Friday, November 23, 2007

Buddh Bazaar

It is not unusual to find yourself helplessly stranded in the middle of Mahanagar on a Wednesday afternoon or evening. You will either be wondering aloud why you forgot it’s Buddh Bazaar today or you will be sitting on your haunches haggling with the chinhat tea-cup and saucer selling man who looks suitably surprised when you show him the chip on his twelve rupees a dozen china cups which are glazed a caramel brown.

“We don’t come every week,” says an indignant young Samiyah from Indranagar but her mother Arshia is a Buddh Bazaar veteran. “You have to know how to deal with these shopkeepers, they are very clever. The minute you like something they multiply the price by five!” says the mother, trudging off to buy Samiyah a denim jacket.

The long stretch of the bazaar seems to get longer by the week. Traffic is closed on one of the roads where potters and bangle sellers vie for space. It is on one of these roads Bihari the tea seller shares quick words with his customers, a lump of tobacco strategically tucked in a corner of his mouth. “I only sell to the shopkeepers!” announces the most popular young man at the bazaar. He flits about in all four directions with his brass tea carrier and basket of kulads, stopping only to offer a free kulad to an occasional Hawaldar sahib.

While the sweater, jacket, purse and shoe sellers have their shops at the best spots, the cloth bag and plastic flower sellers are pushed onto the dividers. Arjun and his wife Mamta have been selling bright plastic flowers from the divider for over seven years, “Yeh toh 12 maah ka product hai,” quips Arjun who sports a trendy Lee cap he bought at the bazaar while Mamta busies herself arranging the fluorescent, orange, red, pink and yellow bouquets. “We used to sell Delhi-flowers first, now we sell China-flowers. See the China flowers have more petals and the combinations are brighter”, beams Arjun who makes an average of seven hundred rupees on a good Buddh market day.

But one gets used to hearing about Chinese products here. Next to Arjun and Mamta is the omniscient toy seller, he has a new toy this week. A hairy brown mouse with wheels and a chaabi. “This is from Cheen, the mice I used to sell earlier were plastic ones for ten rupees each. This one is for seven rupees and it has hair”, he squeaks with delight. An on looking father immediately buys two.

Mohammad Idries has been selling sweaters at this bazaar for over twenty five years. “This bazaar was nothing! There were only four other shops including Sharma babu’s and Khan’s. Even the quality wasn’t so fancy, now women and men want shiny clothes for daily wear too”, he yawns. Looking out of his makeshift shop he calls for Bihari, before he continues “I now get my sweaters from Ludhiana too.” On asking if anyone from the Buddh Bazaar has managed to set up a permanent shop he shakes his gray head and frowns, “Not enough profits!”

By the roadside you will find the occasional enterprising young man who will be hawking glucose bottles filled with seven colourful blue fry and one water weed for the flexible price of fifteen to thirty rupees for the same bottle. Or maybe you will meet the old woman who’s spectacles are tied behind her head in order to reduce the chances of them falling down while she polishes shoes she can barely see. Sitting by her father might be a little girl like Rampyari who is chiseling a sil-bhatta busily, her chin tucked between her knees as she sits on her haunches. Her father sells new green marble chaklas for making rotis, “One fifty rupees madam, new piece” he says in English.

And on another divider stands young Arvind Singh. He is selling bags which are hanging from the telephone pole and a quarter of the length of the divider’s entire fence. “I am a potter! I sell bags only during this season”, he says quickly and without provocation. “I also sell my products in Barabanki” he adds before telling one what he does for the rest of the week. “Well, on Wednesdays we are here in Mahanagar, Thursdays Aminabad, Fridays Barananki, Saturdays Sadar, Sundays Nakkhas and Mondays there is no bazaar while on Tuesdays we are in Alambagh!” He then resumes his calls for customers, his “Tees rupyaih ka ek” merging with the clamor of “Dus ke chaar”, “ Woolen bhi, garam bhi”, “Samosa, pakora, chai…”, “Ice cream” and others.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Aur aap sun rahein hai Radio Sheetal!

10:00 a.m., another bright morning at the Sahbaghi Shiksha Kendra on Sitapur Road. It is the first day of a five day workshop to train radio jockeys. They will be learning the basics of mass communication, audience research, scriptwriting, voice modulation and how to make a program that makes their audience go “waah-waah” as their guru Manish of Dynamic Tarang puts it. In the next five days, they will be recording fifteen minute broadcasts in a makeshift studio at the Kendra where mattresses are used to cover the doors for soundproofing and magazines are kept under microphone bases to reduce static.

A little nervous, all forty students wait for the class to begin. They come from three districts, Rae Bareli, Barabanki and Hardoi. Most have never seen microphones in their lives, others have never been away from home. They come from villages that don’t have schools or basic medical facilities. Some are veteran development project facilitators and field workers and each has a story to tell.

Like twenty four year old Apala Mishra from Rae Bareli who financed her education by tutoring little girls since she was in eighth grade. “My father couldn’t afford to send me to high school or college, he’s a poor farmer and we have little land. I give tuition to around twenty young girls so I can pay for my expenses”, she says. The workshop to her is an opportunity to showcase her singing and make some money as a community radio jockey. Fifty year old Rudrapal Gupta ‘Saras’ introduces himself as a poet. He is also a teacher at a primary school in Hardoi and he’s managed to have two of his anthologies published at the local press. “I never quote anyone but myself!” he claims.

“My name is Ankit Srivastav, I am from district Barabanki!” sings a tall young man, Anthony style. He has been nicknamed Big B by his new friends. “I can mimic any actor, villain and comedian, but Amitabh Bachan is my favourite!” he quips during their tea break. Sanjay Sharma sings at weddings for a living, he has a couplet for every occasion but he can’t help but express disappointment when asked about his village, “Nobody encourages talents such as singing where I come from. At least in the big city each child is encouraged even by his neighbor!”

The workshop has been oraganized by PATH, Population Services International (PSI) and the Dynamic Tarang team. All forty students will be trained to become community radio jockeys or CRJs to help spread awareness about the essentials of the PATH funded “Sure start project” which intends to promote the basic elements of newborn and maternal healthcare. Ajay Patel of PSI says, “They will become resource persons for information in villages while building their own careers and becoming good ambassadors for development”.

Ram Leela actors, anganwadi workers, girl scouts, wedding singers, teacher, graduate students, nukkad directors and writers, they introduce themselves with eloquent fervour which leaves the organizers stumped. “If this is how you are before the training, I don’t know what we’ll be seeing after the next five days!” says an excited Shilpa Nair, from PATH.

Promptly divided into groups of ten, the CRJs are escorted to nearby villages Sarni and Nandgaon to practice audience research. At Nandgaon, housewife Saraswati from Rae Bareli talks to an anganwadi worker with new confidence, her notepad and pen in hand “Do women in the village listen to the radio much? What time do they listen to the radio? What is the biggest problem your village faces?” The worker answers all her questions which she diligently notes and proceeds to some houses to meet the village women. Others follow suit and fan through the village, talking to surprised villagers about their tastes in music, movies and their knowledge of good health and family practices.

Over the next five days, Manish and his team guide them through a crash course in the basics of scriptwriting and make them practice impromptu talk shows and interviews. “What we are trying to do here is to light their latent creative energies,” says Manish who manages to involve all forty in the various exercises he sets for them.

On the last day of the workshop they analyze the voice and content quality of each of the four programs recorded. They are given assignments and scripts to write for when they go back to their villages. “The group will meet again in December to record programs which will be aired January onwards”, explains Manish who while parting with the group encourages them to be as creative as they like.

While leaving for their villages, the poet ‘Saras’, Apala, Saraswati, Sanjay, Ankit and the others feel responsible, confident and enthusiastic. They have forged new friendships and learnt new skills. The organizers hope they will ignite their fellow villagers with the same fervor of newfound awareness. ‘This’, pointing at a microphone Manish smiles, ‘is power’.