CHENNAI, November 18: Manjakkudi is a tiny village near Kumbakonam. Her maiden visit to that village was a few summers ago. Since then, the place has held an infectious hold on this leading Carnatic vocalist. And, she revisited the village several times thereafter. Today, the village has become an inalienable part of her life quest. Indeed, Bombay Jayashri is on a mission mode. “I am attempting to bring to life a Centre of Learning - a space created just for the children of Manjakkudi to learn music, the arts & sciences. A place where they can be fearless, be themselves, explore their creativity, and grow into who-ever they want to be,” said Jayashri. The move to set up Swami Dayananda Centre for Learning at Manjakkudi in Tiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu has invigorated the Carnatic musician. She has teamed up with Milaap, a leading crowd-funding platform, to help the proposed centre.
The centre, to be unveiled next academic year, will have teachers and educators who will instil curiosity and motivate children to learn through the arts, music, science and value education classes.
It all started with a music concert when Jayashri went to Manjakkudi a few years ago for a music concert along with her students. They strolled in the morning along the little village. They heard students of government schools recite Tirukural couplets. As Jayashri and her students reached a particular school, they were treated to a chorus of Tamil poems by a group of students. Jayashri felt an instant spark inside, and was eager to teach music to those students. At first they found Carnatic music difficult to learn. Nevertheless, they gave a good try. Soon enough, they sounded rather pleasing to hear as they began to sing little by little. Since they had a very short time to spend at Manjakkudi, Jayashri had to leave. From then on, Jayashri and her students made it a point to teach students at Manjakkudi every Friday. Jayashri too joined her students whenever she had time in a week. They continue to do this even today. The learning community consists of around 300 students at primary to college levels where music has become a part of the curriculum. The schools around this place are an amalgam of Tamil and English medium ones.
“Seven years ago, by chance – or maybe it was destiny – my students and I landed up in Manjakkudi. We were there to conduct a musical interactive session for the children there. Their response to the music, their eagerness, passion, innocence stirred something inside us. That evening, as my students and I sat overlooking the vast pastures of Manjakkudi, we felt compelled to come back and meet these children, and create music with them over and over again,” Jayashri recalled her maiden visit.
“What started as one-off sessions, soon turned into weekly trips. Friday after Friday, we went to share music with these children and soak in the richness and depth of humanity we felt in their presence. I remember one such occasion when we gave them the word ‘nila’ (moon) to create their own poetry as part of an exercise. One little girl chirped, “nila- yen ammavin pottu” (Moon, the dot on my mother’s forehead). In that moment, we were spellbound: the creativity, the spontaneity and the wisdom she displayed moved us deeply.These children, whom I have known for over seven years, stand today on the threshold of a larger life experience,” she added.
Manjakkudi is the place where Swami Dayananda Saraswathi was born. The idea of starting a science and arts education along with music to the students of Manjakkudi must be read in this context. Jayashri has decided to join hands with Milaap to create awareness about this project and also help bring in contributors for this cause.
In fact, Jayashri has dedicated a lullaby “Moonchild” featuring the students of Manjakkudi titled “Thangamani Rathiname” to the students who come to learn from Manjakkudi and Semmangudi. “Children in India, especially in rural areas, must be encouraged to imagine and dream, to listen to beautiful narratives, explore hands-on and express, without restrictions. I firmly believe that a child’s emotional, social and intellectual development starts with the first lullaby heard. Just as how the lullaby soothes the child to drift into sleep, every child deserves a loving environment that nurtures and nourishes learning and opens up a world of beauty within,” she said.
About 100 children are expected to visit Swami Dayananda Centre every week. At the Atal Tinkering Lab, they will have a space to think out-of-the box, explore and experiment! The centre will also impart value education taught by a Swamini. Through these classes, the focus will be on all aspects of student development: academic, intellectual, creative, social, physical, ethical and the emotional. An adult literacy programme is also in place to empower women from economically weaker sections of the community. With competent teachers and facilitators already in place, the centre will function under Swami Dayananda Educational Trust, Manjakkudi (SDET).
The project cost is estimated at Rs. 30 lakhs. The facility will span over 3,500 sq.ft. “I take this opportunity to thank the students at Manjakkudi. From the context of a rural child, my experience has shown that musical education can be a great equaliser. It gives me immense pleasure and satisfaction to be deeply involved in this transformation process and witness the real change among the change-makers of tomorrow,” Jayashri said.
In the first year, the centre would focus on children of Manjakkudi and the neighbouring villages within a five kilometre radius. Children will be admitted in the after-school and week-end programme, which is provided at no cost. Nearly 95% of these children are first-generation learners -their parents are farmers or daily wage-earners.
The original Lullaby, featured in the album ‘Moon Child’, dedicated to the children of Manjakkudi, their love and dreams, you can listen to it on the YouTube channel here:
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