On a pleasant Saturday evening, the trees at the Independence Day Park on Corporation School Road in Lake Area, Nungambakkam, swayed gently while listening to some of Thoppil Mohamed Meeran’s stories accompanied by the calming tones of the sitar.
As retired judge and writer Prabha Sridevan sat under a tree reading passages from Thoppil Mohamed Meeran’s short stories, alternating with excerpts from her own translations of his works, a small group of listeners were teleported to Meeran’s world even as children played on the swings a little away and passers-by stopped on their tracks to listen briefly before moving on. Just a little while ago, the ground witnessed a parai attam by Mei KalaiKoodal, introducing the reading that was to follow.
Chennai made it to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) for its rich musical tradition in 2017. The Greater Chennai Corporation, along with Chennai UCCN, has now launched a collective that will curate and present unique collaborative performances in 42 big parks in the city as a way of encouraging Chennai’s unique art and culture in public spaces.
Prabha Sridevan, whose translations of Thoppil Mohamed Meeran’s work will be released next year, says she was stunned by the variety that was thrown in together that evening. “I was stunned. The Mei Kalaikoodal played the parai and then the announcement of program was made using the traditional beating of drums. My readings of the passages were done as the sitar was being played. Different art forms are brought into public spaces so that everyone has access and this in itself is an interesting idea,” she shares, talking about that evening.
This program was organised on October 19 and will be followed by such unique shows organised at least twice every month for the next two years. The aim of this civic initiative is to put the city’s parks in the spotlight.
The UCCN currently comprises 180 cities and focuses on seven creative fields - Crafts and folk art, design, film, gastronomy, literature, media arts, and music performances. Programs will be curated under the above mentioned categories.
Representatives from Aanmajothi, the Kalakshetra Foundation, the Music Academy, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Chennai) and the Sruti Foundation (Sruti Magazine) will help curate these performances. This civic initiative is currently being spearheaded by Joint Commissioner, Revenue, R Lalitha.
Speaking to TNM about her reading session, Prabha Sridevan says, “This is a wonderful initiative and deserves to be lauded. There are different types of events being organised including thol paavai koothu, katta koothu, etc. Also the parks will get a new life. There are two other cities chosen from India but I’m not sure if they are doing something as creative. We must be proud of it.”
Two other cities from the country which made it to the list are Jaipur and Varanasi.
As part of this initiative, Sivan Park in KK Nagar saw the Thol Paavai Koothu Bommalattam, a photography exhibition and Parai Attam performance by team Madras Marabinar was held at River View Park in Kotturpuram, and Natesan Park in T Nagar witnessed a Kattaikkuttu performance.
Chennai’s parks are not entirely bereft of any action. The Margazhi season that is known for Carnatic music performances also finds audience in public parks where open air performances are sometimes organised. Chennai Photo Biennale, the city’s very own photography festival, also used parks as its exhibition space. Art markets, dance performances are also held at parks in the city.
Therefore, this initiative only aims to make such programs more frequent, by presenting art forms that may have been under-represented so far, to an audience who may not have had a chance to witness them in person. Natarajan of Aanmajyothi points out, “People have been doing art in public spaces also but this will be a regular thing. These are art forms that you may not be seeing in a general setting. Folk arts are confined to temple events and the likes. Many may not have had the chance to enjoy it live most of the time. Now is an excellent chance to enjoy.”
Regular programs will be planned and organised for the next two years as part of this initiative. Since this is a civic initiative, Natarajan shares, it has been more convenient for events to be organised with support from the corporation. “It is easier to host such events when the civic body is involved,” he adds.