Dancing Engineer: The balancing act of tech and art
Arun K Kumar is an IT professional based in Kochi and like any other techie, his tryst with software and numbers begins every Monday. He toils in front of the computer- coding, decoding and grappling technical glitches. By the end of Friday Arun shuts down his computers and takes the stage. Computers and keyboards are replaced by Mridangam and Costume. Just like Clark Kent, a lay man who’s alter ego is Superman, Arun too balances two different personas -the life of an artist and a techie.
Arun Kumar, hailing from North Paravoor is a software professional during the weekdays and on weekends performs Ottamthullal -a traditional performing art in Kerala which has its origins in the classical principles of Natya Shastra. He is a full-time employee at Tata Consultancy Services. In his career of 20 years, he has graced hundreds of prestigious stages, cultural festivals, and religious events.
His mother, a dance teacher paved his way to the stage. He started his journey by performing folk dance at an age of 2.
“I am a native of North Paravoor, in Ernakulam district. My father, R Ratnakumar worked as an LIC agent and my mother S. Sreekumari, who is currently a Councillor at the Paravoor municipality is also a former dancer teacher. I grew up watching my mother dancing and listening to the rhythm of ghungroo. As a child I was more disposed towards dance and I learned my first dance lessons from my mother.
My first experience on the stage was when I performed a dance number at the age of five. My mother discerned my penchant for performing arts at a very young age. After an initial training under her, she enrolled me for Bharatnatyam and many other dance forms. I started learning Ottam Thullal at the age of 10 and I found my ground then and there”
Unlike many other art forms, Ottam Thullal is multi-dimensional, it conveys through visuals and vocals. Incidentally, Arun who also pursued music in parallel to dance found Ottam Thullall suiting him more than other dance forms.
Arun continued his extensive training during schools years and participated in many youth festivals and similar competitions, bagging many awards. He was trained under renowned Kalamandalam artist, Kalamandalam Prabhakaran during these years. The educational institutions he studied in lend him immense support and encouragement which augmented his career in a great way. When he started competing in youth festivals, Arun forayed into many other art forms including music. He participated in Kathakali, Mimicry, Kathaprasangam, Mridangam, and Tabla.
“The teachers of SNV Sanskrit Higher secondary school, Maharaja’s college where I pursued my under-graduation and SH college, Thevara where I joined for MCA, they all encouraged me and inspired me to push the boundaries”
Unlike many who participate in multiple items at the Youth festivals just for the sake of raking points, Arun still pursues all the art forms he ventured in. ” I used to do to do mimicry at Kochi Guinness ( a popular group of Mimicry artists), and I still pursue Mridangam, Kathaprasangam, although, my forte is Ottam Thullal”
The Ministry of Culture of Central Government bestowed a national scholarship on him, honouring him as the ‘best folk artist’ in 2007.
He had bagged the award for best Ottam Thullal artist at the 2000 Kerala State School Youth Festival which was held in Palakkad.
He was selected the ‘Kalapradhiba’ at the Ernakulam District Youth Festival after winning many prizes in folk dance and Ottam Thullal categories in 1991.
Ottam Thullal, a folk dance form originated in Kerala during the 18th century, is still one of the most widely performed folk art in the state. Ottam Thullal (Ottam-run, thullal-dance) is an energetic show, where an extremely energetic artist performs the dance while he sings himself. The artist will be assisted by singers and traditional musical instruments. The famed Malayalam poet, Kunjan Nambiar is believed to the founder of this art form. Sheethakan Thullal and Parayan Thullan are the slower variants of Ottam Thullal.
According to Arun, indulging in arts helps him take the pressure off and unwind, as his profession is demanding. He is often referred as the ‘dancing engineer’ and said that he wishes to continue pursuing both tech and art. “I will not quit one for the other as I equally enjoy both”
He said that people working in IT or such similar taxing jobs can pursue art, if not as a profession, at least as a hobby.
Arun R Kumar has plans to start a dance school to promote Kerala folk arts in future. He lives with his wife Lakshmi and son Aadityan in Kochi.