Saturday, April 11, 2009

Whip It Good

Folks have asked for more info about the Whip People, and I'd love to be able to give you a richly detailed discussion of the origins of their performance, costumes and child-rearing practices, along with an in-depth analysis of their income level and position in Indian society, but I can't. Here's the little that I do know:

Whip People walk around, all over town - tourist places and not, busy places and not. I see them most often on our back road, which is about a block long and dead-ends at our building.

Mama Whips play their weird drums that makes a loud metallic whirring, buzzing sound, but not a recognizable drumming sound. Papa Whips crack their whips VERY loudly. Up close the whips seem to be made of a really tightly braided coarse rope. Papa Whips and Little Boy Whips never wear shirts and always wear colorful pants with strips of different colored fabric tucked into the waste band. The pants often have bells sewn onto the cuffs. Mama Whips always have a baby on their hip, in a cloth sling, and often have a bundle of cloth on their head. Little Girl Whips are less commonly seen, but they play a drum too and usually wear a bright salwar kameez. The adults never seem to be much older than about 30 and the kids never look older than 10. (But take these as rough estimates - I've been proven to be a horrible judge of age.)

Unlike any other sort of beggar/street performer I've seen in India, Whip People don't stop playing/whipping in order to solicit donations. They usually don't even talk, but sometimes Mama Whips will utter a yell that sounds an awful lot like "Hi-YAH!". Papa Whips do pause between cracks of the whip in order not to injure anyone who is approaching with money.

No dancing, no singing, no animals, no deformities, no actual begging. The Whip People just seem to walk around with tremendous dignity cracking their whips and playing their drums.

They seem utterly wild to me - who on earth walks down busy city sidewalks cracking a 10ft whip??????!! What Indian woman carries her baby on her hip in a sling, head held VERY high, owning even the poshest sidewalk she walks down? And who are these kids who are very business-like about their work, but who never beg or indulge in theatrics? All of them are so out of character and out of place here, and yet, where else on earth could they exist? I love them completely. I am dead serious about wanting to do a detailed anthropological study of the Whip People.

Chris calls them professional annoyances.

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