To the beat of the drums

I could have never imagined getting to where I am now. My parents have always been farmers, and their only son’s life was going to be the same; a life destined to the field, either as a laborer or on a tractor. It was already written.

Even before turning five, every afternoon, I would pick up the dappu – a traditional drum – that my father had built for me, sit behind my house, and play to compose rhythms. One day, Susi Raj, the cultural organiser of my town, listened to me and approached me while taking out two candies from the left pocket of his shirt. When I saw him, I ran to hide inside the house, I was afraid. But he followed me and knocked on the door so that he could talk to my mother. Susi Raj wanted me to participate in one of RDT’s cultural programs and give me good training so that I could continue to learn how to play the dappu. My mother accepted, and I did as well because they would give me a new dappu and more candies.

Not only did I train in music, but also in dance and theatre. I learned a lot, but most of all, I enjoyed it. My mother saw me happy and, day after day, she told me that her dream was to see me working in the villages so that I could share with other children the steps, rhythms, and techniques that made me smile every day. I participated in cultural programs for years until the day arrived, one of the happiest ever. I wanted to celebrate it, but above all, share it with my mother. The first thing I did was to sit in front of an old photo and explain to her that, even though she was no longer with me, I had achieved what she most wanted. I promised her that I would continue to work hard, opening new paths for our region’s youth. I could already say it out loud and with great pride: I am a cultural organiser.

After preparing choreographies, composing songs, and directing plays for more than eleven years in schools, in March 2020, suddenly and without knowing what was really happening, all educational centers closed, and a total lockdown was declared in the country. Bewilderment was rife and so was unfamiliarity.

Every day, on television and in the newspapers, there was news that explained the vital need to follow preventive measures to fight the virus. Still, a large part of the population did not heed the recommendations. Thus, in the face of such a sensitive and complex health situation, I thought that culture, once again, could be our best ally. We would organize a theatrical performance to explain the real dangers that this virus could pose to each one of us. I decided to transform myself into the Coronademon;  the coronavirus dressed up as a demon. A virus that is capable of infecting people of any age, from the youngest to the oldest; a virus that does not distinguish between rich and poor; a virus that, if it infects you, can kill you; a virus that is more evil than a demon. With this character, we could illustrate how terrible this virus is and how important it is to follow the preventive measures.

Explaining to young people that there are different paths to follow is a part of my job, but raising awareness and guaranteeing the entire community’s health is even more. To do this, for months, every morning, I would arrive at the office at 6 am to get ready. First, the dress, a black cloth with the symbol of a white skull in the centre. Then the horned black wig and face paint. Very thick and black eyebrows, green, yellow, and blue stripes on the cheeks and nose, and a red bindi on the forehead. And with the symbol of the coronavirus tied to my head, a microphone in my hand, and the rhythm of  the drums on the loudspeakers, I walked along the roads of the towns so that the neighbors decide to stay at home and always be safe.

If with each performance we made even one person aware, it was already a victory. That person would talk to others, and they would continue to share the message and raise awareness. Because amid a global pandemic, awareness saves lives. And we do it to the beat of culture, which is how we do it best.