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Features

Tapping one’s foot to the beat of the drums or being in tune with artistes on stage is quiet common for a person mesmerised by the art forms, be it rural, folk or classical. The music and dance unite the urban and rural alike. The Telugu States are doing a lot in preserving the culture and showcasing it across the States, Nation and Globe.

Music and dance is a part and parcel of our daily lives and rituals. The tribals and rural folk celebrate agony and ecstasy with the same fervour. The Telugu speaking states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh is a home to many Folk, Tribal and Classical art forms.

“The Tribals of Chenchu, Kommakoya, Gussadi, Banjara or Lambada, Nayakpoddu, Madhuri or Komareddy celebrate the birth and the death of their dear ones. There is music and dance in their daily lives,” says Mamidi Harikrishna, Director, Department of Culture, Telangana. Since the emergence of the Telangana State, the government has been doing everything in its power to protect and nurture the art forms. “With urbanisation setting in, many tribals are quitting their age-old traditions and moving to cities in search of livelihood. Sometimes, on the outskirts of the city, where some of them have settled down, one can see them celebrating their lives after a hard day’s work. Today, the government is trying to protect these oral traditional art forms,” says Harikrishna.

The director explains that primarily there are three kinds of art forms. Firstly, the Primitive, which is only beats and rhythm, secondly the Narrative style or oral traditions where there is only one person and he narrates everything like – ‘Arjunudu Vuchinu (Arjun has come) to Yudhum Chesinu (he fought) and thirdly, the refined art forms, which have theme, ambience, overall perspective and performing art.

“Since the formation of Telangana, the government has been showcasing the State’s rich cultural heritage across the State and globe. We have been organising 10-day Janapada Jatara, a cultural parade, on the occasion of World Folk Day, across the State,” he says.

The director shares that they will be organising a 125-day celebrations, which will commence on February 9, 2017 and end on June 2, 2017. “Ten days will be devoted to each art form, inclusive of Folk art form, Tribal art form, Rural art form, Classical art form, Deccani art form, Qawalis and Ghazals, and Surabhi among many others,” says the Director.

Speaking about the Komma Koya art form, a tribal art form, the director says that tribals preserve their art form, which is mainly oral and depicts their life. “They celebrate the 21-day festival of their child and the death of their near and dear ones in the same fashion. The women and men dance together without any inhibitions,” he says.

Nowadays, urbanism is seen creeping into the dressing of the tribals. They too are wearing salwar kameez, saree and pants. In the Komma Koya dance, these tribals also perform a fight with their kommus (horns). They have a beautiful headgear of peacock feathers and dance carrying a four feet long drum.

Harikrishna shares that Madhuri dance has come from Mathura, which is typical to Kathak and those who perform it believe that they are Lord Krishna’s gopikas.

The dominant Tribal groups include Lambada, Koya, Gond, Yerukala, Pradhan, while the primitive Tribal groups include Kolam, Chenchus, Konda Reddi, and Thoti, who have their own dance and music related to their daily activities. In short, there is music and dance in every step they take.

The popular festivals celebrated in the State are Bonalu and Bathukkama in July-August and October respectively depending on the Hindu Almanac. Goddess Mahankali is worshiped during Bonalu. This festival is celebrated by the citizens as a thanksgiving to the Goddess for fulfillment of vows. It is said that special poojas are performed for Yellamma on the first and last day of the festival.

The word Bonam has been coined from the word Bhojanam, which means a meal or a feast and is an offering to Mother Goddess. The women prepare rice cooked with milk, jaggery in a new brass or earthen pot adorned with neem leaves, turmeric and vermilion and lighted lamp on the top of the pot and visit the temple with near and dear ones. The women devotees, along with music, carry the pots on their heads and make offering of Bonam along with turmeric-vermilion, bangles and saree to the Goddess across the temples. The Goddess is also known as Mysamma, Pochamma, Yellamma, Pedamma, Dokkalamma, Ankalamma, Poleramma, Maremma and Nookalamma.

Bathukamma is floral festival celebrated for nine days during Durga Navratri. It starts on the day of Mahalaya Amavasya and the nine-day festivities conclude with Saddula Bathukamma or Pedda Bathukamma festival, culminating with Durgashtami. This festival is followed by a seven-day festival Boddemma marking the end of rainy season, while Bathukamma festival heralds the beginning of winter.

The State government celebrates this festival in a big way. Bathukamma is a beautiful flower stack, arranged with different unique seasonal flowers with medicinal values, in seven concentric layers in the shape of temple gopuram. In short this festival signifies feminine felicitation. The State comes alive with this festival. Women dressed in their finery can be seen dancing and singing at the Hussainsagar in the city. The floral stacks are dotted on the main roads and airports across the metros. On the final day, these flower stacks are floated in river bodies thus marking a beautiful sight.

Oggu Katha is a ballad narrated with the help of an instrument called Oggu resembling Lord Siva’s Damaruka. The performers are called Oggu Gollalu. The artistes play a big drum called Dolu and big size cymbals. Sometimes, they also play wind instrument Napery. The main character with bells tied to the knees, playing the Oggu narrates the ballad. The traditional Oggu Katha mostly is confined to the priest class of Kurumas, but, they also sing other ballads. Recently, Oggu workshop was held at the Lalita Kala Thoranam to protect and propagate the art form.

Many of you, who may have seen Tollywood director Rajamouli’s Baahubali, would have seen the Gussadi dance of tribals belonging to Adilabad district. This dance sequence was shown as part of a cultural event during the installation of a statue of Mahismati king Bhallala Deva. In this art form, the Tribals dance to a systematic rhythm wearing peacock-feather made headgear. The tribals apply sacred ash and adorn vibrant attires. The Gussadi dance is performed during Deepavali and other festivals to thank the Lord.

The Tribals have added opulence to the region with their rich heritage of culture, innocent lifestyle and age-old ethnicity. Some of the tribals are occupied in trade and commerce, while their womenfolk are part of cottage industries like making toys, baskets, mats, beads and cosmetics.

Chindu Bhagavatam, a drama type art that resembles Yakshaganam is widely performed in the State. The art form, which was restricted to a small sub-sect within a community, is performed all over the region. Chindu Yellamma, an icon from Nizamabad, brought limelight to this art form.

The word ‘Chindu’ means ‘jump’ in Telugu. As the presentation is interspersed with leaps and jumps, it gained the name of Chindu Bhagavatam. During the performance, the stories narrated are from ‘Bhagavatam’. Gaddam Sammayya, a practioner of this art form states that Chindu Bhagavatas trace their origin to Jamba Mahamuni. This is the reason why their dramas open with ‘Jamba Puranam’ with the opening line going like ‘Ekkuvani Mari Palukabokumura, Ekkuvevvaru Mari Telisi Palukumura’.

It is believed that contemporary plays are based on the Bhagavata and they have been passed on to generations orally. In this art form, all the members are trained in every department, be it make-up, singing or playing musical instruments like harmonium, cymbals and dholak. Members of this community get trained in the Yakshagana prakriya from childhood.

Chindu Bhagawatham is a lively art with performers in colourful make-up and costumes, who dance to musical patterns, set by cymbals, tabla and harmonium. Mythological themes are usually enacted. On the other hand, Yakshaganam is a folk drama where music, dance, speech and make-up blend harmoniously. Nowadays the Yakshaganam apart from the Puranic lores covers historical, social and political themes too.

The Dappu dancers lead every procession, whether it is Jataras or Weddings displaying the percussion powers. Dappu, a percussion instrument, is made of goat skin and wood. Dapu is a tambourine-like drum and creates a rhythm when played with sticks just to be broken by the sound of ankle bells of the dancers in the group.

Veedhi Natakam as the name suggests means Street Theatre. This art form is played on an elevated platform. Performers have strong vocal and rhythmic skills to enact dramatization. There is a Vidhushaka and Sutradhara to take the play forward. A lover of this art form states that music and dance are ancillary to dialogue and action is restricted to incident depicting. The performers give their introduction on their entry on the stage with dialogue and songs.

Burra Katha that evolved from traditional Tandana Katha is modern day Ballad singing that preaches, entertains and provides diversions to the rural folk. It is said that Vira Vidya Vantulu sing the ballads of Palanadu heroes, Kommulavaru sing the ballads of Katamaraju, Bavanilu sing the ballad cycle of Sakti, Birannalavaru sing the ballads of Mallanna and Biranna, Jakkulavaru, sing the ballads of Goddess Kameswari. Traditional and modern Burra Kathas are different in many ways.

A Burra Katha troupe consists of three artistes, with the main character dressed in a long angarakha, beautiful headgear with crest feather, tight dhoti, colourful waistband and bells on his knees. He holds a tambura, Andelu and hanky and sings and plays the instruments. His assistants play Barralu or Budigalu instruments.

Come Sankranti or any other important festival, one can see Gangireddus on the city streets. The master decorates the Gangireddu (bull), in multi-coloured attire and takes it from house to house playing the nadaswaram to the accompaniment of the dhol. The bull can dance rhythmically, nod in approval, turn the head for disapproval, kneel down and prostrate, and sometimes show its tongue to assert that it can sing.

In Hari Katha, the solo artist sings the praise of the Lord interspersed with witty stories. In olden times it was considered as narration of Yakshaganam. However, the only marked difference was that one was solo, while the other had several characters. The Hari Katha narrator is known as Bhagavatar, who wears dhoti, waist band and garland and sings playing Chiratalu.

Lambadas popularly known as Banjaras can be easily identified with their vibrant mirror embroidered dress complete with ornate jewellery, white bangles and brass anklets. Their dance is associated with their daily tasks like harvesting, planting, sowing, etc., which comes alive as a natural rhythm in the colourful elucidation of joy on many occasions. Banjaras are rich in performance arts, including dance and music also rangoli, textile embroidery, tattooing and painting. The Banjaras celebrate Teej festival during Shravana. During this festival, girls sing and dance around seedling baskets. Banjaras travel from place to place singing songs while playing the sarangi.

Tappeta Gullu, is a devotional dance, invoking rain god with full vigour, rhythm and tempo. This art form is performed during festivals also. In this dance form, artists hand drums around their necks, and create mesmerising beats and breathtaking acrobatics.

Pagati Veshalu, as the name suggests is a role played during day time. This art form is played on consecutive days and the presentations include Ardhanareeswara, Shakti, Betala and other modern characters. This art form forces the audience to think and its highlight is the characterisation. It is stated that Kuchipudi style dancers also perform this.

The Chenchus are an indigenous tribe and traditionally believe in hunting for a living. They have their own language called Chenchu. It is said that some members of the community specialise in collection of forest products for sale to members outside the community. Many Chenchus live in the dense Nallamala forest spread in Mahabubnagar and Nalgonda Districts and also found in few villages of Ranga Reddy District.

The Gonds can be found in Telugu speaking states and Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, and Odisha. The language that these tribals speak resembles Telugu. The name Gonds comes from Telugu word ‘konda’ which means hills. Gonds are one of the dominant tribals who are based out from Adilabad District.

Many of you, who must have seen the paintings by Gonds, can distinguish it because of their vibrant depictions of local flora, fauna and gods. These tribals decorate the walls of their houses during festivals. Gond paintings depict various celebrations, rituals and man’s relationship with nature. A close examination of their art reveals that they use natural colours like charcoal, coloured soil, plant sap, leaves, and cow dung. An art connoisseur says that this mystical art form is created by putting together dots and lines. It is said that the imaginative use of the line imparts a sense of movement to the still images.

The Gond traditions are kept alive by singing and weaving in facts to be passed to the next generation. They also have their own language called Gondi. If one has read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, there is a mention of this tribe. A Gondi hunter is a victim of King Ankus and a member from their tribe advises the community to settle at some other place.

The other tribals in Telangana State include Koya, Yerukala, Pradhan, Kolam, Konda Reddi and Thoti. The Koyas, who belong to the hilly areas of Khammam and Warangal districts, can nowadays be seen in Adilabad and Karimnagar districts. Yerukala tribe  popularly called the Kuru can be found throughout the State. Women from this community are into fortune telling and begin with the saying Eruka chepputa.

Whatever is the tribal or rural art form, each one has their own distinct laya and taal which helps the folks to celebrate life with great enthusiasm.

 

 

Children’s Day, which falls on November 14, is celebrated across the state in all schools. Our country has been bestowed with many talented youngsters, be it in the field of technology, music, dance, painting, or sports. Today’s generation wants to excel in all fields. Nurture children with love and see them grow into young individuals.

Look around and you will find chubby cheeked, dimpled young boys and girls, who will bowl you out with their innocence. Sometimes, you see bawling babies refusing to go to school and little older ones enjoying the cycle rides down the lane or in the apartment block. All will agree that children are the future of our country and need to be nurtured with love and care.

Our first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was very keen that all children must be given equal opportunities and must be cared to become good citizens. His birthday which falls on November 14 is celebrated as Children’s Day. However, the World over November 20 is observed as Children’s Day. There are many enthusiastic young boys and girls and even sometimes adults who fancy wearing a Nehru jacket with a rose on this day.

In our country, our founders of the Constitution have guaranteed Right to Education to all children till the age of 14 years. Of late, the Union governments are doing a lot to promote Girl Education and giving incentives to girls to motivate them to come to schools. There are many NGOs working to free children  working as child labourers and putting them back on Education track.

Among today’s Children there will be many, who will become doctors, engineers, scientists, lawyers, teachers, dancers, musicians, artists, sportsmen and keep the Indian flag flying high. In schools, on Children’s Day, there are cultural programmes and sports events for the children.

Asawari Mahesh Bhagwat, Class VIII student of Vidyaranya High School, began learning dance at the age of five years. It was her mother who was keen that her daughter must learn an art form. “I followed my sister Maitreyi’s footsteps, who is also learning dance under Guru Yashoda Thakore,” says Asawari.  As a child, Asawari’s first show was a school event, dancing to Ganesha bhajan. “I have not participated in any dance competitions but have been a part of dance programmes, the recent one being at Sri Ramalayam Temple at Jubilee Hills on the occasion of Dasara festivities,” says the 12-year-old dancer. With a smile on her lips, she shares that it was fun playing the Lanka king Ravan.

Apart from idolizing her guru, Asawari has seen dancers like Geeta Ganesan, Sindhuja, Sampreeti, Hari sir, Archana and others in the Natyasamgraha team performing.

Going to a dance class is a part of everyday life for the young enthusiast. “We have dance class from 5-7 PM with breaks and when there is a programme coming up, it lasts till 8 PM,” she says. On managing studies with dance, she says that she finishes off her homework before going to dance class. “I make little adjustments if my exams are coming up, but I love dance,” says Asawari.

On whether she wants to pursue dance as a career, the Vidyaranya School girl says that she is keen to continue dance, apart from pursuing regular studies.

Sirichandana  Bolla, Class VII student of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, has been learning dance since the last three years. “It was my mother Sada Lakshmi who wanted that I should learn dance,” says 12-year-old Sirichandana.  The young Kuchipudi dancer also has been learning Carnatic music from Ravi sir. “My music class is at the dance class only. Even my brother, who is in Class III is pursuing music,” she says.

The youngster says that she enjoys dancing as it helps her to be fit and graceful too. Sirichandana shares that she has taken part in 10 programmes and the recent one being in September in Tirupati. She admits that she has not taken part in any competitions and she daily practices dance.

“I go to class daily and practice dance,” Sirichandana says. The Chinmaya student agrees that dance is her passion and she dreams of becoming a doctor.

Dancer of Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam styles, Dr. Yashoda Thakore, runs the Rinda Saranya Kuchipudi Dance Academy at Begumpet. Yashoda advices her students to first watch, absorb and remember what they learnt at the school. “I tell them not to practice at home. As they come to class daily, I ask the students to savour the experience and be aware of the steps, keep remembering details,” she says.

According to the Vilasini Natyam expert, the children must follow the instructions, of turning the feet, raising elbows to excel in dance in the future. “In the beginning, they should be able to visualise and grasp things. Till they get adjusted legs will be painful, this lasts almost a year,” she says. “For being successful in the career, there should be complete commitment, good communication skills, and genuinely believe in what they are saying – not talk anything wrong about the dance,” Yashoda says.

The Kuchipudi guru says that as a teacher she doesn’t put a student on stage very early, even though some of them are keen. “Sometimes early and frequent exposure does more harm than good. The dance may lack Abhinaya- the feelings. I feel the newness must not be lost. Sometimes over exposure can be harmful,” she says. Yashoda is happy that there are opportunities galore these days and they must be picked judiciously. “On some occasions, it has been seen that unless there is a programme, students don’t practice. There must be a good mix of dance and practice,” she says.

To pursue the career in the long run, Yashoda advices students to do homework on theory and dance and learn the language for perfect expression.

Hindustani vocalist, playback singer and founder of Rageshree Foundation and Academy Harini Rao agrees that lot of young people are taking to classical music. “Some children as young as six have such inquisitive minds and that is very inspiring for me as a teacher. I have about 25 students and more than half of them are in the age group of 5 to 17. A lot of credit goes to parents who introduce classical music to their toddlers. That ensures a certain liking and ‘taste’ for them very early, to grasp the nuances of classical music,” Harini says.

The vocalist states that there’s nothing as a time limit to perform on stage. “There has to be enough training and learning that must be put into it. I for one have been learning as a toddler and was seriously training only for the last 12 years. I completed Sangeet Visharad in 2008 and began performing four years back and started teaching only two years back. Still, I feel I have a long way to go on the performance circuit. So it is important that a good amount of sadhana and riyaaz is put in before one thinks of going onstage,” she says.

Harini says that parents of her students understand what it takes to go to the level of performance. “But, it is important to ‘feel’ the stage as a learner after all classical music is a performing art! So I have regular concerts that involve my students in all aspects of stage - including organizing, preparation and performance,” the singer says.

Recalling an anecdote as a child, Harini says that when she was five-years-old and had just about started learning music, she had gone out to attend a concert with some aunts. “One of them asked me teasingly if I’d sing onstage too. Apparently I said, sure! Arrange accompanying artists for me and I’ll give a kutchery too,” Harini shares with a smile. The artist says that there’s no such thing as a right age to learn music. “Whenever you think of learning, find yourself a guru and just start! And once you do, give yourself the time to get involved. Classical arts are slowly cooked into your soul and give you lifelong bliss. It’s more than what I can express in words. So don’t be in a hurry, enjoy the journey,” she says.

Skills for being successful, without batting an eyelid, Harini says “Talent of course, commitment, perseverance and most importantly, love. Love for the art, love for yourself and the stage. It’s a very spiritual experience as well, so it is important to be in love with the art and the belief that it’ll fetch you what you’re seeking.”

The young talented performer says: “Apart from the obvious relaxation and entertainment it provides, practicing music from a young age has proved to aid in cognitive and analytical skills in children.”  She confesses that she has personally benefitted from having Hindustani music in her life since childhood. “This also opened avenues for me to appreciate language, literature and art deeper,” Harini adds.

Harini’s student Varun recently won special recognition at the annual Pt. Jasraj-Rotary Club of Hyderabad Scholarships for Music and Fine arts and had the opportunity to sing before Pandit ji himself. In fact for a young entrant to sing before a stalwart is a big thing. “Varun was calm and graceful and sang beautifully,” she says.

On any given day, Varun will bowl his audience with ‘Narayana rama ramana’ - a very popular natyageet. He regularly sings with the Hindustani vocalist every time she is performing. The young lad loves Raag Yaman, Bheempalasi and Bhajans.  Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s bhajan’s are his favourites. ‘Pandari Nivasa Sakhya Panduranga’ an all-time favourite.

Slowly and steadily another child artist eight-year-old Koosu aka Avish Juluri is following the footsteps of his mother Sravanthi Juluri. Avish has grown up in the world of colours, brushes and canvasses. “I made my first official canvas painting at the age of three,” he says and adds that his mom has been an inspiration.

The Class IV student of Hillside School has got all his replies on the art world by closely observing his mom. “I am passionate about environment and growing issues of violence,” says Avish. He wishes for the world to be a safe and a pleasant place for children and mankind.

Avish’s longing for a greener environment full of wild flowers and butterflies are visible in his works. Avish is at ease while handling canvases of various sizes and knows exactly what he wants to portray. “Occasionally, I break away from the use of brushes and painting knifes, and use many household items to create form and texture-it could be anything from sponges, forks and so on,” says Avish with a twinkle in his eye.

The cherubic child had his first solo exhibition two years ago in a city gallery, where he exhibited over 70 paintings. Avish has not looked back since then.

Deepa Kiran, Founder, Story Arts India, is a storyteller, educationist, writer and voice-over artist. “This beautiful journey formally started in 2000, with telling stories to students of English in government schools,” she says. Deepa says that eight years down the line, with a handful of children in the local neighborhood in a lovely little place called Deolali, in Maharshtra, she held the first storytelling camp.

“We hoped at least 15 children would turn up, but we had to refuse registrations after we crossed 25 on Day one itself,” she says.

Explaining about the camp, Deepa says that 3 to 15-year-olds came together for three hours every day, for three weeks. “We all got infected with the love of stories, music, dance, craft and laughter. We even performed for the parents on the final day. This small attempt was a big hit. We then came to tell stories to children in Hyderabad. Soon we grew to telling stories to children across the twin Telugu speaking states, and later across the country,” Deepa says.

The story teller says that they tell stories from two-year-olds to a 102-year-olds. “We tell stories to housewives to businessmen, teachers and principals, and corporate executives and management heads, artists and academicians, and more,” she says.

Deepa believes that storytelling needs to be woven with music, and dance, drawings and drama. “We tell stories with constant interaction and active participation from the audience,” she says.

Started in 2010, Hyderabad Children’s Theatre Festival, the brainchild of Vaishali Bisht, co-founded by Priyankaa Vir and Deepthi Pendurty, aims at bringing to the city of Pearls, internationally acclaimed troupes that specialize in theatre for children and young adults with world class production values that have been applauded by critics and audiences alike. Every year, it has been three-days of children’s theatre in the city in the month of November.

“This year the festival is slated for December,” says Deepthi. School children await for these plays as many artistes descend on the city and entertain the little ones. Apart from Vaishali Bisht, Samahaara also runs theatre workshops for children. Some are held throught out the year, while there are special classes in Summer.

The city has seen many talented children. Anant Pingle is a master in tabla and Suhit Rakshit plays the sitar beautifully. Both the artists have been bestowed with the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) scholarships. Hyderabad-based Nischal Narayanam, at 19 years became the youngest to qualify the CA final exam in 2015. On the occasion of Children’s Day, let us salute Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu, who battled it out day and night as kids to achieve perfection in their respective sports and win Olympic medals for the country.

Blessed Kid

Hyderabad based two-year-old Rimshas will stump you with her General Knowledge and on any given day can match many school-going kids with ease. She perfectly knows all capitals and Human Biology. This kid has perfected her GK in two months and learns about 20 words daily.  Recently before the media, this wonder kid reeled off capitals of India, Pakistan, Nepal, United Kingdom among many others. The little angel has also knowledge of the solar system, the speed at which the earth rotates and even the type of oxide present in the eye. Daughter of a teacher, Rimshas will start going to school from next year.

 

On the occasion of World Vegan Day, which falls on November 1, celebrated across the globe, nation and the Hyderabadi City, day by day many citizens are going Vegan. They believe in the policy that life can be lived without torturing the animals for their products be it meat, eggs, dairy, leather, wool, silk and pearls. Going Vegan is a healthy living by choice.

Most of you who have taken international flights must be aware that at the time of booking the tickets your preferred choice of food is asked. A clear study of the form mentions various types of foods like – Vegetarian, Non-vegetarian, Hindu, Jain, and Vegan among many others. Same way, when one goes to a restaurant, we look whether the restaurant is serving vegetarian or non-vegetarian food. But, nowadays some of them have turned Vegan and believe in eating and promoting Vegan for a healthy living, with a promise to live and let live.

What is Vegan living, one may wonder. Vegan living is a conscious decision taken by an individual on not harming another living creature for satisfying their appetite. “A Vegan rejects all forms of animal exploitation - for food, clothing, entertainment, etc. So, being vegan means avoiding milk and its products, eggs, meat, honey (substituting them with their plant-based alternatives for taste if desired), wool, leather, fur, pearl, silk and all other animal products/use,” says Pulkit Parikh, a Software engineer in Microsoft, practicing Veganism for the last five years. Parikh adds that Vegans do not visit zoos, circuses and refrain from animal-tested products too.

Pulkit Parikh firmly believes: “Animals exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans, just like blacks were not made for whites, and women not for men.” Parikh says that Hyderabad has vegans from almost all walks of life, ranging from software engineers to doctors to students and senior citizens. “The ‘Hyderabad Vegans’ Facebook group has seen a consistent increase in both membership and engagement of members. The potluck get-togethers that is organised always has a lot of non-vegans taking part. They realise that avoiding animal cruelty does not mean giving up tasty food, comfortable clothing or enjoyable entertainment. They taste a wide variety of delicious dishes made from plant-based milks, Tofu (which is Vegan and tastes just like Paneer), plant-based curds and so on,” the engineer says.

Speaking about their activities, Parikh says that they spread awareness about Veganism in the city and across the nation. “On weekends and evenings, we show people videos documenting the immense physical and emotional suffering caused to animals by our everyday choices. They see how terribly egg laying hens and chickens are confined, how their beaks are cut using red hot blades soon after birth, etc.,” he says.

The videos also show the emotional trauma caused to animals when their families are broken up to meet the animal-based demand. “We then briefly explain how animal-based choices also cause environmental devastation, how it takes enormous amounts of grains to sustain the artificially bred animal population, etc. Most people respond positively by saying that they will change. Very few make excuses,” Parikh says. The activist says that they have also been creating awareness about speciesism, a discriminatory attitude similar to racism, casteism and sexism based on species membership. “Just like it is wrong to discriminate on the basis of caste, gender, sexuality and so on, it’s equally wrong to use species as an excuse to exploit animals through our choices,” he says emphasizing his point.

In very clear terms, Parikh states Veganism is not a fad, and that ethical obligation is not limited to dietary choices. “Veganism is about avoiding all forms of animal exploitation and other harm, as far as possible. Hence, we should also do away with animal-based clothing, entertainment and other animal use,” he says.

Parikh says that that torture of animals is no different from the ones that hurt women and other oppressed groups. “Non-human females also suffer unspeakable atrocities, ranging from being sexually abused as breeding machines to heartbreaking separation from their babies,” he says. The activist says that while animals of both sexes suffer, the animal industry is almost entirely built on the abuse of the female reproductive system. “The animals, who are tormented for humans wants, have to be bred into existence. For female animals, breeding means a relentless, body-breaking cycle of artificial insemination (which is sexual abuse) and separation from her babies without even being allowed to bond and do things that humans take for granted as fundamental rights,” he says.

“Another disturbing trend is that egg laying hens are confined in ‘battery cages’ with no freedom of movement. Their beaks are cut using red hot blades soon after birth. Imagine the fate of male chicks? Day old chicks are ground up alive or suffocated to death in bags because they do not lay eggs or grow fast enough for meat. Animals used for experiments are separated from their natural habitats and families, confined in tiny cages and subjected to stress, pain and suffering continuously,” he says.

For the past couple of years on the occasion of World Vegan Day, which falls on November 1, awareness programmes and marches have been organized in Hyderabad. According to Sejal Parikh, activist, the march is to bring forth the fundamental right of these non-human fellow animals not to be enslaved or harmed. “It is to make people aware of the antidote to animal exploitation – veganism,” she says. Sejal believes that being a Vegan is a win-win-win proposition in terms of animal suffering avoidance, human health and environmental sustainability. For the first time, a Vegan Bazaar was held in the heart of the city at Our Sacred Space on Sunday, February 9, 2014 which was inaugurated by animal activist and actress Amala Akkineni. “It was an overwhelming success, which was visited by over 500 people in five hours,’ says Manpreeth Singh Nishter, Senior manager, 3M.

At the Vegan Bazaar, delicious vegan cakes, bakes, puddings and pies ranging from flavours of spices, ginger, berries, banana and walnuts, apple tarts, jowari chocolate cakes, butterscotch and blue berry ice creams, millet upma, mixed and raggi millet vadas, soya buttermilk, sesame seeds/almonds/cashew nuts sweetened milk, creamy mint and nut chocolate and many more goodies were available. The Bazaar has become a regular feature in the city.

“Vegans enjoy as much fun food and comfortable life without hurt or harm to any animal. This form of lifestyle promotes non-violent, healthy and sustainable environmental option,” says Nishter.

Raab Ne Bana De Jodi

Film maker Sashi Kiran and Software engineer Poornima Deepika entered into a wedlock in the Nawabi city in June this year. The two met on a wedding website and what attracted them was that they were Vegans. “We have both been vegan - avoiding animal-based food, clothing/fashion, entertainment and so on for several years,” says the newly married couple.

“The reason behind being Vegan stems from the fundamental ethical principle that no sentient being - human or non-human - should be made to suffer, except in self-defence situations. Seeing us our mothers too have embraced veganism whole-heartedly,” the couple states.

Kiran says that Veganism introduced them to one another and later they discovered that their other core principles and ideals in life also matched perfectly. “We communicated online and over the phone for a few months, as we were living on two different sides of the globe at that time. Soon after we met in person, we got engaged and started making preparations for a new life together,” Kiran says.

The couple says in unison that they decided to have a low-key wedding and use the funds that would have otherwise been used for a pompous wedding for charitable purposes. “In the presence of our immediate families, we exchanged garlands on June 10. We cut a delicious double-layered vegan cake made by Terrasen Café,” they say. The couple adds that following the wedding, they had a full meal Vegan lunch, including Vegan curd rice (made from peanut + cashew based curd), tofu curry (tofu is Vegan and can be made to taste like paneer) and a Vegan dessert (made out of cashew + soy milk and mangoes). “Everyone, including the non-vegan family members, absolutely loved the food. Our guests were surprised when we later revealed that the curd rice had no dairy in it. We took care to make it a complete vegan wedding by ensuring that no animals were exploited for making our clothes either,” say the couple.

Bride Deepika says that freedom is the most important thing in life to her. “I once saw a cow tied to a pole. She could not move one step beyond what the string would let her. I imagined myself in that situation and realised how anguished I would be in that case. You do not need to love animals in order to empathise with them and make choices that do not hurt them.

They are our fellow sentient beings deserving freedom just like us. Veganism is about overcoming speciesism, the discrimination that leads to the exploitation of sentient beings on ethically irrelevant basis of their species,” she says.

Sashi says that he was raised non-vegetarian, but after watching ‘Earthlings’ and other videos that brought out the animal suffering that human choices are responsible for going vegan. “Animals exist for their own reasons. The milk of the cow is for the calf and it is human to see the cows being milched with machines,” he says. He quickly adds being vegan is crucial for the environment.

Atrocities on Animals in India:

Some Facts and Stats

Dairy: India is the largest producer of dairy, with an annual production of about 120 million tonnes using about 35 crore cattle. Cows are forced into body-breaking cycle of pregnancy, birthing and milking throughout their life (either through common bull or an equally torturous process called artificial insemination) in all the dairies. These mothers also endure a lot of misery in not being able to spend time with their babies since the calves are taken away soon after birth.

Beef export: India became the largest exporter of beef in the world from 2012. The bans on cow slaughter and sale of beef have not impacted the figures. The consumption of dairy feeds and subsidies the production of beef and leather. This significantly reduces the prices of beef and leather, thus causing a huge increase in their consumption. Most of the leather produced is from male calves (that are useless for milk production) and from cows that can no longer give milk. Most animals are skinned alive to maintain a particular texture of leather. India is the largest in the export of cow leather in the world.

Male Chicks: Male chicks on egg farms are an estimated 18 crore newborn and are brutally killed every year in the country. Male chicks are useless for the industry because they don’t lay eggs and don’t grow fast enough for meat. So they’re crushed to death or discarded soon after they’re born.

Eggs: India is the third largest producer of eggs in the world, with more than 20 crore egg laying hens. To reduce the losses caused by the stressed birds’ pecking one another, they are de-beaked (the beak is cut) in a painful process with red hot blades. At the end of their miserable lives, the birds are butchered barbarically in full view of their terrified fellow victims!

Chickens: India produces about 23 lakh tonnes of poultry meat a year. Chickens grown for meat (called “broilers”) don’t have it any better either. They’re housed in crowded and dirty conditions to reduce costs. They’re fed soy and other feed (that humans could also consume) to fatten them up quickly and sent for slaughter when they’re as young as 30-50 days, long before they become mature adults.

Goats and Sheep: More than 20 crore goats and sheep are reared in India. The consumption of mutton is next only to chicken. They’re bred for meat, leather and wool. With no concern for their natural lives or in the process of slaughter and skinning in small slaughterhouses, they endure a lot of cruelty. Mulesing is a crude attempt to create smoother skin that won’t collect moisture, but the exposed, bloody wounds often become infected or flystruck.

Pigs: More than 1.2 crore pigs are reared in India for meat and leather. Pigs are ignorantly associated with a stigma of being dirty and hence not even thought about when people talk about animal cruelty. But the fact is that they’re smart animals who form cooperative social groups.

Fishes: For every one pound of fishes caught, up to five pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kills. Fishes don’t want to suffocate on land just as humans don’t want to drown in water. Fishing has been widely acknowledged as a huge threat to marine ecology. Fishes on aqua farms spend their entire lives in crowded, filthy enclosures, and many suffer from parasitic infections, diseases, and debilitating injuries.

- Courtesy Hyderabad Vegans

The glitz, glamour, arc lights and hopping from one city to another is the dream of those who want to make a career in modeling. Some pretty faces, who are seen smiling from print and electronic media, must have walked by fire to shine like a star. It has taken them years of grooming and style with the right attitude to go places. Mrs. India Worldwide 2014 Aman Grewal, Deborah Doris Fell, Ayesha Fatima, Janvee Kalra and Srishti Vyakaranam share on why they took up modeling, future plans and what they want to do to better the Society.

If one has been bestowed with a pretty face, good height, physique, la Greek God or Goddess, one is sure that one is aiming to go places and be seen everywhere. Making a small beginning, young girls and boys want to be seen by promoting local brands and after taking small steps want to go national, followed by world titles and career in films. Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai, Lara Dutta, Priyanka Chopra are some names that ring a bell in this direction. Recent Mr. World title winner Rajeev Khandelwal, an engineer from Rohtak, is an actor on the small screen.

Aman Grewal, Mrs. India Worldwide 2014, says that the first time, she ever walked the ramp was in college for the ‘Miss Fresher’ contest. “I realised that I enjoyed being on stage.  That’s how it all began. But it was more like a hobby then. It was only after I won Mrs. India Worldwide 2014 that I took it up more seriously,” says Aman. For Deborah Doris Fell, a Runner Up in a beauty contest, modeling happened by chance. “And then later went on to become a passion. Started with a local beauty pageant and ended up with the title of ‘Miss Beautiful Hair’. Even though I didn’t win the main title, I pursued modeling after the pageant because I fell in love with it,” says Deborah.Ayesha Fatima, Freelance Model and Anchor, who has worked with ETV Urdu and Doordarshan channels, and also with NGO Smile as Treasurer, says that the modeling industry always had a great impact on her. “When I was small I used to watch Fashion TV and I’d pose in front of the mirror. Acting like a model! (Haha.) As I grew up, I had made up my mind that I wanted to give it a try. And since I began, I started enjoying my work. Just like the saying: ‘Do what you love to do and you are never working’,” says Ayesha.

Janvee Kalra, who moved from Bhopal to make Hyderabad her home, since a teenager has been interested in walking the ramp. Srishti Vyakaranam made many hearts flutter, when she walked the Yamaha Fascino Miss Diva 2016 finals. She discloses that right from childhood she had enjoyed being on stage may it be for dancing or small school shows. “I work as a business development manager and do modeling at the same time. Modeling is a passion for me which I do to keep myself happy,” says Srishti.

Questioned on what was shown in the movie ‘Fashion’ is true, Aman says that it is true for some, but it’s not true for everyone. “There are all kinds of people in the industry. Some like to take shortcuts. Some would go the right way, come what may. Some give in to the pressure of establishing themselves. Some stand their ground. So it’s all individual. But, definitely it’ not an easy industry to make inroads. You need a lot of patience and perseverance in addition to hard work and talent,” says Mrs. India Worldwide.

Deborah too says that to a certain extent, what was exhibited in ‘Fashion’ happens. “They have captured the good and bad side of the field. But, I’d also like to say not every model’s journey is the same. We all choose different paths and end up where it takes us, be it good or bad. As long as you have your head on your shoulders and your feet firmly planted on the ground and you don’t compromise on your moral values then I’d say you are on the right track,” she says.

However, Ayesha plays safe. “Well, there are highs and lows in every profession. Each to their own,” she says. “Partly yes, but, however, at the end it’s a movie also it depends on individual human being how to work for their career,” says Janvee. Srishti adds: “I haven’t come across anything of this sort so far but I would not deny the fact that things of that sort don’t happen because a coin always has two sides to it.”

Aman after finishing her Masters in Economics and winning gold medals for both the years, decided to take up modeling as a career. Her parents were convinced that since she had completed her studies it was perfectly okay with whatever she decided to do after that. Deborah says that her parents have always been very understanding and supportive. “But, yeah since my mom was a model in her days, she was hesitant in the beginning about me getting into the field because I was quite young when I first started. She thought I wouldn’t be able to handle all of what came my way. So, she advised me not to go ahead with this career. So, I took a break after the Pageant but then when I got an assignment to be on the cover page of a magazine. She allowed me to go for it and from then on there has been no looking back. She saw that I could handle myself very well and that I was very independent and wise when it came to taking decisions. She let me be myself,” says Deborah.

“My parents were and are still pretty cool about it. As long as it makes me happy .In fact, my Mom is always the happiest one when she sees my pictures in the newspapers. I am blessed,” Ayesha says. Janvee’s parents had mixed reactions. “They were proud at the same time and concerned because it’s not considered a very good profession,” says Janvee. Srishti says: “My parents have appreciated the fact that I wanted to do both modeling and working at the same time.”

Talking about the challenges in the beauty and fashion industry, Aman says that this industry is quite unpredictable and there is a lot of competition and at times things are not fair. “Also there is pressure about looking a certain way. You have to constantly work on your fitness, etc. Another hard part is that there are no set work timings. Sometimes you are working for 2-3 days at a stretch with hardly any rest in between,” says the beauty queen.

Deborah loves challenges. “So, whenever anything hard comes my way. I take it in my stride to be positive and learn from it. But, odd time schedules I believe is the hardest part about being in the beauty and fashion industry for me,” she says.

“The hardest for me is keeping a track of my calorie intake,” says Ayesha. Janvee says: “To maintain dignity and self-respect.” Srishti says that there is a lot of competition in this industry. “To overcome a lot of things is a little hard,” she says.

Monetarily, in the beginning there is a lot of struggle involved, agrees Aman. “Many times you have to work for free. It is only when you get established that you get paid what you deserve,” Aman says.

Deborah is content with the remuneration she is getting at this stage of her life. “It depends on your experience as to how you are being paid. So, no complaints from my end,” Deborah says. Ayesha says: “It’s pretty good.” Janvee states that sometimes very good and sometime it’s average. However, Srishti prefers to skip this question.

Sharing the brands, she is associated with, the Mrs. India Worldwide 2104 says: “Lately, I have been associated with Label Sailesh Singhania, Gandhian Fab by Amin Farishta, Colour Splash, Azalea etc. Other than this I have been into Pageant training and grooming. This year, I groomed contestants of pageants- Purple Queen 2016 at Wellington, Mrs. Punjab Pride of Nation 2016. Two more pageants are lined up in the next couple of months,” she says.

Deborah has been associated with a lot of brands. “The latest brands would be Kingfisher, Chandana Bros, RS Bros, Kirtilals, Tarun Tahliani, Neeta Lulla and a whole lot of other brands as well,” she says. Ayesha has worked with many reputed brands, “But, yet I am a freelancer.”

Janvee has been associated with Taruni, Indian wear, Hyderabad fashion week 2013, Kashish, Kirtilal Jwellers, Grandeur, True Jet, ETV Rajasthan. On the other hand, Srishti has worked with the H label and with Prasad Bidappa.

Explaining whether, one agrees with the ideologies of the brand they promote, Aman says: “I agree to endorse a brand only when I believe in their ideology.”

Deborah says that if she advertises for a brand, she makes sure it is quite real and helpful to the consumer. “It shouldn’t just appeal to them as just another product but they should be able to relate and buy it. If the ideologies really make sense to me, then I would definitely want to promote it not just on screen but off screen as well,” Deborah says. Ayesha takes up things only she believes in. “Haven’t come across any such assignments,” says Janvee.

Aman Grewal, who has moved from the city of Pearls to Patiala, in April this year, says in the next 10 years, she will be associated with many social causes. “I see myself bringing in a lot of change in the mindset of people….Gender, Environment, Women’s health and security etc. I might join politics too,” she says.

Deborah prefers to keep the suspense on her plans. “So, I’d just say that’s for me to know and for you to guess,” she says. “Plan for five or ten years from now is unpredictable,” says Ayesha. “We all know that, the future is uncertain. Yet, I see myself not working as a freelancer instead becoming the face of international brands,” says Ayesha.

Janvee says that’s a long way to go. “Hopefully I will do well and succeed in what I believe in,” says Janvee. Srishti says: “I want to see myself as a very successful Supermodel and a businesswoman.” If Aman gets an offer for a film with a good message, she would surely take it up. “But I don’t see myself running around trees just looking pretty,” she says as a matter of fact.Deborah definitely wants to work in films if it’s a good banner with a good script and an amazing director. “I have been getting a lot of offers to work in films but waiting for the best one to come my way,” she says. “Only if I get a good opportunity,” says Janvee. Srishti says: “Yes, I do aspire to work in films.”

Sharing her idols, Aman says that it is Sushmita Sen. “I admire her in so many ways. She is the true epitome of beauty, grace and substance. What she did at such a young age, adopting two girls, bringing them up so beautifully as a single parent, it is commendable. How many people have we seen doing something so noble like this? There is so much to learn from her,” Aman says. For Deborah, her idol is Tyra Banks. “The name says it all,” she says. “I’d say Carol Gracias. I consider her as an idol for her intrepidity,” says Ayesha. For Srishti, Priyanka Chopra is the idol in fashion industry because she is a talented woman who is good at everything she does. “She is a successful model, a versatile actress, singer and she has made India proud too by working with people abroad,” says Srishti.

For Mrs. India Worldwide, beauty means being beautiful inside, as this will surely reflect on ‘your face and you will look immensely beautiful outside’.

“We all are works in progress. Being beautiful from the inside out is what matters to me. Beauty to me is confidence, uniqueness, pride, kindness, positivity. Beauty can be found everywhere if you are open to seeing it. Size 0 or size 30, beauty is inside us all. We just need to accept ourselves and let the awesomeness inside shine through,” Deborah says.

Ayesha says: “According to me, having a beautiful heart makes you look beautiful from the outside.” Even Janvee approves that beauty is anything that appeals to the other person without changing his/her perception. “Beauty according to me is beauty of soul, if a person is beautiful from within it automatically reflects outside with people and the way they present themselves,” Srishti says.

Aman Grewal says that at every stage in life one does get influenced by many people. “In addition to my parents and my husband, I would like to mention two names- Mrs. Jyoti Bhardwaj and Mrs. Soni Sangwan. These two amazing women have guided me, inspired me and motivated me and I really feel blessed to have them in my life,” she says.

“It has got to be my mom. She has been my pillar of strength. She has made me the person who I am today,” says Deborah. Without batting an eye lid, Ayesha says: ‘My Mother’. “Looking at people making it big in life have influenced me no person in specific,” says Srishti.

When questioned on improving green cover in our country, Aman says that India is a great country, but there are several issues which need attention. “Firstly, we must focus on doing our job honestly and sincerely, half of the problems will get sorted. Secondly, the way the political parties may not agree with each other’s ideologies, but there is no harm in praising a good job done for the sake of our country. Also if we start living with more discipline in life, things can really improve,” she says.

Deborah says she would reduce energy use, change the way about transportation, insulate her home, and make every water drop count, switch to green power, recycle most of the things at home and plant lots of trees. “I do most of these on a day-to-day basis and a few others I’d like to incorporate very soon in my everyday lifestyle,” she says. “Personally, my bit to the environment would be that I’d plant more trees in and around my locality and also encourage others on having a healthy environment. I would personally follow the Swacch Bharat campaign and make sure all of us put the waste in the trash can,” says Ayesha.

Janvee’s mantra for green cover is asking fellow citizens to start using public/state transport, reduce wastage of energy and water. Srishti says environment of our country will change if each and every one changes. “I would want to work with hospitals, education system, old age homes and orphanages,” Srishti says.

Aman Grewal

Five things you can’t live without

5 km run, my sneakers, home cooked food, my watch, my laptop

Your favorite book, movie, song

My favourite movie is ‘Yeh Zindagi na milegi dobara’, fav book- ‘The Power of Intention’ by Dr Wayne W Dyer. Fav songs are many….I am fond of listening to all kinds and genres of music.

Your motto or life advice that you live by

In life, it’s important to keep it simple and keep your basics right, you’ll never go wrong.

Your craziest, most ridiculous college memories

I was a very sincere student, so never did anything crazy….though I regret it now. I was too disciplined and boring. Anyone who bunked classes would come to me for notes…lol.

What do you like to do for fun?

I enjoy watching movies and outdoor activities, playing sports etc.

Deborah Doris Fell

What are the 5 things you can’t live without?

Bible, Phone, Kajal, Lipstick and a good perfume

What is your favorite book, movie, song?

I love all the books by Paulo Coelho, Nicholas Sparks and the Shiva Trilogy. Favorite movie - Pretty Woman, song - ‘Bless my Soul’.

What’s your motto or life advice that you live by?

The more difficulties one has to encounter, within and without, the more significant and the higher in inspiration his life will be - Horace Bushnell

What is one of your craziest, most ridiculous college memories?

The boys following me till home just to see where I live. (Laughs out loud.)

What do you like to do for fun?

Spending time with my friends and eating biryani all the time is my idea of my fun.

Ayesha Fatima

What are the 5 things you can’t live without?

Coffee, Water, Food, My cellphone and Debit card

What is your favorite book, movie, song?

It’s not me It’s you by Mhairi Mcfarlane; Delivery man; The Nights – Avicii

What’s your motto or life advice that you live by?

Be so busy improving yourself that you have no time to criticise others.

What is one of your craziest, most ridiculous college memories?

When I was in the first year of Intermediate me and my friends were caught bunking. That day changed my life. I never bunked ever after that nor did I ever hide anything from my family.

What do you like to do for fun?

Road trips

Janvee Kalra

What are the 5 things you can’t live without?

Family, travel, food, shopping and good job

What is your favorite book, movie, song?

Meri Soni meri tamanna..

What’s your motto or life advice that you live by?

Live and let live.

What is one of your craziest, most ridiculous college memories?

Bunking college and struggling for attendance during exams

What do you like to do for fun?

Try new things or activities

Srishti Vyakaranam

What are the 5 things you can’t live without?

The confidence and belief I have in things; Family and friends; Phone; Food; Happiness

What is your favorite book, movie, song?

The Alchemist; Inside out; Diamonds by Rihanna

What’s your motto or life advice that you live by?

Life is short, Live it with Happiness.

What is one of your craziest, most ridiculous college memories?

Craziest thing we did was one of my senior had to go to her native place and we wanted her to stay for one extra day. She said she could try staying but then she was indecisive so we made her miss her train by taking her around the city talking to her diverting her mood.

What do you like to do for fun?

Spending time with friends and dance.

Sri Venkateswara Natyamandali, popularly called Surabhi, is a family theatre institution with over 60 family members performing mythologies in Padya Natakam. Their live performances are sprinkled with colourful illusionary backgrounds, sets and trick scenes, sending immense joy to child and adult alike. Like there are no takes and retakes on the Rangmanch, there is no retirement for artists or technicians here.

Sri Venkateswara Natyamandali (Surabhi), located in the heart of the city, at Telugu Lalitha Kala Thoranam, Public Gardens, Nampally, entertains the young and old during the weekends with a show that starts at 6.45 PM and lasts for two hour and ten minutes. On special occasions, Surabhi comes forward to host special shows as the one witnessed in July. There was a special show of ‘Maya Bazaar’ for school children at 3 PM in association with Dept. of Culture, Telangana Government that lasted for one hour and forty minutes.

Surabhi is a rare institution of family groups that has a track record of 131 years. Before setting camp at the Public Gardens, eight years ago, Surabhi led a nomadic life by performing dramas in villages. “Most of the Surabhi plays are the compendiums from the Indian epics and mythologies ‘Ramayana’, ‘Mahabharatha’ and ‘Bhagavatha’,” says Padma Shri Rekandar Nageswara Rao, popularly called Surabhi Babji.

Babji says that Surabhi is an institution of family theatre with more than 60 family members performing here. “There are actors from all age groups. A child as young as 18 months is aware of her/his role and they get ready and know when they have to get on the stage,” says Babji. (While I was seated there, a toddler came to him and he told her - Poo veshan vesko). He proudly claims that there are 30 women actors who play various roles on the stage. “It is only here you can see young girls’ dressed traditionally and true family unity,” he says.

What is the success behind Surabhi? This troupe is famous for its Padya Natakam (The classical Telugu verse play) performances adorned with colourful illusionary backgrounds, sets and trick scenes. The interesting thing about this troupe is that all artists/technicians of this troupe are from one family, dedicating their lives to Rangastal (stage). “There are no age limitations or retirements for the artists of this family,” says Babji.

Surabhi members take care of their own make-up and costumes. “All artists can do their own make-up. Often they all are helping each other too,” Babji says.

He is also proud to share that children in his troupe regularly attend regular schools and colleges during the week. “Though the children’s primary education is Drama education. When it comes to general education, children attend classes in the morning and perform on the stage in the evenings. There are kids who study in the primary, secondary educations, and there are youngsters pursuing post graduations, and PhD’s., in Theatre Arts,” the patriarch says. He quickly adds that some of the young artists travel 100 km daily to attend classes at the college, but when they return in the evening, they don’t miss their practice. There are extra practice sessions for the youngsters on Sundays,” Babji says. Back of the stage are the artists’ living rooms, which are the temporary shelters. “The rooms are all attached to the stage to quickly get on to the stage,” he says with a smile. Babji adds: “As this is makeshift living quarters, when the sky opens up, rain seeps in and there have been times when creepy creatures have crawled from under our cots.”

For many years, Surabhi was simply Padya Natakam (classical Telugu verse play) until Sri China Ramayyah introduced the gimmicks and trick scenes. The family patriarch says that in the long run Surabhi kept on enhancing the trick scenes, lot of gimmicks, recreating old world charm on stage. “It is here only that the audience gets to witness Lord Vishnu coming on the stage to bless a devotee and Narada traversing through the air, rendering ‘Narayana Keertana.’ Ghatochkacha pours fire on stage, the war between Ghatochkacha and Anbhimanyu, where fire and rain are witnessed on stage. Also Lord Krishna dancing on Kaliya, the five headed snake.

When are the children enunciated into the theatre? “They are born actors,” says Babji adding that children, as they watch their elders’ perform, they pick up and they are ready to play the role anytime. “Almost all artists are technicians too. Women not only play the female roles, but male characters too. It would excite the audience that they can watch different age groups of artists in the same play that the babies, children, youth, middle aged and the old, are all from one family,” he says. The patriarch reveals that till 1885, the contemporary drama groups used to come up with the male artists performing female roles because of society restrictions. “However, since Surabhi is a family system, women were motivated to perform the women roles on their own stage,” he says. Surabhi does not outsource its theatre requirements.

“The family members are involved in different roles concerning the theatre. Making the stage, curtains, stitching, painting, making of the wigs, ornaments, designing costumes, electrical works, lighting works, etc., all these works are performed by the family,” Babji says with a twinkle in his eye. “There is no doubt that the credit of success of the exciting plays is the team work. While watching the show, audience can see only two artists performing on the stage; but behind the screens, there would be the whole family that is working to make an instant set for the next scene,” he says.  Watching all these on screen in a two-hour movie is lapped up, but watching the same thing in a live show is a visual delight. Here there are no takes or retakes. Every day, the actor has to sing and perform.

Indeed one must credit Surabhi, it is a small world in itself. “With in-built democratic principles and administration it functions without any hindrance. All of them living here know their roles. The families of artists live on the other side of the theatre structure in small apartments built for them,” he says.

Babji takes pride in sharing that it was Surabhi which introduced ticketing system. “The early plays staged by the group were Harishchandra, Sarangadhara and Sakunthala. The troupe started ticketing system in early 1900s, and the gate collection too was good in those days. However, though the ticket is as low as Rs. 30 today, there are not many takers,” he says.

Apart from showcasing mythologies, Surabhi has proved its merit in addressing social issues in the rural areas. The troupe has performed at several National and International theatre festivals. In 2014, the troupe had performed at Theatre Festivals in Mainz and Paris staging 22 plays during their 41-day trip. “The French government bestowed us lot of respect and honour. Our sets and material required for the performance was shipped. They took great care. Even after the performances, same care was taken. As we had no performances here during that time because of our material in transit, the ministry paid us our salaries too,” says Babji. After the performances in France, Neeta Jain made a documentary on Surabhi for a TV channel in France.

Students from across India and abroad come here to learn the nuances of theatre. From time to time, students from NSD, IGNCA and Sangeet Natak Akademi are here training under Babji for 15 days to three months. Even students from Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, London, come here for learning the ropes of stage.

Sharing people’s preferences of plays here, Babji says that mythologies are preferred. “Top on the list is Maya Bazaar, followed by Patal Bhairavi, Sri Krishna Lellalu and Bhakta Prahlada,” he says. Others include Lava Kusa, Brahmam Gari Charithra, Balanagamma and Chandi Priya to name a few.

Protecting this kind of theatre is the need of the hour. The State Government and many voluntary organisations must come forward to encourage this family theatre where they are self-sufficient in every department. There is lot to learn. Even the Telugu poetic verses are dying now. Babji states that he has curtains and dresses of the Olden era, some as old as 120 years, and need to be housed properly that future generations can learn from it. If not watching a movie, this weekend, step into the Surabhi theatre and watch a play staged by them. It is clean and wholesome entertainment.

The Theatre

As you step into the make shift auditorium, one gets the feeling of a village life. Except for brown sofas in the front row, all the others are plastic chairs. One show can accommodate nearly 400 people. One would be amazed to know that Surabhi performs brilliantly on a stage with Width: 17ft + 26ft + 17ft (total = 60ft), Height: 15ft + 3ft and Depth: 35ft.

Babji shares that the roof of the stage is equipped with horizontal and vertical rulers strong enough to bear 1.5 tonne weight. “The curtains and other trick scene equipment are hanged to the roof,” he says.

Babji, Man with innovative ideas

Rekandar Nageswara Rao (Babji) is director, actor and leader with innovative ideas for the consolidation and purposeful continuity of the troupe. Babji took over the reins of the group in 1973 and has successfully brought the troupe into limelight. Ready to help people in need, both inside and outside Surabhi has earned Babji the name of benevolent manager.

Well-known for his performances as Srirama in Lava Kusa, Sri Krishna in Maya Bazaar, Sri Maha Vishnu – Anasuya, Veera Brahmam in Sri Veera Brahmamgari Charitra, Nakshatraka in Harishchandra, Vengalaraya in Bobbili Yuddham, Karyavardhi in Balanagamma, Bhavanishankara in Chintamani, Jai Ram Singh – Rangoon Rowdy (Social drama). He has directed major plays Lava Kusa, Sri Krishna Leelalu, Veera Brahmamgari Charitra, Balanagamma and Jai Pathala Bhairavi. And he has lent assistance to Padma Shri B.V. Karanthji as Asst. Director for the play ‘Chandi Priya’.

Winner of many accolades, Babji was bestowed with the Padma Shri in 2013 and Sangeet Natak Kala Academy in 2012.

Surabhi Origination

Babji proudly recalls that Surabhi’s first stage production was ‘Keechaka Vadha’. Remembering the roots of Surabhi, Babji says that the puppet team of the Vanarasa family had become very popular and their shows were part of any important functions or festivals in their village. “From a village near Jammalamadugu, there came a call to enact a puppet show during a wedding ceremony. The village was Sorugu, which is now called Surabhi, and the landlords were known in the taluqa for their patronage of puppet shows. Here, Vanarasa Govinda Rao found an opportunity to convert the puppet show ‘Keechaka Vadha - A tale from the epic Mahabharatha’ to a theatrical performance. That was the beginning. With the huge success of the show, the puppetry family changed into a classical theatrical family. As the early plays of the group were staged at Surabhi village and since most of the artists lived in the same area, the group came to be known as Surabhi,” he says.

The Tale of Demon King Ghatochkacha

Maya Bazaar is regarded as the master piece of Sri Venkateswara Natyamandali (Surabhi). The 2 hour and 10 minute show has been scripted by Sri Malladi Venkata Krishna Sharma, while the dramatization is by late A. Manohar and direction by R. Nageswara Rao (Babji).

This production narrates the love story of Sesirekha, (daughter of Balaram) and Abhimanyu (the son of Subhadra). The king Balaram wants to marry his daughter to his nephew Abhimanyu, but Balaram’s wife Revathi, under Narada’s influence, plans her daughter’s marriage with Lakshmana Kumara (son of Duryodhana). Due to the pressure from his wife, Balaram rejects the proposal to marry his daughter to Abhimanyu.

Dejected, Abhimanyu with his mother Subhadra goes to meet his father Arjun in Agnathavasa (exile). While Abhimanyu and Subhadra are passing through a forest, they come across the demon king Ghatochkacha (son of Bhima and Hidimba). Ghatochkacha invites Abhimanyu for a fight, but through an intervention by Subhadra, he comes to know that Abhimanyu is his cousin and he takes them to his house. Ghatochkacha finds out about Abhimanyu and Sesirekha’s love and the reluctance of Balarama to the marriage. Ghatochkacha takes a vow to get them married. He goes to the city Dwaraka and requests Krishna for assistance. Now, with his magical powers, Ghatochkacha kidnaps Sesirekha and disguising himself as Sesirekha, marries Lakshman Kumar.

Later, Balaram repents marrying his daughter to Lakshman Kumar instead of Abhimanyu. On Krishna’s suggestion, he goes to meet Ghatochkacha and apologises to Abhimanyu, Subhadra and Ghatochkacha. Then he gets his daughter married to Abhimanyu.

The Surabhi troupe has incorporated all gimmicks that come to one’s mind. Be it the little banter or the distancing between Sesirekha and Abhimanyu. Even Ghatochkacha’s magic has been shown in detail.

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