THEATRE AGE: CARVING GEMS OUT OF ROUGH STONES THRU’ THEATRE
The moment we hear word theatre, we conjure up a picture of stage, lights, actors etc, all put together for making a performance aimed at some kind of entertainment, perhaps. At least that’s what a common man perceives as theatre. However, a young man professionally well trained in theatre dared to think beyond this perception. For he saw much more in theatre, something more than mere performance and entertainment. He saw huge potential in it to attract slum urchins and visualized it as a channel to metamorphose them into shining stars of the society. The dream, needless to say, was very ambitious almost utopian. But then so strong was the sheer grit of this young man that all odds had to bow down to give way to his designs to shape the destiny of these abused souls. Let us have a look at the unique and interesting script of this real life drama.
Scene I: – Locale: A beautiful road of city beautiful Chandigarh.
A young man is cycling down to his room after conducting a session at a theatre workshop for children of a elite school. Children who were like shining bubbles of prosperity. Suddenly, he is distracted by the sight of a huge garbage drum kept in a secluded corner of street. Some young children were playing around it. On coming closer he found that they were not playing, rather they were trying to pick up saleable or reusable items from the littered garbage. He got down from cycle, perhaps to have a better look of the scene, but to his utter shock, he found that 2-3 of them were there right inside the drum. They were scavenging garbage in a manner that will put even stray dogs to shame. The scene shocked his senses to numbness. So grave was the jolt that he could not even sleep for several nights. Plight of those wretched children in and around the drum kept on haunting him. Alongside came the pictures of elite children whom he was training. This nightmarish experience transformed young man into some what akin to Buddha. He vowed to himself to devote his entire life and might to the betterment of these unfortunate souls. These children too had a right to decent living like those in school. And he had found the “mission” of his life.
Scene II:- Locale: A labour colony at outskirts of Chandigarh.
Having discovered his mission he sought help of his friends and colleagues to give shape to it. After much persuasions, a close friend agreed to walk along. Their first step was to go to one of the labour colonies where such children lived. Labour colony of sector 25, on outskirts of Chandigarh was one such location. It was seemingly unending cluster of tiny low roofed shanties, made up of all kinds of waste material that could be put to some use. In the narrow serpentine lanes, a number of children were loitering around alongwith a large number of piglets, puppies, hens, stray dogs etc; the later outnumbering the former. Being total strangers to the scenario, locals hesitated even to talk to them. With great difficulty, the duo succeeded in explaining them purpose of their visit. After several visits to the colony a few of them agreed to listen. Initially it was too difficult to make them understand as to what theatre meant, for they have never heard about it. Thus the concept was toned down to “gaana-bajaana” to begin with, as they could relate to it. Once convinced about the genuineness of the purpose, a few children agreed to toe along. And that was the small beginning of a big mission.
Scene III. Locale: City Piazza, Sector 17, Chandigarh.
The first lot attracted about 8-10 children and some more were needed to make a workable group. Children revealed that some of their companions were doing some odd jobs like shoe shining, selling sundry items on footpath in City Piazza, Sector 17.
The duo reached City Plaza and explained their mission to these boys. After some initial inhibitions, a few of them agreed to join the group. Thus after hard labour of about a month, the group had rag pickers like Krishan, Sunil, Anil, Parmod, Kala; shoe shine boys like Veeru, Vijay, Rajesh and street hawkers like Dharmpal, Kanwar etc. Besides, the prize catch was some school going children like Geeta, Amarpal, Ajay and Vijay. And this way a youth brigade started taking shape.
Scene IV Locale: Local market of labour colony sector 25, Chandigarh:
A bunch of street urchins is engaged in a petty clash of their own. A rather goon type boy is in centre of action. He is Vicky Raja. Passers by are looking at the whole drama but feign ignorance about it and just move on. A young man appears on the scene and throws himself head on into the centre of action and succeeds to calm them down. He takes them to a nearby road side tea stall and offers them tea and biscuits. Taken aback by this unexpected hospitality, the urchins cool down and agree to listen the young man. Conversation starts and it comes out that Vicky is facing some criminal charges and is required to give daily “haazri” in local Police Station. Undeterred, young man continues his conversation and to his pleasant surprise finds that Vicky is very good at playing “Dholak”. The bunch agrees to join youth brigade. Another chapter to mission’s journey is added.
Scene V Locale: Main Cremation ground Chandigarh.
Cremation Ground, denotes undoubtedly the last stop of everyone’s journey of life. However, this young man choose it as “starting point” of his mission’s journey. It was summer of 1992 and sun was at its scorching peak and so was the zeal of this young man to do something for these scattered scars of our modern society. By now he had about 30 odd boys and girls, in the age group of 8 to 15 years literally singing and dancing to his tune. To move ahead, they needed a suitable space where shape could be given to their dreams. After scanning several sites, a vacant plot near parking lot of cremation ground appeared just appropriate. It was secluded, leveled piece of land, dotted with huge shady trees and having much needed drinking water nearby. But then there was a problem- the plot was badly littered with human excreta. However since the site was very near to their labour colony, the brigade decided to go for it and cleaned the whole mess themselves. And what followed was perhaps the best surprise of their life. For the first time in their life, they danced together, jumped around like free birds, sang the songs of joy and enjoyed every second of their company of young man. Needless to say, foundation of the mission had started taking shape.
But the joy was very short lived, for next day when they reached the plot, they were shocked to see it re-littered. Committed to core, they cleared the mess once again and resumed enjoying their chorus. However, the story got repeated everyday. Fed up with this scenario, the group shifted to a grassy plot in front of Department of Indian Theatre, Panjab University. Fortunately, nobody objected to it. Things were much better now in shadow of Deptt. of Indian Theatre, literally.
Scene VI Locale: Lawns of Deptt. of Indian Theatre, Panjab University, Chandigarh.
Children were enjoying their evening assembly and their number crossed over 30 at times. Besides singing and dancing, another attraction was a free treat of tea and snacks every now and then which the young man use to offer them from his pocket money. However the initial zeal and zest started fizzling out and children started dropping out slowly and gradually; leaving young man alone on several occasions. Yet, a silver lining was that some of them did come back though not regularly. Some three four months passed like this when it was felt that mere song and dance routine was not enough to retain their interest. Some thing more was needed. Thus using his theatre experience he thought of starting some kind of drama with them. Searching for a suitable script he realized that none of the available scripts served his need for either they were bit too formal or difficult to be comprehended by these novice slum children. They needed something in their mutilated spoken language and a story to which they could relate. Since nothing like this was available, the young man tried to pen down a few lines himself, though he had never done scripting before. Surprisingly, the bunch took these lines like fish to water. Egged on, a month after another para was composed and that to clicked with them. The experiment continued and after about 4-5 months of labour they had a script of their own, running for about one hour and a half and they named it – “Raja Aur Kissan” (the King and the Farmer). It was a pot-pourrie of folk lore, folk dances, folk music, acrobatics, jugglery etc. The story was of a king who due to his extremely sedentary lifestyle suffers total loss of appetite. When all ploys fail to treat the king, a poor farmer seeks a chance and to everybody’s surprise, succeeds in curing the king by his own innovative methods.
By now it was July 1993 and temperatures had risen to around 45-C. Unfazed by blazing winds, these youngsters continued their onward journey, step by step, in the open grounds, under the sky. What to talk of remembering the dialogues, even understanding them was not easy as most of the players were illiterate not only in literal terms but also in intellectual sense, as they had not known or seen any thing beyond misery and drudgery till date. Their cluster of low roofed shanties was the only world that they had experienced. No wonder then that preparing a ten minute scene took ten days or more at times. Undeterred by these handicaps, the young man continued to baptise his brigade members in theatrics. Alongside he was also trying to make them more presentable and amenable, like carving gems out of rough stone.
Scene VII Day of reckoning: 23 Aug, 1993 Locale: Tagore Theatre, Chandigarh.
After over four months of grilling in various streams of theatre, the young souls were ready with their first production, first of their life and first of its kind perhaps. Their maiden show was staged on on 23 August, 1993 at Tagore Theatre, a venue that symbolizes ultimate destination for theatre lovers of Chandigarh. To say the least, the show was grand success. Not only it won tremendous applause from viewers, it also attracted the roving eyes of many a media persons, who were all praise for such a brave and unique attempt at bringing slum children to main stream life. Profuse public attention metamorphosed these street urchins into confident modern kids. Morale of young man was touching sky. After facing all odds, he finally succeeded in putting some light in the gloomy life of a few street children. More important than magnitude of success was the fact that a beginning has been made. From now onwards, there was no looking back. The show was staged several times at many more venues and at every show, public response was better than the previous show. Emboldened by the grand success of their first venture, the children were bursting with confidence. Thus, soon the group was ready with another in-house production – “Jaanwar Hota Aadmi” (If Animals were Human Beings). Staged in June, 1994, this too was a runaway success.
The mission started picking speed on the highway of success.