'People say youngsters are callous'

MALLIKA SARABHAI believes everyone can make a difference, even in the tiniest way. The fiery dancer herself has shown how — with a "little experiment" Gandhigiri-style, with several of her telling performances, and now with her latest, Unsuni (Unheard Voices),

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Published: Mon 5 Feb 2007, 11:01 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 11:59 PM

mallikawhich has had a sweeping impact on youth wherever her troupe's performed, inspiring in them a desire to give back to the world. Unsuni has also been made "compulsory viewing" at the academy for IAS staff in Mussourie.

But first, her experiment. Mallika says traffic, in Ahmedabad, her hometown, is bad: "People are so aggressive on the road, they'll cut across from the wrong side and scowl at you. So, for the past 10 years, when something like that happens, I smile back, asking, why are you doing this? And they smile back, giving me way to go. It makes such a difference."

Like Gandhigiri, but much before the recent Gandhigiri's manifested in the collective consciousness, she says. And it has never failed even once in the past 10 years.

"When a taxi driver is rude to me, I ask, 'Had a rough day?' Being rude in turn doesn't improve your life or his, so why pump negative energy," she feels.

And Unsuni too has had amazing rewards — "After a performance at Mount Carmel Convent, Ahmedabad, the children met the principal, discussed for two hours what they could do. They decided they'd teach street children at a temple nearby, for two hours daily after school."

A physical, musical theatre piece, "Unsuni gives voice to five of India's millions of voiceless people — beggars knocking at our car window at the traffic light, or children delivering chai to offices. Among the marginalised are 8.5 lakh condemned to carrying human excreta on their heads, and few know they exist," says Mallika. Unsuni's been staged in colleges, schools across Delhi, Pune, Mumbai, Gujarat, at NID, IIM-A, MICA and NGOs, besides at the Mussourie IAS Academy. This, because, "It's the kind of work IAS officers are expected to do, and the viewing is part of the sensitisation to such issues."

Pune's students were so impressed that 600 of them joined up as volunteers immediately after the show. Says Mallika, "People say youngsters are callous, they don't care, but I think you must only reach out to them and sensitise them."

She's staged 14 shows so far in Gujarat, though she's run into trouble. The censor board made cuts in the Hindi script, none in the English one, though both are identical, she says. "Unsuni's about manual scavengers, and the objection was to the word 'shit' in Hindi while the same in English has been allowed. There was no logical reason to the objection, so I've said we are not going to make these cuts. And if there's some issue, I'll contest it."

Soon, she and her troupe will perform in Kerala where the government is supporting the performances pro-bono, via transport, and hospitality. And she'd love to come to Bangalore and stage the show. Also because one of the characters is from Bangalore - "the street boy whose life the show starts with. He's waiting to see himself in the show."

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