The spinning drummers of Serendip — that’s what they are called. They are four sinewy boys in their traditional garb. Two of them carry big drums while the other two contort and bend their hands and legs in a dance form, the ‘Kandian dance.’
They bear a strange resemblance to our Kathakali dancers. Each one performs solo — one of them with a drum around his waist, cartwheels seven times, defying gravity and body dynamics, evoking gasps and a thunderous applause from the audience.
Meet the boys
These four Sri Lankan boys might seem like an island in our troupe, because they don’t speak Hindi, are over-dressed in a funny sort of way and have long unpronounceable names. But five minutes with them and you realise the long path of resurrection that they have traversed during our tour.
They have long names — Uditha Hapuachchige, Gayan Makumburage, Shiran Lahiru Heetage and Sushantha Pushpakumara Koralegedara. They owe their presence in the show to our maverick director, Toby Gough, who stumbled upon them when he put together a show for the tsunami-affected in Colombo.
All of them hail from villages in the north and western part of Colombo. Has this tour changed their lives?
I pose this question to them collectively. Uditha, a Shah Rukh Khan fan, promptly replied, “Yes, I would have been dead if I hadn’t travelled. It seems, he would be called by terrorist groups for training.”
He remembers how he ran away from home and lived in fear in Colombo before he met Toby, who cast him in his show.
Gayaan’s story is heart wrenching. Living in abject poverty, with a large family he was about to give up his childhood passion for dance, when this opportunity came his way.
He has now earned enough from these tours to get his younger sister married and his mother’s cataract removed by a renowned eye surgeon in Colombo.
Sushantha, the cartwheeling drummer, the oldest of them, is an automobile engineer who pursued dance because destiny beckoned. He is philosophical about his talent. He attributes his talent to Buddha’s blessings. So his dance is a form of devotion to Buddha.
Lahiru, the youngest smiled and replied to my question about his reason for joining the tour. He is the only source of income for his unemployed father and his stepmother.
A quick glance through their apartment displays new found affluence — laptops, i-Pods and digital cameras. This tour they admit, has been their initiation into the world and its different cultures. They have made associations and relationships, including acquiring girlfriends — Gayaan met a Swiss girl, Jacqueline Chantal, outside their Zurich performance venue and she has now been with her for nearly a year. He plans to marry her and move to Zurich to begin a new life. He has re-named her Shanti.
The passionate preservation of one’s culture is perhaps the best lesson I learned from these boys. Our culture gives us a sense of identity. Despite drawing the loudest applause every night, this foursome embody humility, which is worth emulating.
They are all survivors in every sense — of fate, natural calamities and indifferent circumstances. The true measure of a man is to pursue relentlessly his goals, irrespective of any impediments. The next time I’m in a tight spot and need to persevere, courage and good judgment, I shall surely recall these Kandy boys.