Kochi: A hospital is a place where you expect the least to have an aesthetic experience. It often smells of an unbearable gloominess. But come Wednesdays, the Ernakulam General Hospital which is a major place of solace for a great number of patients from in and around the city, mostly from the lower strata of society, puts on a different attire, all pleasant and artistic, thanks to the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF).
Every Wednesday morning for the past year, a little green patch located centrally at the hospital, gets transformed into a performance area for the KBF's popular Arts and Medicine programme. The programme which has featured the biggest names in the Malayalam music and entertainment industry week after week without a break, showcased its 50th edition on Wednesday.
Inaugurating the landmark edition of the programme, filmmaker-producer Amal Neerad got a chance to trail back to his days as a student of the Maharaja's College which is situated near the General Hospital.
“As students of the Maharaja’s College, one good thing we used to do regularly was to donate blood to the patients at this hospital. It feels good to be back here for a project that aims to bring relief to not only patients, but to bystanders and even to hospital staff,” the popular filmmaker said.
The Kochi-based Mehboob Memorial Orchestra, which performed at the first programme nearly a year ago, did a repeat act with a dozen old Hindi and Malayalam songs at the anniversary edition of the hour-long show.
The music group’s secretary K A Husain recalled that he was “excited” when the KBF trustee Bonny Thomas first suggested the project to him. “I said ‘yes’ without even consulting with my colleagues,” he said. “Everybody has since been very encouraging. It is a small gesture on our part to provide relief to others.”
Cartoonist-journalist Bonny, who is the organiser of KBF’s Arts and Medicine series, said: “History has lots of instances where music was used to bring relief to patients. In the coming days, we will extend this popular project to more hospitals. At least 5,000 people have supported us through the episodes over the past year. We expect thousands more to continue backing us.”
Apart from the Mehboob Memorial Orchestra and the district administration, Lakeshore Hospital and Research Centre in suburban Maradu on Wednesday came forward with funding for the project. “We were not sure for how long the programme would keep going when it started,” said Dr Annie P G, superintendent of the hospital. “It is wonderful to celebrate its anniversary with this contribution from Lakeshore.”
Palliative care specialist Dr G Mohan noted that this project was probably a first such in the country. “It is a great thing that we have been able to provide a stage for this,” he said. “Australian artist Daniel Connell made portraits of my patients; now most of them have passed away. They must have had some moments of relief through the programme.”
The concept on the healing aspect of art was elucidated by Dr Iva Fattorini of America’s Cleveland Clinic, at a talk at the first biennale, and introduced by KBF a couple of months later at the general hospital with the support of then district collector Sheikh Pareed and the hospital chief head Dr Junaid Rahman.
The modestly-organised performances always draw a crowd of patients, bystanders and hospital staff. Great singers and composers like Kaithapram, M K Arjunan, Jerry Amaldev and Berny Ignatious, new generation like Bijibal, Sithara, Renjini Jose, Ganesh Sundaram and Edappal Viswanath, reality show stars, filmmakers Kamal and Lal Jose, and actor Unni Mukundan have all taken part in the event without remuneration, being moved by the idea of the relief that music brings to a hospital environment.
Artists and caricaturists have also gifted patients with their portraits.
Every week the programmes are infused with novelty; on September 17, Pala Ramapuram Padhmanabha Marar, a 109-year-old Sopana Sangeetham maestro opened the show. Famous oncologist V P Gangadharan who performed with his bulbul on one of the Wednesdays said: “I know from my experience that art can positively influence the mental state of a patient.”