Bagadehalli Basavaraju is a well-known and respected face in the small town of Kadur in Chikkamaglur District, Karnataka. He is a teacher with a mission.
He wants to teach children about people who have served the country in some manner or the other. His favourite way of doing this is to dress up as Gandhi, although a rather flashy one.
Every Gandhi Jayanti, Basavaraju paints his body silver, wears a silver dhoti, imitation Gandhi glasses, carries a walking stick and talks to children about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
"I like Gandhi's simplicity. Children are influenced by fashion and other things today. I think they need to be taught about Gandhi. When everyone was fighting to become prime minister, Gandhi went to Kolkata because there was trouble and tried to sort it out," he says.
Forty-nine year old Basavaraju has been doing this for the past fifteen years and part of his unique journey has been documented by Bengaluru based policeman-cum-photographer Cop Shiva. A cop for fourteen years now, Cop Shiva began his tryst with photography in 2009. "I am self taught photographer", he proudly claims.
"Now a passionate artist," he says, "all my holidays are spent on photography."
Cop Shiva met Basavaraju in 2010 in the city where the latter had come to take part in a cultural event. Shiva was on duty then and could only speak to him briefly, but he managed to take just one photograph of Basavaraju at that time. "I was intrigued by Basavaraju, that I decided to meet him again. I approached the Kannada cultural department to get Basavaraju's contact number. The department told me that they did not maintain a list of contact numbers of all the artists who came to perform there", Cop Shiva says.
He then contacted the Kadur cultural department and was directed to a teacher in Basavaraju's town, who helped him track down the man.
In 2011, Cop Shiva started documenting Basavaraju, including when the latter went to take part in cultural events.
"His dedication touched me. Besides what he does is not for money, but for what he believes in. He is a Gandhian, and he believes that our country needs Gandhi now all the more because of the rough times we are going through", Shiva asserts.
"People at times thinks he is crazy too, but that has never stopped him", he says. "I am glad that I documented his life and now his story is reaching people in far off places", he adds.
Apart from Gandhi, Basavaraju also wants to spread the message about the contributions of other people of the country such as M Visveswaraya, V D Savarkar, Kannada writer Da.Ra. Bendre and farmer Sangolli Rayanna. So far, he has donned the costumes of 82 such personalities and attempted to educate children about their lives, says Basavaraju.
Asked about some of the controversies surrounding people like Gandhi (his experiments with Brahmacharya) and Savarkar (allegedly involved in Gandhi's assassination), Basavaraju said "I have read a little about this (Gandhi), but people have their merits and de-merits. We all make mistakes. I like his thoughts. I think Savarkar was in the RSS, but I don't know much about it. I will don the costume of anyone who has done good for others in society."
Basavaraju quit his job as a teacher in a private school some years ago after putting in 31 years of service and now works as an insurance agent. "I have gone from getting a salary of Rs 100 to my last increment which was Rs 7000. I knew I would never earn more than that, so I quit. But I am a teacher. I will continue to teach children about the great leaders of our country," says the man who lives in a house provided to him by a relative, with his mother, deaf wife, and son Tussar, who studies in Standard 7. He said he married his wife Saroja because he was against dowry and so chose her.
(All photographs by Cop Shiva)