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Slum children join in song of the road

Swapan Naskar is 12 years old. He wears a Calvin Klein T-shirt and a pair of white shorts with a huge tear. This isnít a fashion statement, nor is it the latest in style trends. The clothes are old, faded and dirty, with the T-shirt a size too big for him, and the rip in his shorts in the wrong place. He works as a van driver, but tries to make time to go to school every day, although thatís becoming more of a problem, as he grows older.

Prashanta Pike, 9, too, is in much the same situation. Tumpa Adhikari, 8, Jaba Sardar, 7, and Puja Hela, 10, do the housework, but like going to school. These children live in the slums near Amherst Street post office. The stories of their lives comprise anonymous tales of daily struggle. But, there are those who are trying to put names to the faces. Beadon Street Subham, a youth theatre group, is one such organisation giving voice to the plight of streetchildren. The medium is the stage, and the weapon is a play by Samaresh Basu, called Morechhe Palga, to be enacted for the third time on November 23, at Madhusudan Mancha.

The members of the Rajya Academy Award-winning group range from Asmita, a kindergarten student of Loreto House, to Shubhadiptya Bhattacharya from Bhowanipore, a first-year student of Bijoygarh College.

The group, started by lawyer Ashish Khan, provides a platform for the youngsters to be creative and interact with others from different backgrounds. And for them, itís a means of making friends and having some fun, besides discovering their talents. Keeping with the theme of integration, this time, streetchildren have also been brought in to act in the play.

The poignant story is that of a young boy, who has no name, but is called Palga Phorsa, because he is pagla (insane) and fair. His mother abandoned him as a child, just leaving him under a monument.

He learns to survive through petty theft, and is popular for his daring character and sharing nature. But he gets caught one day, and is beaten up by the shopkeeper. He bleeds to death on the streets. Then, the real madness begins, with the politicians exploiting the tragedy for their own ends, and the slum-dwellers demanding revenge. In the end, he gets a decent cremation, and the world forgets.

Swapan, Tumpa, Prashanta, Jaba, Puja and the others donít perform any prominent roles, neither are they regulars, because ďthey have to work, and are not always allowed to come for the rehearsalsĒ, according to Khan. They play themselves, contributing to the essence of the theme. And although they donít quite understand what itís all about, for them, itís a little entertainment and a diversion in an otherwise dreary existence.

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