C Narayanan, a Poorakkali (ritual art form) artiste for 25 years, had never been beaten down by worries of subsistence. Contributions from educational institutions and temples, where he has trained hundreds of students, kept his family afloat for years. Now, the pandemic and related restrictions have forced the 56-year-old artiste from Kasaragod to work as a helper at construction sites.
“Schools remain closed and art festivals are unlikely this academic year. We artistes, who used to train students, are sitting idle. Self-esteem prevents many artistes from venturing into other work. I am ready to work as a mason’s helper, as it fetches Rs 700 a day. But even this work is not regular now,” he says.
Narayanan’s situation mirrors that of thousands of stage performers, dramatists, dance masters and other artistes who have been severely hit by the pandemic-related restrictions.
Dance master Anil K Gopinath (43) has taught Thiruvathirakali to children and college students for 22 years. Now, he says, “I have gone to several shops looking for a salesman’s job. Everywhere, even existing staff have been suspended. There is no work.” Gopinath, who lives on rent with a four-member family, says he is surviving with help from benefactors and food kits supplied by a dance teachers’ organisation.
Kerala Kshetra Kala Academy secretary Krishnan Naduvalathu says the lockdown has left artistes in dire straits. “They never ventured into other professions. They earned through events and teaching children in schools and colleges. The worst-affected are the artistes who were depending on income from training students.”
All Kerala Dance Teachers Organisation state president Nayanthara Mahadevan says the suspension of training programmes and festivals has impacted not just performing artistes. “Hundreds of people who worked as make-up artistes and on costumes are in crisis. Even if educational institutions open later this year, by that time the schedule of cultural events and competitions would be over. We have to wait until the next academic year…Our organisation has supplied food kits to 5,000 members for the just-concluded Onam festival,” she says.