The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pangs of turning roofless in Rajabazar
- Child labourers play themselves

Ten-year-old Bhola lives in the slum bordering the Rajabazar canal. He does go to school, but his occupation is filling buckets of water for a ‘babu’, for which he receives Rs 15 per month. He used to work in a photocopying shop, but his parents didn’t want him running across the road, in front of speeding cars, carrying tea. He doesn’t like the present job, but it’s valuable contribution to the family’s meagre income, and Bhola gets a meal of chicken and rice every day, and sometimes clothes. “My father gets very upset and angry when there is no food. He keeps saying ‘bhaat kotha theke aashbe' (where will the food come from')’”

Madhu Seth, 13, helps deliver heavy goods in an auto-rickshaw van. He, too, goes to school, but only when he has time. Six-year-old Miriam Khatun helps out with the housework, despite her age, as does Sabira Khatun. But Sabira’s older sister is in Class X, so education is not completely discounted in her family.

These children have to live with the threat of losing their homes. They are the subjects of a play being put together by a group of individuals, from various theatre groups, to highlight their plight. Written by Leena Gangapadhyaya, a lecturer, who has worked with kids from the area for over a decade, starting as a college project, it is about the poverty and exploitation of the slum-dwellers from the Rajabazar canal area. And these children are part of the play.

Apart from the 10 youngsters, there are veteran actors from diverse theatre groups, who have come together to make Aguner Dalpala happen. Although it was done about three years ago, this time, directed by Kabir Sen Barat, who is also director of the dance group of Calcutta Choir, it’s here to stay for longer. Beginning from July 27, at Academy of Fine Arts, courtesy Wrik Katha, an NGO working in the area. Sen Barat is a member of Wrik Katha, so is Gangapadhyaya, and temporarily, so are the other participants. Taking time out from their busy theatre schedules, they gather together a few times a week for rehearsals, in a bid to make a small difference.

Sukriti Lahori is a member of the theatre group Bohurupee. She plays the central character, an intrepid reporter, who gets attached to the children and fights to prevent their exploitation by the media and politicians. “Bohurupee doesn’t usually allow its members to work with other theatre groups. But this time, they made an exception, because it’s a very different type of project, for a good cause. It’s the first time I’ve worked on a collaboration myself, and it’s absolutely wonderful. The kids are so enthusiastic,” she smiles.

Gangapadhyaya is happy about the resurrection of the play. “The children I wrote about have gone away, after growing up. But these kids are from the same area, facing the same problems.” Sen Barat, too, feels it’s time to bring the issue back in the public domain.

For the youngsters, however, it’s not been an easy ride. Bhola used to be prevented from attending rehearsals by his father, who preferred that he earn his daily bhaat instead, and Madhu might have to skip a practice session if duty calls. One young girl quit, because she works as a servant and her employers wouldn’t let her off on a Sunday, the performance date. This is the poignancy and the pathos of their lives and it is finally finding expression on stage.

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