Saturday, January 28, 2006

Celebrating Comics Power in Haathma

They were waiting for us. The children of Jasai village.

We had reached Barmer a day earlier, on the morning of India’s Republic Day. After deliberations over various arrangments and after a sumptuous brunch of Poha and Bikaneri Namkeen, we went to meet a group of Journalists. A number of things had to be arranged. A local Journo promised to procure tents. Someone went to motivate a local troupe of singers to perform at stopovers during the Bike rally. And we were still looking for funds.

More prints of posters and stickers were required. Press releases were being prepared. Phones rang after every minute. And despite net connection being abysmal in Barmer, we managed to exchange few e-mails. Next morning we hired a Jeep driven by a grumpy driver and proceeded towards the Haathma village. Through Jasai village. Jasai, where children waited for us.

Near the village, we asked the driver to stop. We wanted to click a few pictures. Of the posters pasted on desolate walls. On water tanks. A railway track passed near Khadin. This is the place where the train will reach Munnabao. And then cross over to Pakistan. But things won’t change much for these villages.

While clicking pictures, shouts of ‘Comics Power Zindabad’ (Hail Comics Power) lent a feverish pitch to the air laden with dust. A bunch of school children wearing sky-blue uniform had come to know that we had arrived. With these children, World Comics India had earlier conducted few workshops. And that is where they had picked up the lingo. They shook hands with us. Once. Twice. Thrice.

These are the villages, where less than a dozen Television sets exist. The only channel which reaches this area is state-run Doordarshan.

In Haathma, people have assembled in a small room, which serves as a public library. People, mostly men, donning colourful turbans on their heads and gold tops in their ear lobes have come to listen to us. Listen to us talk about Aapni Dikri Ro Hak.

Ramesh is a student of Fifth class at the Government School Haathma. In the workshop, he had made a number of comics posters. He has recently seen a film on Television. He does not remember the name of the film, but remembers the heroine. Preity Zinta. Ramesh’s father has seen the posters made by him, but does not remember their content. That is what we intend to change. And honestly, people like Ramesh’s father are turning into a minority.

At the school, children have gathered to listen to us. We talk to them for a while, explaining to them the motive behind the campaign. And then we take out a rally with them. In a line of fours, they come out on the road, under the hot blazing sun. They are holding banners in their hands. Few are holding comics posters.

Slogans are raised in favour of girl child. Hearing the noise, men and women come out of their clusters. We distribute the camapign material among them. More and more people are coming. So much so that we have to ask for extra material kept in the vehicle.

After a quick bite of Parle-G biscuits and water, we meet Kabbu. More about her in the next post.

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