THE TRAVELLING BARD

Rishi Majumder meets Shambhaji Bhagat, who has sparked off a mass movement through his songs and plays

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

 

Sambhaji...

Ye Hitler Ke Saathi Hai Bhai, Janaazon Ke Baraati Hai Bhai,
   Poochte Nahin Insaan Ko Kaun Hai, Poochte Hai Bas Jaat Aur Jaati
   Who is Sambhaji Bhagat? Waving gingerly, a man with a medium height and rotund frame in faded t-shirt, well-worn shorts, moustache and shoulder length hair beckons into an equally aged Siddharth Vihar Hostel room, Wadala. Inside lies a corroded iron bed crowded with a dholkis and a harmonium. The man pushes aside a clothesline to let us in, even as he clears books and used clothes strewn on the chatai on the floor to make space to sit. He has to make space. This dilapidated room is all he has to write, compose and rehearse songs, poetry and plays that crown many a civil protest. “People wonder why I don’t capitalise on my name and make some money,” he smiles wryly. “By giving up money, I have amassed people.” A thrifty exchange! Sambhaji Bhagat’s average janata audience amounts to over a thousand.
   Hum voting karte hai bhai, woh ‘setting’ karte hai bhai.
“Sambhaji Bhagat is part-writer and composer of We Are Not Your Monkeys – a re-interpretation of the Ramayana from Dalit standpoint” reads one news article. “Bhagat sings songs for Girni Kamgar mill workers” reads another. Anti WTO protestor, speaker on the nuclear issue, joint protests with communist Gadar, accusations of Naxalite connection are only some of the taglines associated with Bhagat’s name.

   “Let me simplify things for you,” the ‘great contemporary Dalit poet’ (another tagline) begins. “There is a Brahmanical ruling class and an imperialist globalization that combines in a fascist way to oppress the Adivasis, Dalits, landless labourers and farmers in the name of post-mordernism. I want to tear through this post-Mordernist veil.” Right! And Postmordernism is? “An attempt to demolish history. Exponents of globalisation claim there is no class and caste. But there is one, and such attempts only break up active unions and groups to leave man alone against the ‘system’.” Hence even NGOs today attempt to work at specialised issues. So an NGO sworking for women’s welfare, doesn’t look at the woman’s child and family, or connected health issues. So Bhagat says. “As for Gadar, I’ll tell you what I tell the police. He’s my ‘Jail Bhai’…because of the amount of time we’ve spent in Jail together!”

 

Bhagat with his troupe

Bhagat with his troupe

Wall Street Pe Baithe Hai Bhai, Vanar Sena Hum Ban Gaye Hai Bhai…
Bhagat came to Mumbai from his village as a college student: “I joined Avaam Natya Manch, a group bent on living with slum dwellers and villagers to consequently create theatre, music and literature for their awareness and unity.” Then came the double graduate travelling with beggars and fakirs: “I used to carry their bags around and beg with them to learn their vocabulary. To communicate to the people, you have to use the language in which they think.” So Bhagat adapts plays and songs for different areas as per local dialect. He packages his political messages with common touch. “As for street theatre, with the youth organisations that came up in the ’70s being stamped out by the government, it was on the wane,” he remembers about an art he resurrected in his own way to make his vehicle. “And others draw on it too,” he retorts. “The political marches with Advani or Sonia Gandhi wearing long shawls and crowns and companies using mini-street plays to sell blades are proof of that!”
   Ye acting karte hai bhai, hum fighting karte hai bhai.

That was the last line of an excerpt from one of his popular songs as proof of how he uses local lingo. Bhagat drums his dhol to a crescendo and then lies back to talk of the future: “We’ve started training programmes for tribals, villagers, slum dwellers and college kids – so they can write these songs and perform these plays by
themselves. We’ve also started distributing CDs of our songs. But to take street theatre to the level of a revolution, we’ll have to do it on a big scale…” He means mixing “technology with tamasha” to have a large “MTV kind of presentation” to battle MTV culture. He means their own radio channel, news channel and CD centre. “But we will never agree to sponsors. That will curb our expression and make this struggle meaningless.” Where does he even get money for this much, one questions. “The thousands who see me donate enough to feed my troupe and take care of some clothes and medicines. Our money always has to come from the ‘people’.”
 
 

This article appeared originally in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:  http://alturl.com/zy6u

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6 comments

  1. Debt Settlement Program · August 18, 2009

    punctilious post. due one decimal where I bicker with it. I am emailing you in detail.

    • rishimajumder · October 25, 2011

      awaiting email. havent recd.

  2. Bankruptcy · August 26, 2009

    charming post. due one detail where I contest with it. I am emailing you in detail.

    • rishimajumder · October 25, 2011

      sorry havent received email – or if i have ive missed it. pl send again. very very curious…

  3. Settlement · September 2, 2009

    Apologize for my bad english, I over its a gracious piece of your writing. Famously I have faced alot of difficulties in this train but your article resolution definately escape me in future. Say thank you You

    • rishimajumder · October 25, 2011

      please dont apologize. but what do u mean by my “article resolution definately escape me in future”? Sorry – am nervous abt my writing…

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