Bhangra on women’s day..

Madhubani posted a series of songs renditioned by Kali Dasgupta together with his interviews. In the ensemble of songs from many regions, there were a few bhangras along translation of lyrics. Hence I knew for the first time in my life what Bhangras were really about. I always associated the Bhangra with the exuberant and joyous culture of the Sikhs, shrugging shoulders with a musical nasal snort to keep the beat on; a vivacious and vigorous movement of the body and colourful costumes of silken lungis, pagris and dupattas. I felt that the Bhangra was an invitation to actually shrug the woes of the world off with a wnahu, wnahu..little did I realize until Madhubani opened my eyes to it that it is indeed so. I used to imagine that the Bhangra is by males while the Giddha is by females. Only after Madhubani’s post I realized that in either case, the lyrics were composed by women.

In one of the lyrics among Madhubani’s posts was a song composed and sung by women as they made their chapattis in the community oven, known as the Sanjha Chula. The women sung how unfortunate they were because their husbands were away fighting wars. If they returned home alive, there was little comfort for they would have to return to fight each time till they died. If, however, the husband came back home dead, there also was no comfort because the husband was fighting for the British and his widow could also not be called to be a martyrs widow. So either way, a woman was doomed, wnahu, wnahu, khair, chhaddo ji.. koi nahi, koi nahi. This is almost ascetic resignation, an active, this worldly asceticism, something we have all along imagined to be the monopoly of the Protestant Christianity, but is seen to be very much present among the women of Punjab, Sikh women, who beneath the soot of the oven live life in the mundane everyday routine and cope drudgery and despair with the sublimity of saints !

There is another point I cannot fail to notice. Which British were the Sikhs fighting for? If it was for the East India Company, then the song may be dated to the Mutiny of 1857. If it was later, which is unlikely, given the archaic nature of the language used, it could refer to the later wars that the British fought. But why was the British an enemy of the Sikhs? In those days, one would imagine that the enemies of the Sikhs were the Mughals and the Afghans; why would the British not be just another power in the game? Were the Sikhs thinking of themselves as a nation? Were the Sikhs imagining a sovereign India? Surely, historians would say that the idea of the nation was not yet formed. Whatever the case may be, whether it is Sikh nationalism, or Sikhs in Indian nationalism, it is the women, from behind the sallow salvers and sooted ovens helped weave the discourses of the nation through their songs of sorrow that one had to shrug off and proceed on to live another day. It is possible that the weeping women of Punjab laid the foundation of nationalism. It is also possible that elsewhere in the country, it is so. When intellectuals accuse men in Nandigram and Singur of putting women in front of the human pile to protest against military crackdowns, I think that they miss this huge hidden history of women who actually founded the idea of the nation and nationalism.

Logically speaking, at least in India, women are the ones to discover spaces. This is because they migrate on exogamy, they are traded as slaves and carted as prostitutes; they also leave homes to become Mira. Who else but they would know the value of space, who else but they would know similarities of culture and religion across disparate lands?

I also see women at the foundation of the modern State, raging amazons in the French Revolution charging through the Bastille; a Matangini Hazra, the veiled women in Iraq, the armed woman holding up her children in Afghanistan. It is women who are vulnerable to disorder in a society; it is they who suffer from the lawlessness of the Hobbesian states; it is they who desire the rule of law, the institutionalization of justice the most.

.. all of this light comes to me from the Bhangra sung by sad women sitting down in circles as dusk falls on the land of the Punjab and it is time to roast the rotis.

Thousand thanks Madhubani ..

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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