Who was Phoolan ?
Phoolan, the “Bandit Queen”, had shot to all-India-fame in February 1981 when that low-caste woman of barely 18 years in age had extracted revenge by returning to the village of Behamai in Bundelkhand where she was repeatedly raped by upper-caste Rajput men who took turns to rape her for several days. Phoolan had escaped, formed a new gang of men of her Mallah caste and returned to Behamai a few months later and lined up all twenty-two Rajput men who were present and gunned them down. For nearly two years after that, Phoolan had evaded capture.
When was “Phoolan Mumbi” made?
At that time, Mumbiram had recently joined the Gokhle Institute of Politics and Economics. His parents were now living in the upper-class Prabhat Road area of Pune. Their Mandai residence, where Mumbiram grew up, was now abandoned. It was used for storing old furniture, old books, old case papers from his father’s forty years of legal practice, old clothes and many other things that were considered unwanted. Mumbiram took shelter in that run down apartment on top of the “Lala Lajpatrai” restaurant.
Before long, Mumbiram had befriended some gangs of rag-picking girls that would be foraging the streets of Pune in the early hours of the morning. Most of them had migrated with their families from rural areas of Maharashtra to escape droughts and famines. They would be gathering paper, plastic, cloth, and metal scrap in sacks they carried over the shoulder.
We can only speculate what about these barefoot, impoverished girls attracted Mumbiram. Mumbiram himself has declared in his “Manifesto of Personalism”:
“My rambunctious, bumbling, rag-picking friends remind me of the adolescent Krishna, along with his friends, wandering behind the cows through the forests of Vrindavan.”
Mumbiram found a lot in common between these girls and the Phoolandevi of his imagination. Indeed, Phoolan had caught Mumbiram´s imagination. Phoolan was born in 1963, which made her not more than five years older than the youngest of these urban rebels. Once they set out on their daily sojourn through the streets, they helped themselves to whatever they fancied without being noticed or caught. Sometimes they would set out in the dark hours of early morning to help themselves to scrap iron at construction sites. Many times, they were caught or chased through the streets like Vasantsena was chased by the wily brother-in-law of the king. It was at such times that they ran up the steps and knocked frantically on the door of what had now become Artist Mumbiram´s downtown Mandai studio. Here they were safe and welcome. They could have a bite to eat or take a nap on the cool shahabad stone tiles of the floor. Above all, they were safe.