14+ Programme
The Sangam
The School is a 'gurukulam'. That means that all the children live in the school with some of their teachers. They have to, because their families live too far away. The travel would be about one to three hours by bus. The children don't mind staying at School at all, even the little ones. They get enough to eat and they have become a very tight group. The students address their Kattaikkuttu teachers and the people who look after them as 'Uncle', 'Aunt', 'Grandfather' and 'Grandmother'.

When they go home once every two months they miss the other kids a lot.

Right now 44 children between 6 and 16 years old study at the School. They learn how to read and write and get training in Kattaikkuttu music and acting. And they learn about each other and life...
A day at the School....
The Kattaikkuttu Kids wake up at about 6 am. A cup of 'Boost' - milk mixed with nutritious ingredients - helps them to get fully awake.

Everybody has to brush their teeth and take a shower before classes start at 7.30 AM. There's a lot of noise and shouting. The girls comb their hair and put coconut oil in it and, if they can find one, a rose or another flower.

What do they wear today? Look at the colours of their T-shirts, shorts and skirts. Every day a clean set. Every day another colour. That is their school uniform. Monday white, Tuesday yellow, Wednesday red, Thursday blue and Friday orange.

In the weekends, the children wear their own clothes. Girls have nice dresses. Do you think they are rich? No, on the contrary. But dresses are important. Girls have to be beautiful.

Not only the girls, the boys also want to be pretty. They like to wear chains and sun glasses and put a dot on their forehead with coloured powder.

After the first class, at 8.30 am, it is time for breakfast. A South Indian breakfast usually consists of 'idlies' (steamed rice buns) with a sauce of lentils and vegetables called 'sambar' or coconut chutney.

At 11.00 AM the students get sweet tea with milk. At 1 PM it is lunch time.

Two cooks, Chandran and Prema, prepare the food: breakfast, lunch, dinner and tea. They cook big quantities of rice, because that is the main food for people in Tamilnadu. Sambar (lentils and vegetable sauce) and rasam (a mixture of tamarind juice, tomatoes and spices) go with the rice. Every day there are different vegetables. Only on special occasions eggs or meat are served. None of the children are vegetarians, but meat is expensive and therefore poor people cannot afford to eat it often.

After they have eaten the children wash their own plates and put them away. How do they eat? Not seated on chairs and tables. The kids sit on the ground, cross-legged in a long line and they eat with their right hand.

Basic education
During the morning classes, the students learn Tamil (their mother tongue), English, maths, science and social science. They also have computer classes. Each topic is taught by a different teacher.

Music and theatre lessons
At 1.30 pm the music class starts. All children learn to play one musical instrument, when they want to become an actor or actress. It is important for the development of their rhythm and melodic skills. And all actors have to sing.

Some of the children learn to play the harmonium, others have chosen the mridangam and dholak, two kind of drums played by one person, or the mukavinai, a wind instrument that is very difficult to play. These are the three instruments that are used in Kuttu performances. You need strong ears to survive the music class. If all these instruments are being played at the same time, they make a lot of noise. Playing together as an orchestra is what the Kattaikkuttu kids like best.

From 3 to 5 pm the students have kattaikkuttu class. They learn the traditional plays, but also new stories written by P.Rajagopal.

In the Kattaikkuttu class listening is very important. The students of the School get a written script of the entire play, but it is impossible to learn Kattaikkuttu from a paper. You need a teacher or 'vattiyaar'. Listening to him and copying what and how he sings and speaks or how he moves on stage, form the essence of the Kattaikkuttu teaching process.

The kids know more than a hundred songs. After they have gone through the whole script, teacher Rajagopal will decide about the division of the roles. That is always an exciting moment. Who will get the most important character to play?

Teacher Rajagopal finds a good day to start with the movements.

Kattaikkuttu has dance and body movements, which are different for different characters. Important are the fast kirikkis, a kind of pirouette used by heroic, male characters. The students like practising it and do it all the time...

But far more difficult than the kirikkis is it to act out a character with emotion and gesture. It takes a lot of rehearsals to combine text, songs, dance and acting out a role together. Step by step a real play is born.

After Kattaikkuttu class at 5 pm it is time for cricket. At least for most of the boys whose favorite game it is. Girls play other games. Or they do homework. As the boys say: 'Girls are much better at schoolwork, because they are more intelligent and work harder.'

At 6.30 pm it becomes dark quickly. Most children go inside and watch television or do some homework. Sometimes they sit outside in front of the school, talking and looking at the stars. Dinner is at 7.30 pm. After that the children go off to sleep. Nobody has to tell them. They spread out their mats on the floor and lie down to sleep. At 9 pm it is dark in the school. Everybody seems to be asleep. Or did I hear someone whispering in the girls' room?