Thursday, June 05, 2014 - 15:31

Akhila Seetharaman

It's just after lunch and there's pandemonium at the auditorium of the Brigade MLR convention centre in JP Nagar as 35 boys run amok, laughing and playing before the second session of rehearsals for their show, The Manganiyar Classroom, which premiers on Saturday May 31 at this venue in Bangalore.

Manganiyra 1

This is theatre director and playwright Roysten Abel's second production with musicians from the Manganiyar community of Rajasthan, now well-known for their classical folk music that tells histories of the desert, stories of kings and battles, and gods and devotion. Abel packaged the Manganiyar's music for stage with The Manganiyar Seduction, a breathtaking and highly successful stage production that has been performed for the last 8 years a 100 times so far in all the cities around the world.

For Abel, it is all about the music. It was the music that first drew him to the community, and it continues to bring him closer to them. “It started out simply with getting to know the community and them getting to know me.” But over the years, this grew into deep friendship and trust.

Manganiay 3

The Manganiyar musicians' syncretic tradition – they are Muslims who sing of Hindu deities with devotion – are passed down from generation to generation. Abel noticed the community's struggles to pass on traditions while enabling their children to find a sure footing in the modern world. While few are able to eke out a living as musicians, the dice is loaded against them when it comes to finding their way in other fields as well, as many of the government-run schools that the children attend are nearly defunct.

He came up with the idea of raising funds to open a state-of-the-art school for children of artists that would tailor a curriculum to suit their needs. Creating a play based on their experiences of the classroom, was the first step to raise the money required. In January this year he set to work with 35 boys between the ages of 9 and 14 hand-picked after auditions in Jaisalmer.

Here in Bangalore, they greet you with wide smiles and a namaste with folded hands that comes naturally. For most of them, it is their first time out of their towns and villages in Rajasthan. And it is evident that they are enjoying every moment of being part of this stage family – revelling in the camaraderie while honing their innate musical abilities under the tutelage of masters in their tradition.

The new show weaves traditional Manganiyar music with a narrative that focuses on the system of education - how change, the absence of a teacher, or arrival of a new teacher, affects students. “Working with children is therapeutic and refreshing. There is so much energy,” observed Abel. “There is something to be said about the grandeur of innocence.”

The show premiers on Saturday May 31st at the Brigade MLR Convention Centre, as part of Bhumija's Jackfruit Festival 2014, a festival of music for/by children. A second show takes place on Friday June 6 at Chowdiah Memorial Hall. Tickets at bookmyshow.com.

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