A percussion quartet rattles a city’s deadbeats
Author Arun Bhatia Illustration Peter Oumanski
BANGALORE – Swaying in the heat of downtown Bangalore, a young man named Manu gives his fellow percussionists a look. And, as surely as if he’d hollered “faster,” the tempo rises. Hunched outside a local builder’s posh mansion, Manu, Anil, Gopal and John bang their tamate drums more and more feverishly, aiming for that moment when their audience can take no more.
This rhythmic quartet isn’t meant to be an act; it’s meant to be a nuisance. The drummers are paid by the Bangalore city council to perform outside the residences and businesses of tax evaders. They come with banners bearing their target’s name and the amount owed, and aim to embarrass and annoy deadbeat into submission.
“This is much cheaper and faster than prolonged litigation in the courts,” explains Madappa, a clerk in the city office. “Quite often, the defaulters cough up at least part of the money owed.”
Manu, the goateed leader of the drummers playing today, is in his 20s. Having dropped out of school, he makes a living mainly as a construction worker and a decorator, but taught himself to play the tamate in order to earn a little income on the side. “The only things certain in life are death and taxes,” he says. “We tamate boys figure into that.”
In addition to the ongoing debt-collection gig, Manu’s group earns money by performing in funeral processions. The work is sporadic and not very lucrative, but that’s becoming increasingly less important to the four friends. “We forget everything when we beat the drums,” Manu says. “It comes instinctively.”