Dalgi Leela
Dalgi finds Mumbiram lying by the Roadside

This “Dalgi Leela” is a vivid and wonderful example that illustrates Mumbiram’s assertion in the “Manifesto of Personalism”: “My raven-dark, rambunctious, roaming, rag-picking girlfriends remind me of Krishna and his boys in the forests of Vrindavan”. It is only by a stroke of good luck that an episode that took place in the early pre-dawn hours in the lives of rag-picking girls from the slums on the outskirts of Pune, as they went out on their daily foraging for odds and ends lying on the roadside, was captured by a Rasik Artist who could only see Krishna and his friends wandering in the forests of Vrindavan.

How Mumbiram came to be on such friendly, familiar terms with these little teams of rag-picking girls has been a subject of various speculations. For example, Ashok Gopal writes in his well-researched article “Waiting in the Wings”: “Mumbiram’s understanding of the Gita and other Hindu scriptures is profound and scholarly. Yet, his favorite models in Pune remain bhangarwallis, women whose profession can alternate from rag-picking to cheating, stealing and prostitution. Even the few in the city who know him well cannot quite fathom this relationship. It is an aspect of “Personalism” that is frought with danger, scandal and tension”.

Here we will give an account narrated by a friend from Germany who had at one time stayed at Mumbiram’s legendary studio.

Living right in the middle of the marketplace, Mumbiram enjoyed stepping out in the quiet, early morning hours. He had figured out which way his friends and favorite muses would be walking at that time of the day. Usually, in the early morning hours, they would run into each other on the empty Laxmi road, the main shopping area of the city. On this day, Mumbiram had come out really early, determined to surprise them on the ourskirts of the city. And, sure enough, he saw them walking on Bundgarden road near Wadia college. The girls had their eyes on the roadside, looking for metal scraps, planks of wood, plastic ropes, bottles and anything that can be salvaged. Mumbiram decided to surprise them in the darkness along the shoulder of the bridge over the railway line. Mumbiram was wearing his favorite gray one-piece airforce surplus attire as he lay in the shadows under the trees on the side of the road.

Dalgi, the teenage ragpicker on the prowl
Dalgi is transformed in Mumbiram's Atelier
Dalgi is transformed in Mumbiram's Atelier

Mumbiram’s friendship with these ragpicker gangs from Yaravda was real. In fact, they were the first to become his friends after he came back from the U.S.. Discovering them walking the streets with these huge bundles of gathered rags was a genuinely happy experience for Mumbiram. Mumbiram’s favorite Muse, Kusum, was the leader of one such gang. Mumbiram could recognise Kusum from blocks away, even in the early morning darkness, just from her proud, erect walk that fascinated him. Mumbiram knew her ways. On this day, she was with another younger girl. When they approached, they saw this man lying on the side of the road pretending to be trash to be picked up by the rag-pickers. When they found that it was Mumbiram, their joy knew no limits. Kusum’s young friend played along and ‘revived’ Mumbiram back to life. Now he was their property !

After this drama on the sidewalk, Mumbiram invited Kusum and her friend to his studio. Kusum’s young friend was nicknamed Dalgi because of her unique fluffed up hairstyle that looked like a basket, or “Dalge” over her head.With that hairstyle, the young teenager could have been mistaken to be a young boy. Downtown, right next to the crowded vegetable market place, was Mumbiram’s atelier. It was still dark and just a few people were on the streets.

Transformed Dalgi decorates Kusum
Magic of Rasa Renaissance

Kusum had become used to visiting Mumbiram’s studio. She was visiting with different girls of her rag-picking gangs. (…… ) In a very short time the studio became their regular place to drop in, any time of the day. Sometimes they came running up the stairs and would knock frantically at the door. They had a tough time on the street. They were using foul language to keep away guys who would accuse them of stealing or prostitution. There were indeed occasions when they stole things kept on the street or construction sites. Anyway, Mumbiram’s studio became their place to rest, eat and sometimes to hide from someone.

After the funny encounter in the early morning on the street all three of them decided to go to the studio. Mumbiram was fond of collecting unique items of attire and dresses, saries and accessories, which he got from the old-market, his favourite special shops and his tailors. He was known for happily sharing his collection with his friends. The girls felt very free in the studio. They could sleep, sing, dance, eat or try on themselves Mumbiram’s collection of dresses and accessories.

That day Kusum decided to dress up Dalgi as Krishna. Dalgi has boyish looks. She became Girl Krishna with a peacock feather in her hair.

Kusum was never jealous of her friends looking too attractive. In fact she dressed up Dalgi that way because she knew Mumbiram would like it.

Prema Vivarta !