Nirmala Govender. Picture: Supplied
Nirmala Govender. Picture: Supplied

Durban mom receives global recognition for promoting Tamil culture

By Janine Moodley Time of article published Apr 7, 2021

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Durban - Nirmala Govender was recently recognised as one of 25 Inspiring Global Tamil Cultural Women for her social contribution in promoting the Tamil language and South Indian culture.

The award was given to her by the Vaureal Tamil Cultural Association (Culturelle Des Tamouls) in France in association with British Tamil Radio. Some of the other recipients were from Australia, Canada, Europe, India, Singapore and the UK.

Govender, of Queensburgh in Durban, was presented with a certificate of achievement endorsed by Happy Guptan, the Consul of Community Affairs at the Consulate General of India in Birmingham, and Seema Malhotra, an MP in the UK, via a virtual ceremony.

The 57-year-old is a school administrator at King Shaka High in uMlazi and she uses her spare time to teach other students the Tamil - and Telegu - language and culture.

At age five, she began participating in Tamil Eisteddfods and she remained involved in the competitive festivals for more than 40 years.

“My late mother was a Tamil teacher and it was natural that I participated in all cultural activities. From then onwards, there was no turning back. I became a singer and performed mostly in temples. This is something that brings me much joy.”

In 2005, Govender travelled to India to study music. Her teacher was Professor Shunmugasundram (now late) of the Madras Music College and, for a short period, she studied carnatic music with Dr DK Pattambal.

“I also recorded my music in India. I performed in many venues in South Africa as well as in India, Mauritius and Malaysia.”

She enjoys dancing and has used both her skills to empower others by preparing them for Eisteddfods. “I have also promoted the Tamil culture by coordinating traditional events such as nelengus, and coming of age and bangle ceremonies in order to ensure that our age-old traditions are maintained in a western-influenced society.”

She said there was nothing more gratifying than being recognised for one's community work.

"We all strive for acceptance and recognition is a reflection of belonging.”

She thanked her late parents and brother for helping her get to where she was today.

Govender recalled the moment she received the call from the UK organisers informing her about the recognition.

“Initially, I thought someone was playing a prank on me but later, I realised it was a legitimate call when they outlined all the work I did. They informed me that I was being recognised for the work I was doing as a woman in the Indian Diaspora by promoting the Tamil language and culture in a foreign country far away from the motherland, India.”

She said Tamil was declared as the oldest classical language by the United Nations and Tamilians should be proud of his.

"Our forefathers, who came from India in 1860 brought with them the necessary ingredients to preserve the Tamil language and culture. In South Africa, organisations, like the Natal Tamil Vedic Society and the Merebank Tamil School Society, are doing remarkable work in continuing with the efforts of our forefathers by promoting the language and culture. We need to take advantage of the opportunities and platforms that have been created and encourage the youth to get involved.”

Govender said the Covid-19 pandemic had affected teaching but she used other platforms to connect with her students.

“The success of platforms like the SA Musicians Against Covid-19 has shown that we can overcome the cultural and artistic drought and continue with the promotion and preservation of language and culture.”

She said there were a number of individuals and organisations that were involved in promoting Indian languages and it was important for people to support them. Govender is married to Raj Govender, a social cohesion advocate and anthropologist. They have two children, Nameshni Moodley, 35, and Keiyuren, 23.

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