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On a cultural mission

K. Arjuna, who has been posted as the Director of the Indian Cultural Centre, Surinam, is from Kanchanahalli, 80 km. from Bangalore. He talks about his new responsibility with relish.



Arjuna: To Surinam from Kanchanahalli

ON A hot afternoon, K. Arjuna, Indian Council of Cultural Relation's (ICCR) representative in Surinam, held forth on the trials and tribulations of work and life in a tiny country located on the north-eastern coast of South America.

Hailing originally from Kanchanahalli, 80 km from Bangalore, it was higher education that brought Mr. Arjuna here. He obtained a degree in dramatics from the University of Bangalore in 1972 and his tryst with theatre began more than three decades ago. "I have worked with stalwarts such as Girish Karnad and Vijay Karanth," recalls Mr. Arjuna, who stepped into amateur theatre way back in 1967.

"I joined the ICCR in 1979 as an assistant programme officer and became the programme director in 1999 after 20 years," he says.

The ICCR is an autonomous institution under the Department of External Affairs. The Vice-President of India is the president of the body that implements the bilateral agreements of the Indian Government. ICCR has eight regional offices all over the nation and is headquartered in New Delhi. It has 13 centres abroad and institutes all cultural scholarships and cultural exchanges in addition to conducting seminars, workshops, and lectures in performing arts such as dance, music, and theatre. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad the founder President of ICCR.

Mr. Arjuna's new posting as the Director of the Indian Cultural Centre, Surinam, in February 2002, has altered his life completely. "Do you know that 37 per cent of Surinam's population is Indian?" he asks. One lakh fifty thousand Indians inhabit this country that was discovered by the Spanish navigators in the early 16th Century. The Indian Cultural Centre is situated in Paramaribo, capital of the nation and is under the jurisdiction of the Indian Embassy. The centre is oriented towards a number of educational activities. Classical music, dance, yoga, and Hindi are taught. "Our library at the centre is well-equipped, and we have nearly 16,000 titles on Indian literature, mythology, culture, and art," he adds with a touch of pride.

"Yoga is extremely popular and our centre boasts of more than 150 students," he says. Indians in Surinam speak the Avadhi dialect of Hindi, which is known as Sarnami Hindi. Interestingly, Indians there are referred to as Hindustanis in Surinam. Whilst the Surinam Hindi Parishad conducts Hindi classes for the locals, there are 200 qualified Hindi "pracharaks" or teachers in the country. Bharatanatya also has many takers.

It is worth mentioning that after the abolition of slavery in Surinam in 1863, the labour requirement was met by the Indian immigrants who came to work for the sugar plantations. The first ship carrying the immigrants from India, came in 1873, a phenomenon that continued for four decades. Due to mounting pressure from Indian national leaders, immigration came to a standstill in 1913. Nearly 33,000 Indians migrated to Surinam during this phase while only 11,000 returned home.

"Hindi music and Bollywood movies are a big draw," says Mr. Arjuna about the Indians who perceive it to be a link to their roots. "There are two popular local channels that broadcast Hindi programmes round the clock, namely Trishul and RBNM. In fact, the movie Devdas was a big hit, and a number of Bollywood stars perform at live concerts and shows on a regular basis," he elaborates.

"As the Director of the Indian Cultural Centre, its my responsibility to monitor the systematic functioning of the centre, organise cultural events, and interact with parents of the students who come to the centre," he says about his role. There are nearly 220 temples in the country, and it is clear that its Indian population has immense respect for its roots. Diwali and Navaratri are celebrated with gusto in Surinam. "We receive requests for information about travel to India all the time," states Mr. Arjuna about eager tourists who want to explore the motherland they have only heard about and not seen.

Admitting that the ICCR has exerted a tremendous influence on his life he says: "I have to meet people from all walks of life, it has strengthened me as a person." "I enjoy being with people. I have now come to understand the essence of culture. It is all about individual development and elevating oneself to a level when one truly appreciates culture, irrespective of its form, colour, or country of origin."

HARIPRIYA SRINIVASAN

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