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Irulas, at close quarters

Sruthi Krishnan

CHENNAI: “The content chooses the medium, I think,” says Kutti Revathi, Tamil poet and activist, who chose to use images to chronicle her experiences with the Irulas, a tribal community.

An exhibition of her photographs titled ‘On snake trails,’ about the Irulas living in the northern districts, concluded here on Wednesday.

“They can look at a hole on the ground and tell you what snake lives there,” she says, explaining how intimate the Irulas are with snakes. But, what charmed her was not their ease with cobras and rat snakes, but their way of life. “They celebrate everyday with song and dance,” says Ms. Revathi. “They can immerse themselves in the moment. What more could you want?” The inherent rhythm within the bodies of Irula women attuned to melody was something she envied. “When they talk, you can see a pulse in their body.

There is music within their limbs, and they are so comfortable with their gestures and expressions. After looking at them, I find people in the city too constricted,” she says. During her travels in Tamil Nadu, she chanced upon a community of people who seemed starkly different from anyone she met before. “There was acute poverty. The children were naked. The women seemed different. They seemed to belong to another era,” she says, talking about her first encounter with the Irulas. Her impressions were formed after a long period of stay with the Irulas. “I have participated in all their rituals. You need to immerse yourself in their life, to understand about it. Without understanding your subject, you cannot express yourself,” she says.

“They are a romantic people,” says Ms. Revathi. “Always seen in pairs. Even when taking a head-count for Irulas working at a site, the supervisors count them as ‘jodis’,” she says.

The Irulas were banned from catching snakes in 1972.

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