The art and the agony of Subhash Shinde

PARI volunteer Sanket Jain aims to traverse 300 villages across India and, among other stories, produce this feature: a photograph of a rural scene or event and a sketch of that photograph. This is the fifth in the series on PARI. Draw the slider either way to see the photo or sketch in full

“I am a duplicate singham [lion; here though it refers to a policeman], but I will make my children real singhams ,” says Subhash Shinde, a Bahurupi from Samudrawani village in Maharashtra’s Osmanabad district. The Bahurupi are folk artists, traditional story tellers who enact mythological characters or, in more recent times, disguise themselves as policemen, lawyers or doctors for their performances.

Subhash, 32, belongs to the Nathpanti Davari Gosavi community, a nomadic tribe that migrates across thousands of kilometres for their livelihood. He travels from locality to locality (and sometimes door to door) across villages in Maharashtra and recites humorous poems – a routine he has been following for 20 years. He is the fourth and the last generation in his family to keep this art form alive. “I started travelling at the age of 12. Nowadays, fewer people watch our performances because of other forms of entertainment that have come up. Today, you can easily find a video on the internet of a Bahurupi performing – so nobody wants to spend money on watching this traditional art form.”

Constantly travelling with his family as a child, Subhash remained uneducated and never saw “even the steps of a school.” This photo was taken in Rui village of Kolhapur district, where he and his wife were staying in a decrepit tent covered with yellow  plastic. “We have no fixed place and it is difficult to survive in tents along the roadside,” he grumbles. “Earlier, we used to get grain in payment, but now people give us somewhere between 1 to 10 rupees in cash – which works out to less than Rs. 100 a day.”

Subhash has two daughters and a son, all studying in Osmanabad town, where they stay with their grandparents. He doesn’t want them to follow in his footsteps because of the poverty in which artists like him live, and the “lack of respect for the art.” He says, “People often insult and ridicule us for practicing this traditional art. They tell me to work in an industry and earn some money, rather than begging for money after reciting humorous poems.”

Sanket Jain

Sanket Jain is a journalist based in Kolhapur, Maharashtra. He is a 2022 PARI Senior Fellow and a 2019 PARI Fellow.

Other stories by Sanket Jain