The platform kids called him Bhai,a term borrowed from the underworld to denote a don and it fitted him nicely. Bhai knew people,places and dark corners,and he could hop on and off speeding trains. But,when the police came searching for him,and dragged him to their vans,Bhai looked exactly what he was a scrawny kid who had run away from home and was living on a railway platform in Delhi.
What happened at the police station? Bhai wouldnt say; in fact,he wouldnt say anything any more. He had become silent. It was a deafening silence, says Delhi-based theatre director Sanjay Kumar,who has created a skit,Quiet Please,based on Bhais life. The skit,a part of a five-part play,Offtrack,has been invited to a festival in New York called Performing the World 2012 in October.
The festival has 600 scholars,researchers,social activists and performers,among others,from dozens of countries participating in a conference about the nature of contemporary creative practices. This is possibly the first time that a non-American troupe is being invited to perform at the festival, says Kumar,adding that it is an ideal platform to tell the story of Nobodys Children,the youngsters who have run away from home and,thus,belong to nobody. Kumar is currently trying to raise funds for his group,Pandies Theatres trip to the US.
Pandies has been working with children rescued from platforms in Delhi and Rajasthan since 2007. In reformatories,shelters and temporary homes,the children would share fragments of their stories. Offtrack has been created out of these stories,each highlighting a different aspect of the childrens journey. Actor-facilitators of Pandies act these out,and no platform child is present on stage.
Criss-cross,for instance,deals with homosexuality,with the characters fantasising about living together and opening a teashop on a platform,while Ise Kahan Leke Jaogey takes place in a home that is guarded by 12-ft walls topped with barbed wire rolls. Why is a reformatory like a jail? asks Kumar.
The narrative has three children talking about a fourth boy how he tried to run away from the home several times and how,as a punishment,his legs were broken before he was thrown back on to the platform. Every so often after the performance of this piece,Kumar is asked if it is true.
Return deals with children who are sent back home and how families react to prodigals who have,in many cases,been raped and have had a drug habit. This segment ends poetically,with the character standing under the spotlight and asking the audience,Do you want me to stay or should I go back to the platform?
The curtains come down on the grim sequences with an outbreak of dancing that is both bizarre and hopeful as the last segment unfolds. Called Magic,it has the characters pausing in their dance to create wishful scenes one boy waves a magic wand to create a scene in which a rapist stops in the middle of the act and says regretfully,What am I doing? while another conjures up the perfect world in which all grown-ups are dead.