| On a chilly evening last week at Delhi's India Habitat Centre, it was charm of a different sort. About 70 snake-charmers of the Jogi-Nath community converged from Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to "charm" the decision-makers present in the audience into lending an ear to their livelihood woes. They played the Scottish anthem with 40-odd beens and a dozen tumbas and khanjaris accompanied by three huge dhols. Other than the Scottish anthem, rest were tunes from their traditional repertoire. The orchestra left the 500-odd audience, including Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and a sizeable number of foreigners, wide-eyed. While the audience savoured every moment, the celebration time for performers arrived at the end of the show when Dikshit announced, "We would repeat this unique show in the central park of Connaught Place very soon and we'll start Delhi state's Bhakti Utsav with it, in April." |
That was not enough. Some more good news followed then. Organiser of the programme and a patron of the saperas, Bahar Dutt of Jeevika: Friends of Snakes, was approached by HMV-Saregama with a recording offer while Delhi-based director of the show Roysten Abel was inquired to take the show to Italy.
Before the show, the Sapera basti in Moladband village on the outskirts of Delhi (towards Faridabad) was bustling with activities for days together. The snake-charmers were rehearsing eight hours a day under Abel, well-known worldwide for his play A Beggar's Opera which has in its cast magicians, bahurupias, folk artistes, snake-charmers of Delhi's Shadipur jhuggi settlement.
Snakes had been the source of livelihood for the Jogi-Nath saperas, descendants of Guru Gorakhnath, considered to be an avtaar of Lord Shiva. After the enactment of The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Law in 1972 and the increasing animal rights activism of late, this community's source of earning started drying up.
In these desperate times, Dutt gave them support and showed them a ray of hope. She floated the idea of harnessing the snake charmers' knowledge of wildlife and their musical talent in a big way so as to provide them livelihood while protecting their caste identity as well. Now she is the happiest person. "We have got half a dozen offers to present this show. Each presentation will cost about Rs 1 lakh," says Dutt. Saperas entertained people for centuries. Now it's time for society to pay its dues-by nurturing the community's rare musical talent.