by guest author, Rajendar Menen
Madiya is ten years old. He is short and dark with untidy hair which is matted and dry. He has his name tattooed in Hindi on the inside of his right arm. A cheap, glistening bracelet adorns his left wrist. He has a sweet, little-boy-lost-in-the-woods look and an intelligent gleam in his eyes.
We met on the streets of Mumbai. He was playing a rustic home-made violin with some expertise outside Churchgate station and the crowds were on tip toe, straining over heads and shoulders to catch a glimpse of the source of this wonderful music which alternated between the maudlin and the flamboyant lilt of popular Hindi film songs. Churchgate station is packed all day and night as trains load and unload huge numbers of people without letting up. There is no time to waste. Ask any Mumbaiite, even the poorest, and he will say that time is money. Yet, Madiya manages to distract them.
“I am from Rajasthan,” he tells me. “From a family of musicians. We came to Mumbai two years ago to earn a livelihood. We live on the pavement in Khar but I leave early and return late. I am the eldest. There are my parents, two brothers and four sisters. One brother ran away from home. My father hit him when he was drunk. He ran away in fear.”
The violin Madiya plays was given to him by his father who also taught him how to play it. “It is easy,” he tells me. “As far as I can remember, the first thing that I ever held was a violin. I just fiddled with it. Then I learnt the tunes. I can now play the latest film songs in Hindi, Marathi and Gujarathi and many folk songs from my hometown.”
Madiya travels all over Mumbai and plays wherever he instinctively feels he can make some money. He makes a few hundred rupees on a good day, but there are bad days also. If he is lucky and bumps into a group of foreigners, he makes a killing that can last for months. “They give me a lot of money in foreign currency,” he says innocently. “They can’t believe I can play so well. They even ask me to come to their country but I don’t want to leave my people. I will be so lonely.”
He gives his mother whatever he earns because she prepares food for him and gets him new clothes while his father spends the money on drink and then beats up the entire family. “If he knows I have money, he will beat me too,” he says simply.
Madiya hails from a tribe of musicians from Jawalbandha in Rajasthan. They are travelling all the time, looking for places where more money can be earned. Wherever they are, they return home every Diwali which they celebrate with song and drink. And then begins, once again, the long journey to the big cities of India for food.
“Mumbai is different from home. I don’t like it. The police harass us all the time. They jailed me the other day and let me go only after my parents came to fetch me. Nobody troubles us in our village. We are free to do whatever we please.”
Madiya’s parents are a performing duo. His father plays the violin and his mother sings. The family spreads out to different parts of the city in the morning and meets up at night to determine how much there is in the kitty. Then the earnings are divided based on seniority and need. His mother needs a bit more for the provisions and his father for his drink.
“I don’t smoke or drink like the other boys my age,” says Madiya. “I don’t even see films. Most of the time there isn’t enough to eat. When I grow up I want to go back to my village and work on the land. If I continue here, I will have to spend the rest of my life singing for a meal. It makes hunger even more painful.”
"Madiya" is an excerpt from "Karma Sutra: Essays from the Margin" published by Saga Books, Canada. The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. "Karma Sutra" is a first person account of the trauma and the triumph of those destined to spend their entire lives on the other side of the boulevard. It also speaks to the man on the street to portray the unique socio-economic and cultural mix that is India, a nation slowly emerging from grinding poverty to economic stardom.
About the Author:
Rajendar Menen is an award-winning journalist who has been published in several countries. He began his career, which spans over two decades, with The Times of India in Mumbai. He has launched and edited magazines, written four books on different aspects of healing, and freelanced for the BBC, UNFPA, France 2, Ray of Hope, Teacher's Training Centre, Tralee, Ireland, Gulf News and several other international media organisations. He has co-authored books on AIDS and prostitution in South-Asia, been Executive Editor of three journals on the technical and human aspects of HIV/AIDS, and written extensively on the subject. The street is his muse. He also walks endlessly, drinks tea, reads Sri Aurobindo, does yoga, comments on sport, breeds snails and watches life with some irreverence. He lives and works in Mumbai, India.
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