings disappeared. With the waves the possibility and courage to go back to sea and make a living also vanished. To bring relief, the Auroville tsunami team distributed food, clothes, blankets and school materials to the villagers. The engine repair team has collected the damaged motors and is repairing them. Slowly life is returning to normal, but the fishermen are still not out on the sea.
On stage yesterday was a team of social workers cum performers who know how to get people dancing, singing and talking. One of the troupe members was sitting in between the children, gaining their trust and helping a first-shy little girl turn into the dance star she never knew she really was. Encouraged by her parents and neighbors and astonished by the applause, she didn’t want to leave stage anymore. But the show had to go on. One village elder had composed a special tsunami song. Accompanied by percussion and harmonium, he sang his heartfelt song. The impressed audience responded with a respectful silence. More singers stood up, or were strongly encouraged by friends and neighbors, who knew exactly who can sing the fishermen songs most beautifully. When all the songs had been sung, it was time for the puppet show. Four characters narrated what had happened after the tsunami. Happy laughter and attentive silence made it clear that the show struck a cord with the people. And so did the last part of the happening, in which Srini encouraged village elders to tell their stories about that Sunday in December and how they are coping with it.
The Yatra team is performing three nights a week. It may be a drop on a hot plate, but it is certainly an impressive drop.