Written by Malavika
Disappearing acts are quite popular among the magicians, but when the act is heading towards becoming quite literal, threatening an end to the long standing art form among street performers, they go looking for much more than just an applause. One such street performer with an international exposure, Ishamuddin, from the Madari community, an A-CODE fellow, is trying to get enough attention to the community of street magicians so that he can revive the art form conforming to the present status quo. Currently, the Madari community has been stigmatised as a needy community rather than seen as a group of people performing on the street for a living. Those who have spent most part of their lives learning and performing this art form are hesitant to change their lifestyle fearing that the art form will soon get lost. But Ishamuddin understands that for an art form to be recognised among people, a certain aura has to be built around it. It has to appeal to the audience with its glamour, costumes, stories and acts which demands resources and space to curate. Using the A-CODE platform, he wants to put his community on a bigger and well recognised platform with a dream of eventually building a cohort of all street players, documenting every street act and developing an art village. But another challenge that he is aware of is that the younger generation is not so keen on continuing this practice and the skills haven’t been passed on very well. He says that, “Knowing the secret is very much different from actually presenting it like magic. The practice and scope of engagement is much more in a street act as the performers are covered by the audience in all four directions rather than three as compared to stage performers.”
Looking back at how the community survived earlier, Manoj Khan, one of the oldest performers of the community, shares about his younger days as a street magician. “Since childhood, we have just been wandering about. We used to put a tent somewhere on the outskirts of a village. I have been learning this art form since I was a child. I used to learn some coin tricks and people used to be fascinated with a child showing a trick and I used to earn 1 rupee or something like that. Slowly I learnt different tricks looking at others in my community. Earlier we, Hindu and Muslims used to live and travel together as artists. After the partition, some left for Pakistan and some stayed back. Although we wandered throughout, whenever we used to stay put in a place for about 4 days, we used to feel at home and mingle well with the local community. Once the people from the village persuaded us to have a permanent settlement in Mewat. It was the only thing close to home as far as I remember. People from the community used to travel on work but leaving the kids behind. We would get 3-4 rupees a day that was used to buy some food to fill our empty stomachs. Back then, we used to travel, eat and sleep well. Now it is hard to even find a place to sleep. In the current place where we stay temporarily, bulldozers just come and raze everything, our things are taken away or the police start dismantling the huts. Now, we can neither stay in one place nor travel around! I am glad that my grandchildren are getting an education. If they can read and write, a lot of problems will get solved. I find education very necessary. But not everyone gets education around here. They just play around and hardly learn anything that would help them earn a livelihood in the future”, says Manoj Khan. While it seems like the community is struggling to find a way forward, Ishamuddin is hopeful about the future with novel ideas to bring new colour to the art form. Apart from magic acts considered to fascinate and entertain the audience, Ishamuddin mentions many other ways in which magic can be used for the good of the society. He recollected the acts that were sponsored by the government to explain issues like AIDS, family planning, etc. using magic. Women empowerment is another social issue that has been stressed and can be further articulated through street acts. He stresses that the art form has the potential to educate the audience about the behavioural skills of human beings. With so much more to work around with, DEF hopes that a platform like A-CODE is used by such artists in uplifting their community, saving old traditional art forms and at the same time convey social messages.