Karna Karmakar, a 27-year-old chhau dancer who has performed in the US, Scotland, Brazil and France, on Tuesday morning motorcycled 40km to Purulia town to collect a packet of relief essentials worth Rs 1,200 for his family of six.
Karna, who lives in Barabazar, had to borrow Rs 100 from a friend to refuel his bike for the trip to the town to collect the relief packet from NGO Nanritam.
“Six months ago, I never would have never thought I’d bike 40km for a packet of relief items. I used to earn Rs 9,000 a month by performing chhau. But now, my savings are wiped out. I am grateful to Nanritam,” Karna said.
He added that he was one among thousands of chhau performers battling poverty amid the pandemic.
In Purulia alone, there are 30,000 chhau and jhumur performers who like Karna are jobless since the outbreak of Covid-19 in March. The only income of these artistes is the monthly Rs 1,000 provided by the state government.
Karna, who runs his chhau team Kharipahari Manbhum Janashakti Chhau Nritya Samiti with 20 dancers, said that it hurt him to see his colleagues roaming around in search of other jobs.
“I often dream of Tagore’s drama-in-verse Kacha and Devyani that I had staged in Scotland and New York. That ovation was real, so is this poverty. I don’t know when we will return to the stage,” he added.
Like Karna, Shankar Tantubai, a jhumur singer from Barabazar, also came with 16 others on Tuesday to collect relief items from Nanritam. The outfit is helping 10,500 needy families in Purulia since mid-April, said its secretary Ranjana Sengupta.
Nanritam has former World Bank chief economist and C. Marks Professor of international studies and professor of economics in Cornell University Kaushik Basu as its chief mentor.
“We started to provide relief among the poor and needy people since April 19. We are running community kitchens for tribal groups involved in folk art in remote corners of the districts. We started the service on April 19 to commemorate the birth anniversary of Swami Lokeswaranandaji Maharaj, the former president of Ramakrishna Mission and our inspiration,” said Ranjana Sengupta, the Nanritam secretary.