Delhi at their feet – how dancers, musicians earn their living busking

- May 13, 2022
| By : Anmol Nath Bali |

Busking, or performing on the streets for voluntary donations, is often associated with the uneducated and the deprived and is becoming popular in the capital. For this story, we introduce you to a person who supports his Physics (Hons) at DU by busking. And a person who left his career as an English teacher to play the harmonica on the streets of CP

Deepak Upadhyay busks near CP (Photo credit: Madhavritik)

On the street leading to Priya Cinema in Vasant Vihar, a group of people gathers around a young boy. The market is bustling with people. The boy is at the centre of the circle of onlookers, dancing. Some of those in the audience throw loose change near him. 

Deepak Upadhyay came to the capital three years ago to study Physics at Delhi University. And then the pandemic struck. Today, he survives by dancing on Delhi’s streets. 

Deepak’s father lost his job in the first wave of the pandemic. To support his family in tough times, Deepak started working in a call centre in Gwalior but left his job after just three months. “I had become a calling machine there, and the artist within me was feeling caged”, says Deepak.

His interest in theatre led him to Delhi University, and in 2019, he enrolled in B.Sc. (Physics) Hons. program at Motilal Nehru College, South Campus. The Extracurricular Activity quota was his ticket to the campus.

In his initial days in the city, he explored the capital from the narrow lanes of old Delhi to the wide bustling streets of Connaught Place. “This place was new for me. I was building my perspective. I was surprised by the dazzle of the city”, he says.

After exploring the city for a few months, he concluded that Connaught Place was the best place to earn a living as a street performer. Attracting people who would pay to watch him perform was the second big challenge, he reckoned. The bigger hurdle was overcoming the mental barrier.

And then, one day, “I was sitting in the central park at Connaught place. Some guys were dancing and recording a video for TikTok. After watching them dance, I took out my speaker from the bag and started playing music on it.”

“Suddenly, someone stole my bag. All of my money and clothes were gone. I was dejected. I came out of the park with the only thing that was left – my speaker. To lighten the mood, I played music on my speaker, and the kid, who was a rag picker, started dancing. Watching him dance, I too started dancing, and suddenly, a guy came and gave me a Rs 100 note. I then realised that I could turn my passion into a full-time profession”, said Deepak.

There is a name for this profession in the west – Busking – earning one’s living by performing on the streets. 

Deepak Upadhyay is pursuing his passion for dance by busking in the national capital (Photo credit: Anmol Nath Bali)

Deepak busks daily. In the morning, he attends college, and in the evening, he dances to fund his education. Connaught Place, Sarojni Nagar and Vasant Vihar are the places where he busks frequently. He earns around Rs 500-600 daily, and on the weekend, his collection goes up to Rs 1000.

Initially, his parents were not aware of how Deepak managed his education. But one day, when his parents were in Delhi, he took them to Connaught Place and showed them his stage. He says, moments after he began, his mother began weeping.

The gathered crowd watched him dance and started confronting his mother, explaining to her that he is not doing anything wrong. Watching people loving their son’s art, Deepak’s parents came around and became more supportive of him.

When asked about his plans, Deepak said, “I want to continue living with my art, and I want to see my art living with me.”

While talking with Patriot, General Secretary of New Delhi Traders association Vikram Badhwar stated that the number of buskers has increased in the market circle and evening is their prime time for busking. He added that the number of buskers increases on weekends.

However, market associations are not happy with the buskers performing in CP. “We don’t want any rush in front of our shops. We have written to the New Delhi Municipal corporation several times to remove buskers from the market, but the administration hasn’t responded positively”, says Badhwar.

Connaught Place is at the heart of the national capital. From small vendors to huge showrooms, there are a lot of attractions for tourists as well as the locals.

Just like Deepak, but perhaps more popular than him, is another busker, a regular at Connaught Place – Munindra Sagar, popularly known here as the ‘harmonica man’. Sitting on a stone bench, Sagar plays his favourite tune Ek pyar ka nagma hai on his harmonica. “Money does not matter to me. My main goal is to entertain people and bring smiles to their mundane faces”, says Sagar.

Munindra Sagar, the ‘melody man of metro’ (Photo credit: Anmol Nath Bali)

Before Connaught Place, Sagar was a musical traveller of the metro trains. His videos went viral on social media and his listeners named him ‘melody man of the metro’. Originally from Haridwar, Sagar was an English teacher at an institute in South Delhi’s Green Park. But he was drawn toward his passion for music.

“I am a self-learner and I have learned to play the harmonica listening to Madan Kumar, a great harmonica player. My journey with the harmonica started when my cousin gifted me one. That harmonica is my greatest possession”, says Sagar.

Sagar loves children and blessings are always on his lips for his little listeners.

Connaught Place has now become a new hub for buskers. Every weekend, when the great market is crowded, buskers on every corner of Connaught Place can be seen, and heard, entertaining people.

While talking to Patriot, one of the young entertainers, who busks as a dancer, explained: “Many upcoming artists think that busking is a shortcut to fame. But they are not aware of the ground realities that a busker faces. Harassment by police is the most common. They abuse us, slap us, and sometimes they take away our music players and instruments. Not to forget being looted by robbers all the time.” 

He advises new street artists to live their art. Busking is made for those who enjoy their passion and are hard enough to bear all the obstacles on the way.

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