Saturday, December 28, 2013

Unusual occupations - Nomad singers of folklore

William Dalrymple in his book 'Nine lives' chronicled Mohan Bhopa the singer of the Pabuji Epic from Rajasthan. The Bhopa- Bhopis from around Jodhpur are traditional artistes who carry on the tradition of epic folklore that has been transferred to them orally for generations.
Unusual occupations, this time features a lesser known artiste from the same genre. Narayan Bhopa and his wife Mitwa Bhopi who perform at different tourist destinations and festivals all over India.  They belong to a tradition of singers from Rajashtan, who render an ancient folklore epic that has been handed over them from generations by the forefathers. They recite the Dev- Naraynan epic.
Singers of Folklore.  Picture Courtesy : Vikram Guna 

Narayan Bhopa, his wife and son along with their grandson were called by the Goyal family (the Seth) to perform at his resort in Bangalore. Goyal’s resort is situated off the Jigani industrial estate amidst equalyptus plantations, a lake and what once may have been the main watering hole for a thriving village's ecosystem. Not far away from the resort is Electronic city, Bangalore’s answer to Silicon valley housing thousands of knowledge workers who work for the big corporations notable among them being Infosys, Wipro and HP.

Narayan Bhopa and his family were testing waters in Bangalore, to look at the probability of staying longer term since the city is thriving with tourists, international conventions where they may find their potential  clients and sponsors.   For now they had been invited and were living under the hospitality of one of their kinsmen whose ancestor may have been their village landlord, an affluent family member who had probably migrated to Bangalore over the last generation.

Handed over from one generation to another, the bhopas perform ‘ jagrans’ that involve singing , dancing and playing the Ravanahatta, the 18 stringed musical instrument  for about 8 hours or longer spread over 4-5 nights. The performances are the rendition of a local epic that normally chronicles the story of warriors and martyrs, of love and war, or traditions and epics that have been immortalized by the oral renditions over the centuries.  

When performing outside of Jhuggar and Jodhpur, the traditions gets compromised and abridged to a one to two hour performance during the day. More often than not for tourists who visit to get a first hand and arguably authentic experience of the dying folk art at tourist destinations.  

With William Dalrymple chronicling Mohan Bhopa and Batasi Bhopi of the Pabuji sect, that folk rendition now invariably finds a prime slot at the Jaipur literary festival and a number of other international conventions that happen in and around  Delhi. 

The other popular sect - the Dev-Narayan tradition of epic has not been so lucky. Narayan Bhopa renders the Dev-Narayan folk epic. Narayan Bhopa and his family have also performed in Jaipur and Delhi for tourists and in upmarket hotels a number of times. They live in tents and travel wherever they are called for. Mitwa Bhopi proudly talks about their performances in Nagpur, Vishakaptanam, Mumbai and now in Bangalore in what is a Hindi with a heavy Rajashtani dialect. In her forties or early fifties, Mitwa has always accompanied her husband for the performances. Fully veiled when performing, she accompanies her husband and son and sings with a full throated husky voice, that even to the tone deaf and musically illiterate can stir emotions of passion, love, longing, grief and martyrdom through this powerful medium of folk music. It is only when she lifted her veil in private ( when her husband and son had gone to meet the Seth) and spoke to me that I could see that she was a woman in her fifties ,with greyng hair and a skin tone that had grown rugged with travel and performances across various terrains over the years.

A bhopa would normally perform with his wife and another accompanying male artiste who would also normally be from the same family.  This is usually a son who will in the future take over the reins from his father along with his wife.
The family of folk singers Picture Courtesy : Vikram Gunasekaran

Bhopas who invariably are simple villagers, sheperds, cowherds and are often illiterate.  They are illiterate, not so much because they cannot afford formal education. Their nomadic way of life renders access to education impossible since a Bhopa singer is trained from a very young age.

Milman Parry, often referred to as ‘the Darwin of oral literature’ is best known for his work involving the study of Homer and how oral poetry worked and how such traditions survived the centuries unabridged and unadulterated. His theorized that it is illiteracy that works best when an epic tale survives generations. The illiterate artistes' capability to remember such colossal quantities of verse are apparently diminished when they get familiar with the written word. ( Courtesy : William Dalrymple : Nine lives)

Sounds familiar.  With the advent of calculator, our generation never remembers the multiplication tables.  With the advent of GPS some of us do not even remember to route to our neighbourhood grocery store. 

And I am told their non-preference to formal education when they are ordained to carry on the family tradition follows the fear of the above hypothesis.
The day before, I met them, they had performed at the 100 acre sprawling Art of living ashram at Kanakapura Road in Bangalore and were felicitated by Sri Sri Ravishankar amidst roaring applause by an auditorium full of spell bound audience.

When we arrived at the resort for a fun filled offsite, an away-day from work, little were we expecting to have folk artistes hover around us for a performance and irritably for some tips especially from foreigners.  As much as we were intrigued by them, other activites like archery, volleyball, snorking, rope climbing, a inviting swimming pool and the much awaited rain dance with a more funky DJ in the evening were what we were looking forward to.

Before we warmed up for the other attractions at the resort, Narayan Bhopa, his Bhopi, their son and grandson captured our attention with a folk song that seemed to have Bollywood flavours. A bunch of us tried to dance for the rhythm to set the mood.

Playing the Ravanahatta
Picture Courtesy : Vikram Gunasekaran
While Narayan Bhopa played the Ravanahatta, the fully veiled Bhopi sang with a husky voice, a folk song, whose lyrics we could not fathom, their son Ram Nivas Bhopa who could at best be a boy in his late teens or early twenties played the dholak.

The Bhopa family
Picture Courtesy : Vikram Gunasekaran
The little boy barely two or three years old, bare foot, wearing dirty torn clothes with snot drying in his nose danced to the tune. The little kid is Ram Nivas Bhopa’s first born. He had left his wife back in their village as she was now pregnant full term with the second one. This little kid, who would grow up to be the torch bearer of the tradition that had been passed on to generations was being trained young.  A little too young.            

It is an occupation that has been ordained on them by their forefathers. They carry it out with immense pride.  But they are painfully aware that the tradition may die slowly over the generations, if they do not find sponsors. Sponsors in the form of wealthy landlords and reigning princes were easy to come by, a 100 years ago.  Since India's independence and with consecutive generations of wealthy landlords moving away to cities and away from the country, and the princely states getting dissolved and dis-empowered, the Bhopas are now finding new avenues like the heritage hotels in Jaipur, Udaipur and Delhi where they perform. 

Perform, but not the Epic folklore that runs for 4-5 nights but a  very abridged version that tingles the senses and nostalgia of the culture seeking tourist in five star destinations and resorts like the one we had been to. 


Aam Ladki ki ajab kahani

Aam Ladki ki ajab kahani

It was probably the most momentous day in the life of this 26 year old girl from Delhi.
She appears before 100,000 onlookers and millions more viewing her on the national television channels, 
With oiled and tightly plaited hair, 
A black plastic hair clip and pink rubber band for a hair style.
Wearing a pink cotton salwar kameez and a pullover. 
You cant help but gasp and mutter … what a fashion disaster !!! 
Could she have not done better ?

Certainly in Delhi where your womanhood is sized up more by the designer brand of clothes your wear and the brand of cosmetics you use across most sections of society than in most other places, Rakhi Birla stood out and made a style statement.

The woman exudes a confidence that makes you take note of her and Google, ‘Rakhi Birla’ for more details.  It attracts attention especially because the surname is synonymous to the major business house and used as a common term to indicate someone from a wealthy family.  

It turns out to be such a anti climax when you learn that Rakhi Birla is actually Rakhi Bidhlan. The attention grabbing surname is a result of the an administrative and typing  error that got engraved in her class X mark sheet.  

Born as the youngest in a family of four daughters, her parents decided to abort the child  when she was conceived as they already had three daughters. It was a result of a failed abortion, 27 years later, that Rakhi stood in front of millions of people and took oath as the youngest minister in the AAP cabinet. Hailing from a Dalit lower middle class family, Rakhi did her post graduation in Mass communication before joining a Private TV channel as news reporter. (Source :

At 26, inexperienced Rakhi in the youngest minister in Kejriwal’s cabinet.
Her unupdated linkedin profile reads thus :    

RAKHI BIRLA's Overview

  • Assi. Producer at JAIN TV
2 connections

RAKHI BIRLA's Experience

Assi. Producer


Currently holds this position

Anna Hazare’s fight against corruption and later followed by the Nirbhaya Rape case,  the two reports that she covered as a young  journalist seem to have changed the course of her career. She quit hournalism and joined the Aam Admi movement with Arvind Kejriwal. 

While it is too early to tell, here is a woman who listened to her heart early on in life.

Irrespective of whether her party survives the current government or not, Rakhi has already made history. 
Here is wishing her all the very best.  May the trappings of power, fame and money, the burden, expectations,  pulls and pushes of womanhood not deter her from her chosen path.
May be she is too young and hence probably too na├»ve to steer through the crude and cunning world of politics. It is not about being a woman in a man’s world.  The Amma’s and Didi’s of Indian politics have gone far beyond and proven that the world of politics is not too alien for a woman with grit. 

But this time it is this woman's ideals that will be put to test.  
To survive, she needs to have her heart and head at the right place, 
And that is what will make her stand out from the rest.
Rakhi, the country wishes you all the very best .

India needs more of you.
Not just in politics but in all other fields.
With or without makeup. 
Preferably without.
Either ways … you simply rock.  


Confessions of an ‘Aam admi’…

I am normally not a senti person, but today Kejriwal and party's performance at Ram-lila maidan left me with goosebumps. 
Keep up the good work Kejriwal. 
I am sure with all our support you can do better.
Millions like us who watched you on TV from the comfy couches of our living rooms do really wish you all the very best.  

But read on... Because it is going to be a bumpy and confusing ride for you. 

For here are the Confessions of an ‘Aam admi’…
Last year, when the Anna frenzy caught on and erupted all over, thousands of office goers like me left our air-conditioned offices and stepped out on the streets for a couple of hours to show solidarity for the fight against corruption.
There was nothing official about it.
But It was an in-thing.  Everyone was doing it.
And well, who would not want to stand up against corruption . 
It seemed like a good cause.
Everyone was doing something, so we all joined the bandwagon.
And why not ?    

I can say I have never taken bribes or given bribes.
Did that qualify me to be part of the Anna movement?

No. Somewhere in the corner of my conscience, I knew Corruption was not so black and white. The roots of corruption in this country run very deep and are very very tangled.

Like millions of other middle class Indians, I probably turn a blind eye to the blatant corruption that happens around me. I am aware that there must have been a long chain of bribes given and taken by people unknown and known to me, to help me live the lifestyle that I am living today.

My birth certificate was probably obtained corruption free. 

But my driving license was probably not.  I paid the prescribed fees to my Driving school, whose car (the one without a seat belt and a loose hanging rear view mirror) I drove for a little less than 120 seconds at the RTO office in the presence of the driving inspector to obtain a Driving licence which would giving me a legitimate address proof and a government issued photo identity card.   

My driving school guys took care of everything from my mandatory driving lessons which I did not need, fuel for the car, documentation that must have involved tons of paper work and photocopies, appointment with the RTO inspector over a weekend ( so that I do not miss out a day at work) very efficiently. Two weeks later, a representative from the driving school came over and handed me my driving licence.

The service charges were competitively priced and well worth it, considering I earn pretty well. Don’t I ?   
Since then I have recommended this driving school to many colleagues and friends, not so much because they wanted to learn driving, but because they quickly needed a valid government issued address proof in this city of migrants.
And then last year, around the same time when Anna Hazare's movement was catching up, we bought an apartment. Our real estate agent charged us a certain amount as broker’s charges to get our apartment registered. We did not bother to ask him for a receipt. Not that he could not have given one.  It just seemed unnecessary. 

Our agent accompanied us to the land registrar's office in his air conditioned Innova, profusely apologizing for a potential wait at the government office because of an impending 'rahukalam' that may cause a delay to get back to work from there.  
The seller, unlike us was a clever man.  As if he knew what was coming, he carried with him, John Grisham's 'A time to kill' and was so engrossed in the book that he hardly engaged in any relationship building conversations with his agent or the future owner of his apartment.  

At the land registrar's office, I know for certain that the three men and the woman whose desks, I and the seller of the apartment scuttered around, in that dusty, crowded first floor office loaded with paan-stained walls, were meagerly paid government servants.

The first one registered our thumb imprints with an ink-pad on a government paper.
After the ink on the paper dried, the second one moved the file to the third one’s table. 
The lady at the third table in whose presence we signed the document simply tied the string around the red tape and moved it into a tray while muttering some frenzied instructions to her daughter over the cell phone.  

I had just enough time to notice her diamond ring that sent a refraction of light with the seven colours of rainbow when mid-day sunlight from the window passed through it before the agent escorted us out through the stairs where the various shapes and color intensities of paan-stains on the walls formed such myriad, abstract patterns that would have put an M F Hussain painting to shame. 

After that, it was a couple of hour’s of wait for the agent's man at the ‘Xerox’ shop opposite the registrar’s office. The seller and us were seated on plastic stools outside the shop and served over-boiled sugary tea by a 10 year old boy while the agent’s man was busy upstairs at the registrar’s office ‘tying up the loose ends’. 
The Seller had deep dived once again into John Grisham. 

Just as I was beginning to fret and fume about the near certainty of missing the important  2.00 pm weekly meeting at office, the agent’s man arrived and we got a document which declared us the proud owner of the apartment (albeit indebted to the lending institution to the tune of many lakhs of Rupees that would be repayed  over the next 15 years)  while the seller walked away with a cheque handed over by the representative from the lending institution, neatly tucked  as a book-mark in the John Grisham book.

The only thing we paid by cash was the agent’s fees.

I have never given or taken bribes. 
It was all painlessly executed on my behalf  by my ever so resourceful real estate agent and the builder.

I like the idealism that Kejriwal and party emanate.
Only, I am not sure if their mission is as simplistic as it sounds.

Millions like me who would like to join their mission, have been numbed by the concept of corruption. Corruption is, like a leech that is sucking our blood unknown and painless to us. By now more than one generation of Indians have become used to a way of life that hardly knows how mundane things like obtaining a death certificate and driving licence could be executed otherwise.

Show us the way,  Kejriwal  and party.
We know it happens outside of India.

Till then, the ‘Aam admi’ like me would never call on the anti corruption number that Kejriwal has promised to give out in the next 48 hours.

I have never given or taken bribes.
Only paid service charges.

  This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

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