In Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra lives a tribe who call themselves 'behrupias' literally it means impersonator. In Panjab and other northern states they are also called 'nats'. They make their living by various entertaining acts like juggling, walking on a tight rope and sometimes they impersonate animals like baboons and langurs by sticking ginned cotton on their whole body. You may occassionally see them doing tricks on vacant plots on the roads, near railway platforms or civil courts where there is a large presence of people.It is the main source of their income and whole families of 'bahrupias' move around in a gypsy fashion to earn some money.
In my last post I had talked about one such 'bahrupia' who died a horrible death by burning from the spark of 'beedie'. Beedie is a crude cigarette made by rolling tobacco in 'tendu' leaf.
This incident happened in Vihari way back in 1944-45 when the country had not been divided into India and Pakistan. I was a small kid about seven or eight years old. We all kids were playing 'gilli-danda' in the street when someone shouted that a person is on fire in the 'kapah' (cotton) mandi. All of us rushed to the spot which was not very far. When we reached there we saw a huge crowd. People running around to help the 'bahrupia' . This bahrupia had stuck ginned cotton all over his body to look like a 'langur'. The whole day he had been running and jumping, making faces like a big monkey to collect alms for himself and his children.
The poor chap got tired and in the afternoon he sat down under a shady tree by the side of tubewell to rest for a while. Little did he know that the death was lurking around. He was quite satisfied from his earnings and soon started dreaming of a nice meal for his wife and children in the evening. But the fate had willled otherwise.
He was in a trance thinking about his family and children. They had not got good food for a long time. He was moved to tears while thinking about his youngest child who was barely 2 years old and looked famished due to hunger. In one such moment he lit a beedie to relax his body. While puffing at his beedie a spark fell on his back which he couldn't notice. But soon he felt heat at his back. At first he thought the shade had shifted and the sun was shining directly on him. But soon it became a big fire and be started rolling on the ground and shouting for help. Many people left their shops to help him. Some people brought a blanket to wrap him and to extinguish the fire while other people got busy to protect their cotton mounds which were quite close. Some young people wanted to throw buckets of water on his body but older people stopped them since it would have been sure death for the poor 'bahrupia'
We kids were shooed away but kept at a distance to see the grim scene.
In the evening we came to know that the poor 'bahrupia' had succumbed to his injuries. It was a very sad moment and the whole town was talking about the tragic incident.
On hearing about the incident the wife of the 'bahrupia' who was living beyond the railway in a 'jhuggi' thatched with twigs and dried leaves also came over. She crying bitterly and her children who accompanied her were at a loss to understand.
The arhtias and 'palledars' collected money to give to her so that she could cremate him Some people also gave her 'atta' and cooked vegetables and money so that she could look after her small children.