Culture couple

Culture couple
Chitra Krishnakumar and KK - after anubhuti event in June 2014.

Since their arrival on this island 17 years ago, Dr Chitra Krishnakumar and her husband M. Krishnakumar seem to have found their place in the heart of Singapore's Indian cultural scene, and have worked tirelessly to enhance it.

In addition to their varied interests, both husband and wife share a deep passion for the arts. For Dr Krishnakumar - who holds a doctorate in environmental education - an interest in cultural activities began to develop years ago, while she was a teacher in India.

After they moved to Singapore in 1997, they became members of the Singapore Malayalee Association (SMA) and also became actively involved with the community clubs (CCs) around their neighbourhood. "I have helped to organise events for the CCs and at SMA, like choreographed Bollywood dance shows. And I always liked to sing!" says Dr Krishnakumar.

In 2005, along with her husband, she set up the Singapore chapter of Soorya, a not-for-profit, voluntary organisation headquartered in Trivandrum, Kerala.

Committed to promoting the arts, Soorya aims to bring fine Indian art forms and other Indian cultural shows to the masses. A brainchild of Mr N. Krishnamoorthy (or Soorya Krishnamurthy, as he is also known), Soorya has a reputation for showcasing exceptional Indian talent. It is now more than three decades old, with chapters across 11 countries globally, including Europe, North America and the Middle East.

"My husband and I were associated with Soorya even when we were in Trivandrum," says Dr Krishnakumar. "Now, while it is mainly the two of us that manage its activities here, we have a supportive team, all of whom are volunteers. And they are very important to Soorya."

Despite the couple's involvement in many other activities, they are still able to dedicate a tremendous amount of time and energy to their passion.

Dr Krishnakumar is mother to a 19-year-old, works almost full-time managing Soorya, finds time to write on art and culture for the Pravasi Express (a bilingual fortnightly paper) and also volunteers at the Alzheimer's Disease Association.

Mr Krishnakumar, an engineer by profession, is currently employed at a multinational corporation. "But," he says, "as a designer of semi-conductor microchips, I have an interest in other forms of aesthetic design too, including graphic design, publications design and layout (magazines, brochures) etc."

This is clearly evident in his commitment to several cultural publications. In his free time - which often means working late into the night - he designs layouts for cultural journals such as Sadhna, the annual publication of the Hindi Society in Singapore, and writes for numerous others.

He has also been a long-time editor of both the Gita Vani, a magazine discussing the Bhagavad Gita, and Onopaharam, the annual publication of the Singapore Malayalee Association, facilitating literary creativity among the Malayalee community.

His desire to preserve the cultural arts extends, of course, to Soorya, where he plays the role of honorary secretary while managing the organisation's website, graphic design activities and general project management.

In the 10 years since its inception, the Singapore chapter of Soorya has become a valuable platform for showcasing outstanding Indian talent. Many of their shows have been free - or at least very affordable - for anyone interested in the arts.

"Recently, we organised a free event at a Taoist Chinese temple, where, interestingly, there is a resident Hindu goddess, Lakshmi Devi. The temple honours her once in three years. The programme was called Salutations to Goddess Lakshmi and it was an evening filled with classical music and dance. It was really a merger of cultures!

"We have been able to do so many such charity events and free events at the community centres and other venues. As another example, recently, during Deepavali last year, we did a show for Tan Tock Seng Hospital. It was a free show held on the hospital grounds and was open to the public. It featured many local artistes," explains Dr Krishnakumar.

The events calendar looks equally busy in the coming months. On Feb 5, Soorya will hold a cultural programme at the Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple, with local artistes as part of their Kumbhabishegam functions. And on May 1, Padma Vibhushan Amjad Ali Khan and his two sons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan will perform the sarod string instrument at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

While showcasing world-famous talents such as Amjad Ali Khan does draw crowds, finding the funding to conduct the events in the past few years has been a challenge. "Until two years ago, we were doing two events a year, and tickets were at very affordable prices. Now we do one event a year only, and it's a ticketed event, although still affordable. The membership fee used to be the ticket, but sadly we are unable to offer that now, as we still need to cover our costs," confesses Dr Krishnakumar.

Still, despite the pitfalls and the pressures, say the Krishnakumars, when people come up to them at the end of the show saying how much they enjoyed it and asking when the next show will be held, what they feel is pure euphoria. And this, they say, is what keeps them going.

Soorya has patrons who have supported it from the beginning, many of whom are now members. And new members, regardless of race, are always welcome. "Our membership is open to anyone with an interest in the arts," the couple say.

They add that they have always considered their involvement in the organisation to be of the utmost importance. Says Mr Krishnakumar: "The all-powerful market forces of globalisation threaten the very foundations of what makes us uniquely human - our language, our myths and poetry, our traditions and value systems, our heritage and, certainly, our culture. And it is very important to preserve this heritage for future generations."

Agreeing, Dr Krishnakumar says: "When people are exposed to lots of art events, we are able to create and develop a discerning audience. Children, especially those who are learning the arts, should be encouraged to watch the performances of good artistes, so that they can learn from them. Moreover, because we are bringing the artistes here, right to their doorstep, it would be wonderful if more children were to watch the shows."

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