India is a land of forgotten legacies. Like the bead jewellery made by the nomadic Narikurava of Tamil Nadu.
But Narikurava P Sundaram is the first in his family to know a stable home. In the old days, his ancestors hunted and foraged to make ends meet."My parents would travel to different temples and tourist destinations throughout the year. From a very young age we were taught how to make beaded jewellery to be sold at these places," he says.
With no chance of a formal education, his parents taught him to market the products and attract customers. Sundaram and his wife are now teaching their sons the art. "Making beaded jewellery is something our tribe has been doing for 600 years," he says with a touch of pride.
Sundaram’s parents were one of the first to dissociate from their nomadic lifestyle and set up base in Devarayaneri village in Tiruchy district. Today the village is the largest Narikurava colony in India with over 600 families.
With a stable home, Sundaram thought his children could be educated. But he had not factored in the deep-rooted social prejudice against the community. "Teachers would keep questioning our children’s right to education. One day my youngest son came back crying because his teacher told him that he should be beading necklaces and education was above him," he says helplessly.
Sundaram has little option but to teach his children basic maths himself. The tribe's maximum sales are during October-December period, which includes the Karthika month and sees large footfall at famous temples.
"Each family in the tribe functions as a separate unit. We travel to these temples to sell our jewellery. The rest of the year we visit places such as Delhi, Mumbai and Mathura to purchase raw materials. We also sell our wares in Goa during non-seasonal months," he says.
Each Narikuruva family earns around Rs 25,000 per month during Karthika, but their monthly earnings dwindle to Rs 5,000 during rest of the year. This year, coronavirus and the lockdown have especially hit them hard.
The Narikurava Education and Welfare Trust (NEWT) has been their saviour, but it’s not enough. Many of Sundaram’s friends and family have taken up government sanitation jobs to tide over the crisis. "Apart from jewellery making, we don’t know how to earn money," says he as he waits for the Karthika months to deliver him out of his misery.