March 28, 2020
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Sanni Earns His Kanji

Sanni Earns His Kanji
The big thing on television in Kerala is the talent-spotting competitions, touted as ‘reality shows’. Every channel has one, and each is watched by millions. One of the most popular shows is into its eighth round and one of the most popular of the 14 contestants left is an engaging young man named Sannidhanantham. Called Sanni by everyone, he is not the most talented or charismatic of the field. But the fervour with which he sings devotional songs energises everybody. He is a one-man bhakti movement. There’s already a Sanni Fans Association, and Sanni is giving shows at temple festivals. Incidentally, my ancestral home in the village is just a few houses from Sanni’s. He comes from a family of hereditary Paanan-paattukar, or minstrels of a sort, who used to go from house to house in the village at festival time, singing traditional songs and being paid in grain. The rest of the year, they worked at a trade. (Sanni’s father is a mason.) So Sanni is earning his rice, as we say in Malayalam, but adapted to modern times.

Sanni has helped me in my travels in Kerala in the last three months. Meeting anyone new—on the train, in a shop, on business—I have to reply to questions about my home and my "country". This is difficult, for the village still lies off the beaten track. So I ask, "You watch Star Singer?" "Yes." "You know Sanni?" "Of course." "Well, I’m Sanni’s neighbour." "Oh, right."

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