On Thursday, a video in which an elderly woman is twirling two sticks at once in a performance of unusual dexterity went viral. Social media named her ‘Warrior Aaji’, or ‘Warrior Grandmother’.
The woman, Shanta Balu Pawar, an 85-year-old from Pune, has been performing on the streets during the lockdown because she “cannot beg people to help”. “Walking the tightrope, balancing on a bottle or the Lathi-Kathi is my family’s legacy. I learnt the skills from my father when I was eight, and that is something I am taking forward. This is our family’s source of bread and butter. After my father passed away, I inherited the lathis and even today, they are with me whenever I go out for my work,” says Pawar.
लठैत दादी की जय हो, कई के पसीने छुड़ा देगी 😀🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/UpeLpPkirY
— Dadi Chandro Tomar (@realshooterdadi) July 24, 2020
At a time when the global pandemic has left several street performers and artists off the roads, Pawar felt it was the need of the hour to go out and perform her Lathi-Kathi (stick-wielding). “There were several people who told me that since I am old, I should not be going out as I am more prone to coronavirus. But, to see my grandchildren fight off hunger in such circumstances is something I could not bear,” she said.
Pawar, who belongs to the Dombari community, said that while she continued to go out and perform, it became difficult when the series of lockdowns were imposed in the city. “When I went outside to perform, I earned an average of Rs 200 to Rs 300. Whoever passes by gives me money, whether they wish to or not. While we received help during the lockdown, we cannot always expect someone to help us in such times.
I want to earn a few rupees for my grandchildren despite the fear of the virus,” she said.
Riddled with personal tragedies, along with the adversity brought by the pandemic into the matriarch’s household, Pawar did not deter from her ultimate goal of getting all her grandchildren educated. “I want my ten grandchildren to be educated and become something in life. I am not going to marry off my granddaughters until they can stand on their feet,” she said.
Pawar worked as a background performer in several Bollywood films, along with her troupe of grandchildren. She still treasures a picture of herself with late actress Sridevi from the sets of Sherni.
When asked about passing on the art of stick-wielding, Pawar said that while she passed the skills to her grandchildren as part of the tradition, she now wants them to primarily focus on their studies. Apart from her stick-wielding skills, Pawar also composes songs with her grandchildren.
A video of her performing Lathi-Kathi was posted by Marathi actor Aishwarya Kale on social media. It garnered the attention of actors Sonu Sood, Riteish Deshmukh, Randeep Hooda and Lakshmi Ratan Shukla, as well as Pune Police Commissioner K Venkatesham. Additionally, social group Nirmitee and Shivneri Trust also extended aid to Pawar and her grandchildren.
“I was overwhelmed with the help I have received. In a matter of 24 hours I have spoken to so many people and it warms my heart. I do not follow films any longer but their words touched me. As a performing artist, I have lived my life with honesty and sheer hard work, and by God’s grace, I am still well to perform. If I have to die, it will be while I fight on the streets with my sticks,” she said.
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