by P. Sainath
It was well past midnight when the farmer said he was fed up with the way things were going. He could not take it any more, he told us. A farmer’s life was not worth living. It was pretty cold by this time. Yet no one budged and you could feel the tension in the air. The play is called atma hatya (suicide) and we were part of an audience of 6,000 watching transfixed at that late hour. Theatre may be struggling to survive in the metros, but here in rural Vidharbha, [In the state of Maharashtra] it thrives. This is the season of jhadi patti rang bhoomi. Which loosely translates as “theatre of the jungle belt.”
Everybody is part of it. “We have farmers, tailors, painters and vendors in our plays,” says Ghulam Sufi of the Venkatesh natya mandali that is staging Atma Hatya. “That’s one reason why it resonates so much with ordinary people.” Mr. Sufi plays tabla for the 60-member troupe. We watched him do that – and saw him dash off in between to don make up and do a swift cameo in the play. The main carpenter of the troupe whom we had seen at work earlier also made an appearance on the rotating stage he had set up that afternoon.