‘Street chefs’ serve up delicious stories

Visual Aspiration travelled to cities across India conversing with street chefs; Their play is a recreation of inspiring stories collected from these travels, served along with street food

Published: 05th March 2018 10:45 PM  |   Last Updated: 06th March 2018 07:33 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

BENGALURU:Streets are better for yummy food vendors serve, but we rarely ‘see’ the person behind the cart. Our interactions are usually transactional. To change this, a city-based theatre company Visual Aspiration is staging untold stories of the streetside chefs through their play Stand on the Street.

Director Aruna Ganesh Ram says, “I have always been interested in exploring theatre that caters to multi-sensorial work. Food is the most immersive experience because it continuously engages all senses”.Visual Aspiration, which staged the play on March 3 and 4 at Atta Galatta, plans to travel with it through the city and to other cities. Their next performance will be at Untitled Space in JP Nagar, this coming weekend.

To research for the play, the entire team went on a food trail to various cities from Chennai and Bengaluru to Varanasi, Patna and Delhi, conversing with 250 to 300 chefs along the way. “We collected bitter and sweet stories from their lives. Each and every street chef inspired us,” she says.There were challenges, from winning the confidence of the vendors to conversing despite language barriers. “There were time we got no response, and there were times conversations went on for two hours. We closely observed their body language, and built characters and narratives,” says Aditya Garg, one of the lead actors.

Stand up and eat

Stand on the Street has an interesting format. The audience stands through out the play, which has changing sets and a moving stage. The size of the audience is limited to 25 for a more intimate experience. “To recreate a typical street experience, we wanted our actors to interact with the audience better… the audience had to stand closer to the actors,” says Aruna. “The stage is divided into different sets, each for one kind of street food, and the audience keeps moving to follow the narrative.”

The best part is that, while enjoying the play, a viewer can munch on different foods -- from jhaal moori of Kolkata to sundal from Chennai and paan from Benaras, these are cooked/prepared to authentic recipes. The actors cook, with ingredients from the particular state, during the run of the play. The theatre group is aware of the social disparity between the performers and their subjects, and have taken extra measures to ensure that there is no ‘mockery’ of vendors. For one, actors perform wearing masks, which were moulded with the help of an artist based in Chennai.Aruna says, “With a mask, this character’s story can be everyone’s story. We are not here to mock life of vendors.”

B’luru lanes offer courage and hope

Brother waits to go home
Bhola, a street food vendor in VV Puram, is from Varanasi. He misses home every day, but he stays back because he wants to finance his sisters’ marriages.“I have even packed my bags to return a few times, but I unpack because returning empty-handed is not an option,” says this vendor who sells chana choor masala, a popular delicacy of Uttar Pradesh. He has been here just a year and has tried hard to learn Kannada. “Over the last six years, I have travelled to six states. Indian streets have kept me alive,” he says. Bhola says that he bought a phone and a bike for himself and has a plan to own a house in his village. 

Four decades selling avare bele masala
Eighty-year-old Natarajan has been running a streetside eatery, serving a variety of churmuri, for the past 48 years.This vendor on VV Puram’s food street runs the business with hi wife.  He has one son and a daughter, both independently run their businesses. The children would rather that Natarajan rests at home, considering his age, but he wants to be financially independent. They have seen difficult days with no customers or days when police harass them to vacate or no enough money to even pay their rent. But, they have survived these and now have built a house near Lalbagh, and with their seasonal savings.  The top-selling snack at his cart is Avare Bele Masala.

Hardwork beats odds
Stories the theatre group heard, interacting with street chefs, were inspiring. Aruna says that vendors spend long days on the road -- 4 am to midnight -- because they want to be financially independent irrespective of their age and gender. She shares a moving story: “I remember a woman who was selling chai in Domlur. She casually pointed to a spot on the road, saying that was where her husband died 28 years ago. She said that she didn’t have time to even mourn his death or feel bad because she had three children to feed, and she had to ensure that they get a good education. Two days after his death, she was  back at work at her stall… she had to keep going”.

Tickets for the shows are available at Book My Show.

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