Riding a Bajaj M80 two wheeler with luggage tied to the carriage and with wife, children seated at the front they start their journey to tour the State to entertain people all with the sole purpose of earning a livelihood.
Nearly 250 families living in the slums of Ekalavya Nagar eke out their livelihood by staging street plays. They drive for miles together, halt at different locations across state, including borders of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra and perform on the streets to earn a meager sum of Rs 5 to Rs 10 given by the audience.
Even pregnant women are part of this tour. Hardly mothers rest for 20 days after delivery, and start off their journey along with new born babies in their husband's two-wheeler. There are instances where women have given birth to babies while on tour, and have returned back safely. Children less than four years and some kids who are school drop outs also accompany the tour.
Carrying a mini orchestra set along with loud speakers, banners and make up kit, they start their journey early in the morning. They stop by ponds and lakes along the way to have bath and cook food on the kerosene stoves and vessels which they also carry. They manage to accommodate three elders and two kids in each two wheeler. An average each family earn around 20,000 to 25,000 every year excluding expenditure.
Their parents and grandparents were performing puppet show touring across cities. With the changing times they stage plays on subjects of social issues or simply perform a dance to a recorded song, or just sing and deliver funny dialogues. They even perform on women and child related issues, folk songs, devotional songs, mythological and historical plays. Even musical night programme are staged. In all, they try to give total entertainment for the audience. Whereas, they do want their wards to continue the profession and want to provide good education for children. The sad part is they are not entitled for any social benefits and do not get old age pension or honorarium as for other artistes.
Muniyamma, a nonagenarian who plays harmonium on her 150 year old instrument says: 'I play harmonium and sing both theater and movie songs. I have toured all states and learnt their tradition and culture. As there is no savings we wont think of what happens tomorrow. I have nine children and 56 grand children. They too are following the tradition, as we don't know any other job.'
'Plays on dowry-sexual harassment, farmers plight, problems of drinking and smoking receive lot of applause. Apart from staging street plays we don't know any other skill. We put steps for Dr Rajkumar, Ambareesh, Mohammad Rafi, Vishnuvardhan and other actor songs. Though we enroll our wards to schools, some of them are not interested in education,' adds 60-year-old Subamma.
'We perform during night. Whenever it rains or if there is a power failure we cancel the show and go without any earnings. We sleep inside mantaps or in the corridors of Government buildings, temple premises and continue our journey early in the morning. Yearly once we get an opportunity to stage play in Dasara which is the most memorable,' adds Hanumanthappa.
Bajaj M80, an popular scotter in 1980s is still used by the people. Around 70 bikes can be found in the slums. Shivanna who rides the bike from last four decades says: 'The vehicle was gifted to me by my father. The vehicle is very strong and fuel consumption is very less. It gives a mileage of 60 kilo meters per liter, which is affordable. We have kept the bikes in good condition. Its easy to ride, very handy. Am using the bike for four decades, and no major repairs so far. We carry good number of load. The company upgraded the version and launched several other bikes in the later years, but we love this bike.'
Of the 550 families residing in the slum nearly 250 families earn their livelihood by touring on two wheelers. On an average around 70 families in the slum will always be on tour, while others stay behind and give performance at local places, adds Manjunath.