Govt should directly reach out to artistes hit hard by pandemic

Kalamandalam Gopi

(Kathakali maestro Kalamandalam Gopi espouses the cause of artistes who are struggling of late in view of the restrictions in staging performing arts due to COVID-19 pandemic. He urges the authorities to consider their plight and not to hold up eligible grants and pensions.)

When I pointed out that I have not been receiving pension allowance for three years, several people commented – ‘Why is Gopi complaining about poverty when he has two sons?’

I was not talking for myself alone, but in the hope that someone would listen if I were to speak out.

Both my children are employed and they will take care of me as well. But I am a traditional man, who wants to live off my own savings.

For artistes like me, who worked at Kalamandalam for 33 years, we get only a meagre pension. As we did not have educated people amidst us back then, we just came away with whatever was offered and signed wherever we were asked to. That was our misfortune.

But how can we remain silent when the allowance along with the meagre pension is not being given. I do not view this as magnanimity, but as a way of honouring our work. Who has the right to block this?

Each institution needs authorities who have domain knowledge of the field. If people, who have no inkling about artistes, are appointed, far worse will happen. It may be alright for slogan-mongers or flag-bearers to head cultural institutions. But they should have at least some connection to art.

I was appointed as the emeritus professor at Kalamandalam. After some time, a clerk from the office telephoned me and said that I need not go for taking class anymore.

When I asked the VC that shouldn't I be informed before being removed from the post, I was told that 'it was not required, as per rules'.

Shouldn’t I at least know of my ineligibility? I am also a member of the Kalamandalam governing body. How many artistes have been insulted like this? As they have no voice, no one knows about this.

As someone who has acquaintances with ministers and leaders I could have complained. But my experience has taught me that there is no point in speaking out when such unqualified people are at the helm of cultural institutions.

I have no complaints about the ministers. They have always treated me and other artistes respectfully. They are not aware about any of this.

After the Covid pandemic struck, the artistes are in a spot. Who will speak out for them? The Minister for Culture wants to set things right. But those who handle the files are not allowing this.

The artistes, who do not get stage performances, are in misery. Everyone should think about them. When unqualified people are in authoritative positions, such institutions are not aware about the artistes and their problems. Even when every other sector opens up, curtains are down over their stages.

Once in the past, I along with another Kathakali artiste at Kalamandalam had met its then chief to seek duty leave for a Kathakali performance. When asked what was the performance, we replied 'Nalacharitham Randam Divasam'. We were cautioned that if we take one-day leave and go for two-day performance, action would be taken. Leave was not sanctioned either.

The descendants of such people are still handling cultural institutions. This is also the reason as to why the government and ministers are in the dark about artistes, who have been pushed into starvation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government has to directly reach out to the artistes and enquire about the problems they are facing. I am saying this on behalf of people who dedicated their life to art without making any savings. It is not about increasing the pension for Kalamandalam Gopi. Every artiste aspires to lead a life of dignity. It is their right too.

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