On 4 August a public meeting on issues associated with street performers is being initiated in New Delhi by Ishamuddin Khan, a magician from the Capital’s Kathputli Colony, which so recently faced and survived the imminent threat of demolition. As spaces and agencies that support the arts continue to shrink at an alarming pace, streets too become increasingly unwelcoming for street performers. With relentless traffic choking the streets of many town and cities, and security issues making it difficult for street performers to gather an audience to witness their talent and skills, the breed of street performers is fast vanishing.

In the complex ebb and flow of changing trends and patterns, street performers find themselves unable to avail of the performance space conventionally associated with them, at a time when event managers and public relations agencies are trying to stage performances with flash mobs in public spaces. Other not-for-profit groups, like the Mumbai-based National Streets for Performing Arts, are also attempting to bring the arts into public spaces, but it remains to be seen whether communities of traditional street performers will be included in their programming. For the moment, it seems to be leaning towards the more fashionable pop-rock-fusion busker.

Only time will tell whether traditional street performers will be able to reclaim street spaces for performances, or find new spaces and strategies for their art. But it might be just the right time to view some performances of street singers and performers shared by enthusiasts on YouTube.

Posted by YouTube user Aastha Maggu, a video (http://youtu.be/mmBfKetfzFY) of street performers from Karnataka was shot in Pune, and features two street performers presenting Baaje Re Muraliya Baaje, a bhajan composed by acclaimed composer Shrinivas Khale and recorded in the voices of two Bharat Ratna awardees, namely Bhimsen Joshi and Lata Mangeshkar. The musicians render a robust version of the bhajan at a bit of a gallop, performing with their instruments slung on their shoulders and balanced on the hip. On request, they move on to render Natha Ghari Naache Maaza Sakha Pandurang, a devotional verse by the saint Chokhamela, recorded in the voice of singer-composer Jitendra Abhisheki. The impact of classical music and musicians is evident in the renderings of these two performers, who display a certain competence that leaves the listener wondering why they should have to perform on the streets of Pune and not in a formal concert space.

Of the many videos of singers and musicians who perform on trains, my all-time favourite is the 2005 black and white video (http://youtu.be/NbM5VrwRMcw) of a young Punjabi singer on a train from Delhi to Ferozepur, posted by one Kanwal Dhaliwal. The young singer plays a ravanhatha, more often seen and heard in the folk music of Rajasthan, and sings a melodramatic Punjabi song recorded originally by Master Saleem, a popular singer from the state. Ki hoya tere lag gayi mehndi, assi vi sehre laavange, biraha pindon gham di dulhan de sang vyaah karvavange! (So what if you already have mehndi on your hands, I too will don a groom’s sehraa. In a village called Melancholy, I will wed a bride named Sadness). The unusual catch in the young singer’s unbridled voice, the brilliant, quicksilver twists and turns of voice that come so naturally to singers from Punjab, leave one marvelling at the range and depth of musical talent in the country.

Yet, we choose to neglect the arts and music in a country where street performers can move listeners to tears with just one effortlessly sung refrain.

Also Read | Shubha’s previous Lounge columns

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