A sharp right turn got me on to a dirt road and even before I could question the GPS directions, there were signs for the event, almost half-a-mile before the destination. After I passed the first sign about the event, I witnessed signs on either side of the road for every 20 ft or so, informing that this event was strictly to create awareness about the farmers situation in Tamil Nadu.
I’m referring to “Moi Virunthu”, a feast served in exchange for monetary help. This concept was adapted however no money was collected. And the event was conducted purely by volunteers from NJ.
As i was approaching the end of the road, two volunteers on either side of the road waved at me directing me to take a right turn into the make shift parking lot, which is quite unusual, since the make shift parking lots are only for large events. It took me just a few seconds for me to realize that I did walk into a very large event indeed. The volunteers were there at every turn to make sure everyone finds a parking spot. As i was walking towards the venue, I saw men in the traditional attires and so were the women. I even saw kids in the traditional attire.
I don’t claim to know Tamil, but I was able to pick up the conversation when a volunteer warned the incoming crowd that there are long lines for the lunch. Boy, was I in for a surprise. There were easily over a hundred people waiting on the line for lunch. But that was not the only surprising aspect of the event. The venue was prepped with hand made life size models of things that one would normally find in a village – the street corner store, the tea stall, the traditional games, the utensils. The event was kicked off with the pongal i.e. harvest festival followed by “mulai paari”, a traditional way of selecting the seeds. The “Kollam” (rangoli) at the entrance of the venue and the traditional dances including “Kavadi”, “Silambam”, “Parai Attam” brought back memories of the farmers in the yesteryears.
The connection with the farmers didn’t stop there. There were street plays, folk dances and other traditional forms of art and dance that were at display enthralling the audience. There was no DJ to prod the crowd to sing or dance along, there was something in these art forms that moved the people.
And ofcourse the food. Managing the logistics of serving food for thousands of people is no small feat, but the volunteers got everything under control.
The volunteers put in an incredible amount of time and effort to plan, coordinate, organize but more importantly to keep the audience connected with the farmer’s cause.
The event was a day long celebration starting as early as 11:00am (which is very early on a sunday on what was a perfect summer day) and going on till dawn, but the preparations for the event began in late March. The late night conference calls, the weekend in person meetings, all of that came down to this weekend. I was told that the volunteers were at the venue for the past 2 days straight to put all the planning into execution. The events success is a testimony to how well the preparation and the execution was.
How did the people engage with the farmer’s cause?
- The farmer was the celebrity of the event. Announcements were made during the event to identify people who may have practiced farming and invited them to share their experiences.
- Given the number of people, having a meaningful dialogue with the people is close to impossible. There was an information center set up where the people were requested to attend in groups of 20-30 people. This allowed a personal interaction and also gave the opportunity for the people to clarify any questions or concerns they had.
- The information center had all the information related to what the crisis is all about, the various challenges and most importantly how individuals can contribute and take active participation
Some learnings from the event:
- There is a great deal of empathy and concern for the farmers and that the challenge really is to try and reach out to them.
- There is a lot of scope for these kind of events and that these kind of events do not need celebrities, big organizations or even media for that matter, farmers are big celebrities themselves and are enough to pull the crowd
- These kind of events can really help bridge the gap between the people and the farmers and thus provide a platform for people to effectively contribute