Philanthropic Venture: Bringing India’s Musical Heritage to Mumbai’s Railways
The National Street for Performing Arts (NPSA) is an Indian based not for profit organisation; it’s also a philanthropic venture bringing the country’s rich musical heritage to Mumbai’s busy railway commuters. NPSA is an initiative to take ‘art to the people’ by reclaiming public spaces for street performances. It seeks to champion public spaces as an alternative platform for acts and shows. It wants to encourage greater interaction between artists and the community, creating spaces of cultural interaction and energising the very city and its people. The orgnaisation also aims to support the livelihoods of less privileged and independent performers across diverse genres.
NSPA begins its collaboration with the Western Railways, Mumbai Division, to stage performances at three stations across the Mumbai rail network - Churchgate, Bandra and Borivali. In a city starved of public spaces, train stations provide a rare spot for performances. Currently, fourteen musicians are performing at these stations, singing Hindi (national language) classical music, Marathi (a regional dialect) folk songs and other genres, accompanied by instruments ranging from the saxophone to the tabla. Organisers set up artists in corners where passengers aren’t obstructed and decided to start with music performances because unlike other forms of art, like dance or theatre, people don’t have to stay and watch the entire performance. People can listen to half a song and leave.
Ajit Dayal, founder of NSPA, says he wanted to “Rekindle an atmosphere of street performances in urban India (starting with Mumbai) that aims to bring some joy to the lives of millions as they go about their daily commute." When he was young, the musicians and acrobats performing on the streets of Mumbai were an integral part of everyday life; today, these performers have disappeared. The reason for this is the high cost of living and performers living on a measly income. Therefore this philanthropic venture initiative seeks to provide a financial incentive to these performers and at the same time take art to public spaces in the city.
The organisation pays 1,000 rupees ($19) to a musician and 1,500 rupees ($28) to a band per hour – more than they would earn busking. Dhammarakshit Randive, a 25-year-old Marathi Shaahiri musician who performs with the NSPA, says he supports the idea of art for all. Shahiri is a form of lyrical story-telling. “Art shouldn’t be only for the elite and on a big set. Even a man polishing shoes at a railway station should get a chance to see performances.”
Mr. Dayal is currently funding this philanthropic venture from his savings and while he doesn’t have the “kind of wealth to keep supporting the project”, he believes that others will step in later. So far, Mumbai’s railway commuters have enjoyed the performances and according to one regular commuter, “It’s a good initiative, which should continue.” Through the NPSA this program will ensure that public places become a melting pot for the artist and their audience.
Photo Credit: NSPA