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Padmaja Suresh: Arts for underprivileged children
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai

June 7, 2006

Padmaja Suresh is an established exponent and teacher of Bharatanatyam. She started learning under Kalamandalam Rajalaxmi at the age of 4 and continued intensive training under guru K Kalyanasundaram of Shri Rajarajeshwari Bharatanatya Kalamandir, Mumbai. Later, Mahalingam Pillai of Sri Rajarajeshwari Kalamandir and Kalanidhi Narayanan honed her in Abhinaya skills. Padmaja is a Commerce and Law graduate, holds a diploma in Choreography conducted by guru Maya Rao, a Masters in Philosophy and pursues a Doctorate interlinking Arts and Philosophy. Padmaja hails from a family of renowned artistes - her great-grandfather, the legendary Maddalam Vengichen and father Chakyar Koothu K K Rajan.

Padmaja Suresh and her dance institution Kalpataru Kalavihar believe in making art a useful tool for education by recognizing the nurturing, generative and healing potential of dance. Kalpataru Kalavihar conducts training in classical arts including dance, vocal and instrumental music and inaugurated its charitable wing Kalachaitanya in November 2004 for propagating arts for underprivileged children. To help encourage participation in these programs (Kalavidya - aspects: melody and movement and Kalaviveka - aspects: character building and discriminative thought), the institute has initiated a unique giving plan, to help fund the free attendance of those who hail from low income families. They are chosen from govt and municipal schools and mostly from the slums.

The program is being held in Bangalore at the Gandhinagar Government School at Kumara Park West, Government School at Seshadripuram and the Govindarajnagar Government School. All the three schools have mostly poor children from the slums.
Once the students and parents knew that the classes were free, the attendance increased.

What issue does Kalachaitanya address?
A child, who is yet to develop into a matured adult, is like a bud which requires nourishment to fully bloom into a flower. Education in the arts definitely has a positive effect on both student motivation and academic performance. Dance education programs help develop creative expression and self esteem, cultural literacy, aesthetic perception and to prepare for career oriented dance exams.

Rhythm and movement are the life-breath of dance. A child can regain part of his/her self confidence through the expression of dynamic coordinated movements and wipe out the inferior feeling generated within and also in the parents. Many of these children have tremendous potential but no one to spot it, or nurture it. The idea is to encourage, motivate and harness the potential of these special children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to get trained or exposed to such specialized arts. Kalachaitanya has also instituted a scholarship scheme of Rs.1200 per annum per child.

What motivated you to take up this project?
Since my childhood, I was always fascinated by the talented children in local trains especially those who used to sing or play on stones, an unknown rhythm - mostly for a living on alms. I wondered why such kids never get chances to learn and develop their potential. Later, when I did an assignment for IRCEN, Delhi, I had good exposure to teach at tribal, rural and govt. schools in and around Delhi. I looked for an opportunity to offer my teaching services in this direction as well.

Dance has taken me, like others far and wide... kids abroad are benefiting from our teachers and there are so many poor and hopeful kids in our country. Can't arts be 'useful' to society in this way and why only a privileged class of artistes these days? Unfortunately, these classical arts which can transform personalities and prevent anti-social behavior are available only to a few who can afford the rising fees and externalities. Most artistes think of programs, tours and foreign students...even if 10 artistes think of extending services of this nature, the ultimate goal of spiritual satisfaction would not be far!
Staff members conducting training programs

Since the classes are for free, why are you struggling to raise funds?
Knocking on the govt. doors for help/fund/grant did not give any result and hence I decided that any voluntary work cannot start with a bank balance and I should simply go ahead with self-generated resources and then the required money would flow.

Why money if free?? This is a free 'opportunity' given for kids like these to learn dance and music and rarely, only if they want to, they pay Rs.10 per month. I cannot practically teach all the 100 kids (totally from 4 govt. schools) myself and hence my senior students help with the classes besides occasional workshops by outsiders. We are going to have a classical music teacher from June. Transportation plus a small honorarium is given to this staff or I would dread the 'inconsistency' later on. Money which flows from other classes or field should not distract the group. The corpus is getting added on for expenses on costumes, make-up, practice clothes and also dietary supplements for some children.

What is your success in it so far?
The success is in the fact that I find the kids more cheerful, healthier and diligent in studies as well due to an aesthetic pursuit. Their parents and school teachers are convinced now that their kids also can perform and that we are not there for any selfish motives.

I have had a chance to present some in 2 shows (at Chowdiah Hall and Gurunanak Bhavan) and an ensemble of 600 children from Corporation Schools for Republic Day at the parade grounds. The only negative factor that this venture has or can have is the involvement and interest of some parents of these kids whose hand-to-mouth backgrounds make them only think of what their children can monetarily fetch through arts. Hence, I am thinking positively in the direction of preparing selected ones gradually for the state govt's dance and music Junior / Senior exams, which can give valuable certificates and knowledge to be able to become well-equipped for some career as school teachers, etc.

What about the Kalachaitanya scholarship scheme?
The Rs.100/-average per month money collected as scholarship is utilized to pay for their bus travel if any, partly as dance class fees and partly saved to gradually build a corpus fund (to assemble items used by them for classes or program) in their favour provided they opt for furthering the arts seriously. It is not given in their parents' hands but directly channelised by our institution towards these dance /music education expenses. Their primary and secondary education is given either totally free by the govt. run schools or at a nominal amount in Corporation run schools, which is borne by themselves.

What is your ultimate aim for this project?
At this stage I am not really thinking too far ahead and I honestly believe that a work like this has started with deep inspiration and that force will take it on the right path.

Padmaja Suresh
"Kalpataru Kalavihar"
98/6, Krishnageet Apartments
2nd Main, Seshadripuram
Bangalore 560020, India
Ph: (080) - 23343393