| A street play at Tangra to spread awareness on World AIDS Day. Picture by Amit Datta
Sumit is a family man, with wife, child and a decent job. He’s a popular do-gooder in the para. Then, one day, he falls ill, and the fever refuses to leave his body. Frightened and confused, he goes for a blood test, which confirms his worst fears — he’s HIV-positive. Sumit tells the sordid and tearful tale to his wife, of how he ran into a former girlfriend from college, a drug addict, one night, and “made a mistake” — having unprotected sex in a weak moment.
He loses his job, his friends, and eventually, his family. The stigma attached to the dreaded disease makes him unwanted and forsaken by society, and reduces him to a lonely man.
Sumit could be any one of thousands in this country living with HIV/AIDS, some in the dark about their condition, others in denial, and still others outcast.
On World AIDS Day, with the theme being removing the stigma by creating awareness and providing support to sufferers, it was their stories some actors and organisations were trying to tell.
The action plan, thought up by the NGO Catholic Relief Services (CRS), was to spread the word of acceptance and tolerance in slums through street plays. Organised by banglanatak.com, two teams from separate theatre groups were taken to Bowbazar and Tangra, where a play, Virus, was enacted in five different places in each area.
In the play, a former professor gives Sumit a new lease of life. And although he had infected his wife, helping each other and living to the best of one’s abilities was the message. The reality, though, is all too often a stark contrast.
In Bowbazar, Natya Pritona was doing its bit to reach out to the people. “The team was very excited by the fact that a man actually came up to ask them the helpline number after watching the play,” smiled Anita Boral, health and HIV/AIDS coordinator, CRS.
It was the Ram Nagar Lane Forum of Revolution for Communities Education that took centre-stage in Tangra, telling people how living, talking, eating and playing together, or even touching, does not spread AIDS.
According to Niloy Basu, of banglanatak.com, several hundreds turned up to watch the action. “The involvement was good, but you never know how much people take in. There was definitely interest, though.”
At the end of the last show in Tangra, the para kids had picked up the words to the catchy start-off song, and the adults walked away with some insight. “Try to understand what they are saying,” an old lady explained to the younger women. “Your mothers didn’t know about it, and so some of them got AIDS. Protect yourself.”