The most Dangerous and the most challenging foray attempted by pandies in workshop theatre.
Pandies has done a lot of workshop theatre with a lot of abandoned young in different shelters. But a concentrated mode of doing it with 'rescued' platform children (what rescued, almost all would give their arms to be rescued back to the platform from their shelters and jails) happened from 2008.
In India, the extensive railway system, that covers every corner, provides a haven for children who run away from home. They board trains and travel all over, some at times settle at a platform for some time, graduating to become ‘bhais’ (dons) of that space and then again move on. They travel without ticket, hanging on to windows outside the coaches, perched on the roofs of trains, they dwell together in a shared a zone of poverty. Aged between seven and fifteen, pandies’ has done residential workshop theatre with over 600 (all boys) of them incarcerated in state reformatories and NGO-run shelters. An extremely marginalised sector, they are all drug abusers, sexually “experienced” (gay and “bisexual”), flaunting their promiscuity and invariably into sex-work. The platform child is alone and rootless in a way that is difficult to fathom.
We can work with platform children only in incarceration in 'homes,' temporary shelters run by NGOs in different cities or in State-run reformatories (juvenile jails). We do theatre with them in 'de-addiction' camps, undergoing some mode or another of 'Home-placement therapy.' They exist in an underbelly of our 'civilised world' and workshop theatre blows the certitudes of our world - family, marriage, myths of bourgeois success - to smithereens. The biggest challenge is to our middle class, including the radical segment, as it seeks to assimilate this experience in some corner of its canvas.
The work with platform children has been necessarily sporadic, these performances have not been "performed." There have been few public performances as often the involved NGOs and the Police have baulked seeing the raw, critical content of the plays created. And the highlight is the process. Young, trained middle-class facilitators from pandies enable impoverished boys - rescued from India's railway platforms and incarcerated - to create theatre from their stories, perform their lives. The resulting performances - sagas of violence, rape, drug abuse, prostitution and death - question the very premises of social amelioration processes.
Distilling these experiences, pandies presented its internationally successful play Offtrack in 2012. The facilitators performing both their own stories and those of the participants they worked with.
Two articles, with different focus, have been written by Sanjay Kumar that illustrate the experience of workshopping in this sector with a build up towards the Offtrack experience:
Kumar, Sanjay. 2013. “Performing on the Platform”. TDR: The Drama Review 57:4 (T220). (95-119). New York: New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Kumar, Sanjay. 2013. “Can failed theatre enable consciousness?”. Consciousness, Theatre, Literature and the Arts, 2013. Ed. Daniel Meyer-Dinkgrafe. (55-82). Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.