The picturesque village is nestled in the wooded hills of Bhutan border in Udalguri district. The entire region was crippled by insurgency. The clashes between the security forces and the militants were a regular phenomenon in the area for years.
There was little space left to think beyond terror. And he came out from that protracted conflicts. He was studying Master’s degree in Guwahati University then. One fine morning he decided to move to NSD, New Delhi to fulfil his long-cherished dream. He is none other than Pabitra Rabha, the man who is changing the lives of dwarfs in Assam.
The quest for meeting him was long-overdue. And in the weekend, we moved in early morning at an easy pace towards his dream initiative. Pabitra welcomed us at Tangla town and our car sent up clouds of dust to his village Jalah.
Life appeared a treasure hunt for Pabitra. It was like we entered a hermitage where there is a dwelling occupied by an isolated group of dwarfs, the vertically-challenged people who prefer solitude. Dwarfs are person of abnormally small stature owing to a pathological condition, suffering from cretinism disease that produces deformation of features and limbs. He set up a special home for dwarfs to live with dignity and comfort. It is no Edinburg Castle but it’s ‘Amar-Gaon’.
It’s truly amazing from the japana (gate), a bamboo made level crossing. There are tables, benches made of wood block that reflects his artistic ability. They are arranged nicely to form a makeshift drawing room.
The beautiful chang ghar is adapted for comfort living to dwarf’s physical stature. Heartthrob Zubeen used to rest for a while when he visited Amar Gaon. The entire area is clean and tidy.
An NSD alumni, Pabitra is genuinely kind and compassionate since his university days. He is always willing to help others. He has a heart of gold who helps the needy and deprived. After NSD, he left a lucrative career in films in Mumbai and came back to his village. They might be short, stocky creatures but they are generally skilled.
Initially there were a lot of obstacles to persuade the locals. But he was determined to bring them together under one umbrella. Socio cultural organization ‘Dapon’ – The Mirror (2003), has given a platform to them and brought smiles to their faces.
The dwarfs have been abandoned since decades by the society. James Daimary worked in Moonlight circus as a clown in bizarre costumes and people laughed at them.
Ranjit, Dilip, Akshay, Prithiraaj, Maria, Bubu, Max, Ganesh possess talent like any other person. They have been the victims of negligence and humiliation from the childhood. Their grown up is being suppressed, because of their short physical structure and they have to live under tremendous stress.
Rabha creates plays to highlight social causes across the Northeast and beyond. Now there are a total of 70 artists which also includes girls. Apart from being involved in theatre, they also go to school, work in paddy field. Rice, mustard, potato, ginger, vegetables are some of the produces from their field.
Two of them have recently joined NSD. They can now express their pain through theatre. A play ‘Kino-Kou’ (what can I say) (2010) staged at Ravindra Bhavan Guwahati is a perfect stage to showcase their feelings.
He took them to Delhi, Karnataka for theatre shows, which was a moment of pride for the dwarfs. They have not only become famous but also boosted their confidence. It inspired them when Shah Rukh Khan recently unveiled his dwarf avatar for film ‘Zero’. Now they have become new heroes to this world.
Although Pabitra specialized in acting he also has expertise in designing, lighting, sets/stage/mask making, make-up and costume. He has directed several plays in different languages including Bodo (Khwmchi muga), Garo (A chik a-song, Du kon), Assamese (Pua athta ekoies) and Hindi. Also he has choreographed folk dances of Northeast and staged plays at Olympic Theatre, Jharkhand Janajatiya Khetriya Mahotsav, and Rhythm of Bordoisilla.
The NDTV Young Achiever Award winner has a dream. He performed in a couple of Hindi and Assamese movies with great success. Adhyai, Tango Charlie, Mukhbir, Mary Kom, Mission China are some of his movies. But he prefers theatre to cinema.
He has also planned to launch a Weaving-Modelling project for young women. A studio has also come up at the town for theatre works. And he has done all this with any financial support from government or any big groups.
The theatre personality Pabitra Rabha has been awarded a junior fellowship from HRD ministry. Reliance Foundation also honoured him with the CNN-IBN real hero award (2012) for his efforts to work with the dwarfs of Assam.
Also he received the Ustad Bismillah Khan ‘Yuva Puraskar’ in the year 2011 for his contribution to theatre. But medals are not enough.
It was very nice meeting his parents, Bhabi and their lovely Jonak and little Lohar (Jubeen) at Amar Gaon.
He has contributed a lot to the society which is yet to be recognized fully.
Pabitra Rabha is the unsung hero of the dwarfs’ community.
Kamal Baruah is a writer based in Guwahati.