November 9, 2009

Mumbai : Street performers

The streets of Mumbai are one of the most interesting places to people-watch. Contrary to popular belief, it is not lined only with beggars. Performers of every hue and calling display their talents and marketing skills here for a few rupees and heart-warming smiles.

I don't know whether I should be calling the Kadak Laxmis street performers or social activists. After all, their livelihood involves taking on the spirit of other people's illnesses onto themselves and whipping themselves till they bleed to get rid of it.

I saw this Kadak Laxmi striding purposefully down a road, dressed in the brightest of vivid colours. A blood-red skirt-like lungi, topped by another shorter multi-hued one. Silver discs encircled his arm and a silver belt, his waist. And as he walked, the bells on his anklets chimed a challenge. But the most important part of his attire, the thick rope with which he whips himself was slung oh-so casually over his shoulder. Everything seemed to clash like a tropical storm but it certainly drew attention to him.

In sharp contrast, his wife following a good 10 feet behind him, was almost drab. As if carrying a baby in a cloth sling and a drum to set the tone for his performance were nothing out of the ordinary, she balanced a large bundle which seemed to carry all their earthly goods, perfectly on her head.

The drum was the accompaniment of choice for another set of performers too but this woman was balancing a small altar with a statue of a deity on her head. She was joined by another girl and a young boy ( I think) wearing a shirt and skirt and carrying the same thick rope used by the Kadak Laxmi. Hardly as dramatic-looking as the older man but maybe he is in training?
He didn't seem in the least bit bothered by the prospect of whipping himself but was laughing and chatting with his friends.

The first photos in this post are not very clear as the people were quite a distance away. For a truly amazing view, take a look at this photo from Charmayne and David de Souza's book "Itinerants : Mumbai's Nomads". Isn't it fantastic ! And the whole book is crammed with more mind-blowing photos of the very colourful people who make their living off the streets of Mumbai. Go... buy a copy for yourself to feast on. It's more than worth it.

(This last photo is from airoots )


  1. Hello Sunita, this has been a very interesting information of what is going on in other parts of the world. Here in Chile we have lots of men selling all kinds of products, including vegetables,on the streets when cars stop in red lights. I buy all sorts of fruits from my car.
    Thank you
    María Cecilia

  2. Hi Maria Cecilia! I love the internet for making the different corners of the world closer than anyone ever thought possible.
    Chile is very famous for its fabulous handicrafts, isn't it? I've drooled over pictures of them quite often.
    We have the traffic-signal vendors here too in Mumbai. I've not seen them selling vegetables but fruits, books, ballons, key-chains, flowers are common. Isn't it amazing how every place in the world has these points of connection? :)

  3. Very interesting.

    I too take pictures (not good quality) of people on the streets, the tent like temporary homes, cooking being done, babies being coaxed to sleep, the kind of clothes, the dogs that often accompany...

  4. Oh, me too, IHM! I keep clicking photos until my children have started revolting. They find my habit of photographing anything and everything very embarassing. But I find Mumbai's nomads very interesting.