As a part of the third children creativity workshop, we visited the outer Juhapura slums, at the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Gujarat. There lives a community of Mir, about three hundred households or more. The children and elderlies go to beg, the younger populace do all kind of odd jobs including making radium painted cutouts, decorating trucks and cars; the women make torans, garlands and sell during the festive seasons. But, they are the community of beggars, as the civilized call them. No school, so no education, no electricity or water, but that’s not new. Munirbhai, about 70-year-old with milky white hair and beard, sitting outside his plastic tent, said, “Kehte hai election se pehle Neta vote mangne har jagah jaata hai, par yahan to wo bhi nahi aate. Hum to shauk se vote dene jaate hai.” (People say that politicians visit everyone before the elections to ask for votes, but even they do not come here. We go to vote as we like it not because anyone asks for it. In fact nobody comes to ask even for votes).
No this is not the story of alienation or the neglect, it is not an essay on the social ill-effects of begging. Not it is not. It is a beautiful story of artisans. We met Pappu bhai who cuts out your name in radium paint paper in a few seconds. Ones he writes the name, he remembers how it is written. He does not know the alphabets, he is illiterate and like him there are many. Some can even make a stencil of your face. Then, we met Salim, a young boy, cheery-eyed, spontaneous, bright and with an amazing voice. About four years ago, his mother broke her leg and had to go under the knife. They had to arrange for more than twenty five thousand rupees. He dropped out of school to help his family. He can paint, make patterns in radium stickers but when you hear him sing, you are spellbound. He learnt it from his elder brother who used to go with the band of Qawwals. When we asked him how did he learn to sing so well? Salim said, “Mir hoon to aayega na”. I did not know what he meant. Allow me to share the names of a few more Mir. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahat Fateh Ali khan, Baba Bulleh Shah, Mir Ali, Hazrat Shah Hussain, Hazrat Sultan Bahu. Yes, he is a Mir, Salim Mir.
Then why do we call them beggars? Society failed to create markets for their skill and we have failed them in every sense. And we feel that we are obliging them by giving them a little donation. We do not like to, but they do not want to. They want a little appreciation and value for their art. In our art they are illiterate, they do not have schools there. There is one a few kilometres away. Some teachers are so taxed with their household chores that they have to seek the help of these little kids to do them, like cutting vegetables, fetching milk from the market and if you object you get beaten up! And then we say, they are illiterate. Ok education is the state subject, the responsibility of the state. But what about the skills they have, because god is not biased in allocation of talents. They are as bestowed, and at times more, as the kids in the privileged sections. Will we, as a society call them unskilled and make them carry loads, make roads, dig the earth and pay them the wages for unskilled labourers. Almost they can become labourers? Aren’t they artists already?
Art sells right? Or brand sells? Enjoy this song and I am sure you will end up comparing him to the participants of the little champs programme you saw or the playback singers you often hear. Share only if you think he is an artist! Salim’s Contact no is +919662711482
Kushal, Sanjana, Shivani, Deepak, Nilesh, Ashna, Jalpa and a few other kids visited the area along with summer school participants and HBN volunteers