Riders of the lost art

Around 250 families in a Mysuru slum take off on their bikes — stacking up loudspeakers, makeup kits, banners and costumes — to perform street plays wherever there are spectators

Published: 21st August 2016 06:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st August 2016 06:35 AM   |  A+A-

MYSURU: Riding a Bajaj M80 bike, he and his small family tour the state to entertain people and earn their living.Nearly 250 families like Manjunath’s, living in the slums of Ekalavya Nagar, ride for miles together, and perform street plays.

Carrying a mini orchestra set along with loud speakers, banners and makeup kit and luggage, these families start their journey early in the morning. They stop by ponds and lakes along the way to have bath and cook food on the kerosene stoves and vessels which they also carry.

Not just pregnant women, even mothers with their newborns go on these tours. It is a tough life out there. A family’s net annual income is just around `25,000.

“We perform during night. Whenever it rains or if there is a power failure, we cancel the show. This means we don’t make money that day. We sleep inside mantaps or in the corridors of government buildings, temple premises and continue our journey early in the morning,” says Hanumanthappa.

They have their happy moments too. “It is a matter of pride for us that we get to stage a play during the annual Mysuru Dasara,” he says.

Their parents and grandparents used to perform puppet shows touring across cities. But today these families dance to movie songs or deliver funny dialogues, apart from staging street plays.

Muniyamma, a nonagenarian who plays on her 150-year-old harmonium says: “I play the harmonium and sing both theatre and movie songs. I have toured many states and learnt their traditions and cultures.”

However, with the changing times, themes too have changed: today, they stage plays on subjects of social importance.

“Plays on dowry and sexual harassment, farmers’ plight, problems of drinking and smoking receive wide applause. Apart from staging street plays, we don’t know any other skill,” says 60-year-old Subamma.

“I have nine children and 56 grandchildren. They too are following the tradition as we don’t know any other job. As we don’t earn enough to save, we are not worried about tomorrow,” she says.

Subamma says that though they enrol their children in schools, some of them are not interested in education.But these families don’t want their wards to follow in their footsteps. They want to provide them good education.

As they are not entitled to social benefits like an honorarium, scholarships or old age pension like other artistes, they don’t know what to do.

Of the 550 families residing in the slum, nearly 250 families earn their livelihood touring on their bikes.

On an average, around 70 families in the slum will always be on tour, while others stay behind and give performances at local places, says  Manjunath.

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