Meet Sudam Bhau Chavan, 65, from Osmanabad district, who is inspiring a generation of Bahurupi artists with his passion for the art-form.
Bahurupis are professional storytellers or mimes, who assume many characters. A 2004 volume titled ‘The People of India: Maharashtra’, edited by B.V. Bhanu, has this to say about the origins of the Bahurupia,
“(It)…is said…that in the olden times there were small kings who used to send these (Bahurupias) people in different garbs to the palaces of other kings to collect state secrets to be used in time of war. The followers of this occupation, in due course of time, became the Bahurupia community.”
A chapter is dedicated to them in the X grade literature textbook of the Maharashtra State Board, a fact that Bahurupi artists are proud of.
Sudam, following in the footsteps of his ancestors, travels to villages in Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara and Osmananbad districts in Maharashtra.
Sudam is a Bahurupia from the Nath Panthi Davari community which has been categorized as Nomadic Tribes.
Over some 40 years of experience, Sudam has recited a lot of funny poems, which he created himself, to entertain people. And in that time Sudam has seen all sides of humanity.
After all, it is not like his art is universally accepted. There have been several cases when Sudam’s efforts did not find favour among his audience.
“Many people yell at us. A few even address us with derogatory terms. Nobody takes our art form seriously. However, we are travelling to educate our children and keep this art form alive,” Sudam says proudly. Sudam himself never enrolled in school thanks to the financial condition of the family.
Looking back at those moments, Sudam says, “The best way to deal with such situations is to keep smiling. Gaav sodla, raag sodla (The moment you leave the village, leave the anger as well) is what I believe in.”
Sudam’s day begins at 7 in the morning, when he starts his day, travels to various villages and entertains people. Bahurupis assume many mythical characters, but Sudam’s ancestors have been assuming the role of lawyers, doctors, and the police.
“One of the several roles of Bahurupi is to entertain people and bring a smile on their face. We are the proponents of a happy life, but deep inside we are the saddest creatures,” says Sudam.
Continuing the Bahurupi tradition, Sudam’s son, the 27-year-old Navnath Chavan, travels with him as well. Navnath too stopped studying after grade IV thanks to the continuous migration and weak economic conditions of his family. He has been practising the art for more than four years now.
He says, “The maximum we earn per month is Rs 6000. Managing the household becomes difficult, but I know the struggle my ancestors have been through, and I am trying my best to keep this art form alive.”
Indeed, the incomes of Bahurupis have witnessed a steady downfall.
“People give us 1, 2, 5 or 10 rupees for this art form. We never say no even to a single rupee. It’s just that people have now lost respect for this art form and this means zero respect for our community,” explains Sudam.
“The world today has changed drastically; people pay thousands of rupees for a television set. However, nobody is willing to spend even a rupee on watching Bahurupi’s live art form,” says Sudam.
Subhash Shinde, Sudam’s son-in-law, is also a Bahurupi with more than 16 years of experience, who couldn’t even make it to the steps of a school thanks to poverty. But he is making sure some things are changing for the better.
“We don’t have any support, and still we have managed to make sure that our children never quit education. There’s no support from the Government, but we keep travelling to make sure that this poor conditions of our artist community see the light of day,” says Subhash.
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Subhash has two daughters and a son, all of whom are studying in Osmanabad.
“My children should never forget the struggle we have been through. I will work overtime to educate them, but this continuous migration has to stop with my generation,” says Subhash.
“Bahurupi is recognized by the Government, but look at the lifestyle of the entire community. It’s an art-form which will soon become a history,” Sudam says with finality.
About the author: Sanket Jain is a rural reporter, PARI volunteer and Founder of Bastiyon Ka Paigam. He is passionate about listening and understanding the everyday lives of everyday people. He is often found in rural areas covering stories of abject poverty.