Bang Bang Galore!
A Filmmaker’s BLOGELLA
Written by Steve Rosenberg
Blog 2 (Meeting the gang)
March, 23. 2007
Greetings from hot sticky Bangalore! The main reason I am in Bangalore is to explore an exciting new school initiative pioneered by artist John Deveraj. I’m filming as I go, hoping there’s a story here beyond the ordinary.
John Deveraj is amazing. The man shows his artistic flair in every discipline imaginable. He is a painter, engineer, sculptor and a self-taught musician. The cynic in me usually believes that people like him puff up their achievements to feed their ego, but my gut tells me that this guy may be the real deal- perhaps even Gandhi-like.
Four years ago, John decided he wanted to rehabilitate street kids by teaching them art and founded The Born Free Art School. I marvel that these kids have now become professional artists who are able to pay the expenses of the school. What makes this endeavor even more astounding is that the government doesn’t seem to give them any money. The school is sustained by the proceeds of the children’s art and performances and private donations.
I am not easily swayed, but the magical energy of this organization almost makes me feel like I’ve succumbed to being in a cult. But this is not a cult: the staff of this organization is far too disorganized to exercise mind control. Classes are canceled on a whim and I am learning that 8:00 am appointments usually mean 10:30 am. Type A people would not last here. Thank God, I am type B
It’s a free spirited environment and I am never sure what surprises each day will hold. Just this week, the Born Free Arts School inherited a school that was mothballed and layered in five years of inner city grime. I wandered about filmed while kids between the ages of ten and eighteen were busy sweeping and hauling junk all day. After the work is done, they are planning to paint the walls decorated the place with their art.
My problem with this “let’s- see- what- happens daily ” film process is that I am very concerned that it may veer into a promotional video territory or an advertisement for Born Free. I am paranoid about be classified as a “Born In The Brothel” copycat, the Oscar winning documentary of 2005 that followed the plight of Indian children from the brothels. It is all in the telling, so I will have to be careful in the editing suite.
If one has a save- the-world prediliction, this is great place to hang out. Street kids from the ghettos of Bangalore all have dreadful stories to share, but somehow beneath all this abuse, there is a sense of lightness about them. And despite my obvious language obstructions, I feel connected them. I just wish I could speak and joke with them directly without the assistance of a translator.
Today, I had tears in my eyes when I heard Gowri’s story. The minute I met her, she commanded my attention with her dark expressive eyes and her tall slender body posing awkwardly in high heals.
“Where did you get those high heals?” The shoes, most likely combed from the rubbish, are her trademark. I’ve seen her play volleyball in these shoes and I marvel at how well she functions in them. Seated on the desk with her feet dangling, Gowri fielded every question with poise and candor.
She doesn’t know her age, or her birthday, but her teacher estimates that she is approximately eleven because she hasn’t yet had her period. Her mother, a migrant worker was hauling cement when her water broke and Gowri was born not far from the jobsite. Not a terrific start, but it is one of the few stories she remembers hearing from her mom, so she tells it with a curious mixture of pride and sadness. Both of her parents died before Gowri reached the age of five.
Not more than one month ago, Gowri worked a fourteen- hour workday as a domestic. Her employer gave Gowri rice and a small mat to sleep on in exchange for her long hours of cleaning. She was supposed to receive the equivalent of one dollar per week, but her employer always found fault in Gowri’s work and regularly docked her pay. Although she had no formal education, her limited math skills were sharp enough to realize that she was being repeatidly being ripped off. She stayed in her job because she was afraid to return to the streets and live as a beggar.
I am not clear when Gowri first ran away, but I suspect it happened several times over a number of years. When things became unbearable, she ran away to the place where most runaways find their temporary home: the railway station. Begging is the hardest of livings for a child, and according to what I’ve heard, a rather cut- throat operation. Gowri seems relieved not to talk about that in great detail. As I interview her, I find myself savoring every story, every hardship as if these are events that happened to my child.
When I asked her whom she loves most in the world she couldn’t immediately find the words to reply. “John and Mioi,” she said shyly. John, of course is perceived as her father and Mioi Nakayama is her new mom. Mio, originally from Japan, is a warm and caring teacher who all the children cling to in the schoolyard.
At the end of the interview, I asked what she wanted to be when she matures and she said she would like to be a doctor and a dancer; such grandiose dreams from a poor beginning. I encouraged her to dance and asked another boy to give her a beat by drumming on a wooden stool. I must say, watching this skinny girl with worn out pumps dancing around the room made me want to cry. She’s been through so much, she has dreams for the future, and just might have the spirit to make it happen. Later in the day, I heard from Mio how much she enjoyed being interviewed.
I interviewed her on camera but I know I cannot use any of it, because the school is situated near a heavy traffic corridor. I didn’t hit the record button because of the traffic noise, but I felt very pleased that I was able to spend one hour interviewing a child that only two weeks ago was begging for rupees in the train station. Oh, the mystique of the camera. If she only knew!