A yodhyakuppam’s oppari singers have assembled for a game of daayakattai. Since it’s their day off, Anjalai and Sellamma are engrossed in the game as boys in the settlement gather to jeer at them. Annam sits on the sidewalk, trying to talk to her compatriots. Sellamma and Anjalai chide her in unison. “You can play, but don’t disturb us,” they admonish her.
Just then their group’s head and trainer Krishnaveni enters the scene, signalling that they had played enough for the day. She says, “This is our only pass time. It is not like someone dies every day and we are busy at it.” She looks away for a minute and starts mumbling a tune to herself.
Though Krishnaveni was born into a family of singers, she never thought she would make a living of it. All that changed after her husband died. “I was only doing odd jobs till then. The usual jobs you would associate with people who lived in the coastal areas — employed as maids, setting up stalls on the beach and the like. But, after my husband passed away a decade ago, I became a professional mourner. I am glad I earn for myself and am not a burden to my children,” she adds. Krishnaveni has three children — two sons and a daughter. She adds, “My sons are in good jobs and live in Kerala.”
Annam says it was destiny that made her an oppari singer. “When I was younger, I worked all day for a living. I ran a stall on Marina beach. Today, I have no strength for that. But when I sing with these people, I sing with my heart,” she says.
Sellamma and Anjalai are the visibly quieter ones in the group. They reluctantly part with details, but then stand firm on one ground. “We do this for a living and we don’t gatecrash funerals. It is a life of dignity that we want,” says Anjalai, with a sudden burst of energy.
“We can even go to Delhi to show how rich oppari actually is as a form of music,” signs off Sellamma, as her team nods in agreement.