CHENNAI: In the midst of the third wave of Covid-19 last year, a social woker from Chennai (who wishes to remain anonymous), lost her grandson on his 12th birthday to cardiac arrest — an event that left her grappling with unending questions that kept emerging with no answers.
Today, a rainbow truck of books, games and musical instruments, chugging along the rutted lanes of rural Chengalpet is filling the void he left behind in her heart. ‘Art Vandi’, as it is called, has been sponsored by this grandmother for the Nalandaway Foundation, which its founder Sriram says, is a moving music, art and learning lab for children living in the remotest parts of the state who may otherwise not have the privilege of accessing these resources. “We have always wanted to create a permanent music school, an extension to our Children’s Choirs, where children from our disadvantaged homes could experience the joy of learning music. But a physical centre could only serve a few hundred children, says Sriram.
“Instead, we thought, what if we created a colourful truck filled with paints, puppets, movies, books, flutes and tambourines. What if, for an entire week, we get the kids in a village school to draw, paint, sing, act and dance?” he says. The Art Vandi comes with customised storage for musical instruments, painting and art material, theatre equipment, a large screen TV for movie screenings, comfortable seating for three trainers, solar panels to fuel the electronics, an indoor toilet, and a retractable 12sq ft tent. At every panchayat middle school the truck stops by, the kids participate in a weeklong workshop on different forms of art, music, dance and theatre, at the end of which a carnival is put together showcasing their artwork to students, parents and teachers. A film capturing the week’s best moments is also shown, giving children and their parents the excitement of watching themselves on screen. “After the workshop we ask children to create a storybook.
They could be comics, illustrated books or a collage of photographs,” says Sriram. “We’ve seen stories of ghosts on a banyan tree, or about the most revolutionary teachers these kids have met in life,” says Sriram. After Chengalpet, the Art Vandi is gearing up to cover 30 schools as well as shelter homes – to engage with children who don’t go to school – across Tamil Nadu in the next six months. For the woman who made this all happen, it is a way to stay connected to the apple of her eye. “My grandson was a voracious reader. I wanted every child to be able to experience what he did. And now, I feel he is living through them all,” she says.