Every morning Jadhav sets up his stall in some corner of the city, only to be pushed aside, sometimes by passing cars and sometimes by the police.
Ye litti hai, yeh chokha hai – do litti aur chokha pachaas rupay,” Jadhav, not Yadav, keeps repeating this almost like a broken tape recorder. Originally from Bihar, Jadhav moved to Mumbai almost a decade back with his wife and daughter, and has since been selling litti-chokha, the traditional dish from his homeland, to make ends meet.
The survival stories of small street vendors like him are the subject of an immersive theatre performance at the ongoing Serendipity Arts Festival here. “Stand on the Street” brings alive the fascinating experiences from the streets, with narratives that are surprising and shocking – while some raise difficult questions, others are simply reflective.
Every morning Jadhav sets up his stall in some corner of the city, only to be pushed aside, sometimes by passing cars and sometimes by the police. Earning a paltry sum of not more than Rs 4,500 a month, he barely manages to pay for his wife’s treatment and daughter’s school fees.
Yet, when politicians and ruffians come to his stall and gorge on his litti-chokha, without paying a penny, he doesn’t utter a word. But, when they ridicule his Bihari origins, he boils with rage, especially when they pass snide remarks on his daughter.
Curated by Aruna Ganesh Ram, the 30-minute-long production frames the street as a performance space, sharing food conversations, and revealing buried aspirations of these vendors.
“Millions of people make a livelihood out of vending food on the street. Million others eat food from these vendors. It forms an important ecosystem that seemed very interesting to us,” says production manager Priya Rao.
The act sees four performers donning masks of these vendors hailing from Kolkata, Chennai, Bihar, Karnataka, Darjeeling, Kerala and Benaras, to recreate the stories of their lives.
The street ambience has been replicated within a dark, closed room, with the space crafted in a promenade style, taking viewers from one stall to another, offering a new story at every junction.
The generously playful use of light, sound, rhythm, and some real delicious food blurs the distinctions between the artiste and the audience to an extent when it ceases to be a mere performance. Rani, who sells tangy slices of “manga” or raw mangoes, sprinkled with black salt and red chilli powder in front of a college in Chennai, likes to talk about her “love marriage”.
She speaks largely in Tamil peppered with phrases in English. When the police asks her to move her basket of mangoes and sit somewhere else, or threatens to beat her, she is terrified...Almost in tears.
As part of their research, Priya told PTI, they travelled to different cities, where they spoke to vendors. “Sometimes, if someone recommended a particular food, we would go find the vendor.” A lot of reading, during which they chanced upon came anecdotes about the origin of some street foods, also contributed towards the script.
For instance, the maddur vada that is popularly sold on trains in Karnataka, was first made when a vendor, in a hurry to catch the incoming train, simply mixed up everything he had and made the vada. “Eventually it became extremely popular,” Priya said.