Thursday, June 17, 2010
An interview with Kishan Behrupia? What forms can it take?
Kishan Behrupia Jocker whose business card promises monkey tricks, wedding shows among other things, lives in a tent by a gushing greyblack sewer. He is an incredibly talented man who is illiterate, vocal, political , an artist and social satirist. But by now I’ve met many people like this. In Dharavi with the unforgiving television camera, in dozens of villages in UP with an academic mind, in Tamil Nadu as a student, in Andhra as a child.
I’ve jammed all my judgements, my social frameworks in there , that sentence , I’ve tried to lay there a lattice into which a journalist sprinkles impressions , cut pieces of a life she has interviewed.
How do I remove myself and my judgements and allow the person to be, to express so that I can take home a human being in my Dictaphone and then begin to unravel the layers with fairness and serve them as carefully strung sparse words the spaces between which Kishan Behrupia lives.
I don’t know how. But when I meet him, he sits me down in his tent open on both sides, one facing the sewer. Kishan wears an old red and white bed sheet the kind you would get for cheap in the pre theme park exhibitions in the nineties. He wears a frayed green kurta , bright against his jet black skin and hair
He opens his black bag full of the world .He has performed in New York, Mexico, Spain, France, Italy everywhere. He pulls out more treasures, an old frayed certificate from the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York , from the Dubai World festival, a Delhi Times article, a Dubai newspaper with his photo and then his passport.
‘’I am not lying ‘’ he says looking at us, sincerely doubting us. ‘’I have been everywhere. You can see.’’he says pointing to five schengen visas given to him saying that it enables him to go to every country- Spain, France – many others.
“Mein unka basha bhi bol sakthi hun. Ola, bonjour, tres bien, cava bien .’’
All in one breath.
Then he crouches and growls and chatters his teeth. His six year old nephew follows. They have become monkeys. They will become Charlie Chaplin . They are behrupias. Impersonators.
They can be anyone. They can steal from the present and save from the past – they can be Gods and monkeys and Bollywood stars. They sing, they mimic , they compose lyrics that tell you that with the promise of a little money , everyone is corrupt. Kishan’s eleven children aren’t in school. When I ask one of the boys if he will grow up to be a behrupia, Kishan rudely interrupts me saying he already is a behrupia.
The daughters cannot and traditionally there were never women behrupias. ‘’humare bhi ijjat hoti hain. Hum gareb hote hain lekin humarey aurat ghungat pehente hain.Aur unke shadi pur hum beez theez hazaar detey hain.’’ We also believe in status, in respect. Our women cover their heads and we pay dowries of twenty to thirty thousand rupees.
Initially he wanted money to be interviewed. I had to beg him to agree that we as a policy don’t pay people we interview. I felt bad about it because who I am I really to tell a man living below poverty line that he should give me a few hours of his time for free.(He gets FIVE HUNDRED TO THOUSAND Rupees , a day on his trips abroad but much less on normal days) . But then I wanted to meet him. He was pricey on the phone but no trace of that when we actually met. In fact I feel so much affection for this man who lives in tent by the gushing greyblack sewer. He ordered limca soon as I arrived but thankfully accepted my pleas against it.
Is that allowed though – the affection – as an interviewer I mean?
Money is not something he has a lot of . ‘’Delhi ko Paris banana chahte hain log. Lekin ma’am , Delhi Paris nahin hain. Mein Paris Dekha hun ma’am. Vahan pe bhi hota hain , log lal batti main aake saphaye kartein hain.Lekin humara desh key gareb log key jaise nahin hain ma’am. Vahan unko pension milta hain, sarkar madad karti hain, unkey baccho ko school bejti hain.’’ They want to make Delhi Paris Ma’am. Delhi is not Paris . I ‘ve seen Paris. Even in Paris there are people who clean car windows at traffic signals. But they are not like the poor in our country. They get a pension, the government takes care of them, the government sends their children to school.’’ All in one breath.
But you know what, all that I have written is haphazard. I want to be able to put all this coherently, listen to the one and a half hour interview in Hindi and write and know at the end of it that even if my piece is not incredibly creative or evocative, that I have been fair to him.
Because you know if a journalist interviewed me hastily, she would conclude that I am spaced out, messy haired, pseudo , lost etc. Here is an excellent photo essay on behrupias.
You can read the story in First City Magazine. Available everywhere in Delhi, in Odyssey in Bangalore and some places in Bombay.