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Posted at: Feb 11, 2018, 12:54 AM; last updated: Feb 11, 2018, 12:54 AM (IST)

More than her ghunghat…

Gandhi to Hitler, many political figures found a place in the folk songs of rural women from Haryana
More than her ghunghat…

Priyanka Singh

Picture a picture; of a Haryanvi woman from long ago, in a village in pre-Independence India — a woman in a buttoned-up full-sleeved blouse, daaman; a long, heavy ghagra (almost always black, or red, with a sliver of contrast); chunky silver anklets, kadi; around the neck a hasli or jhalara; even chunkier kadulay for the wrist; hair pulled up neatly in a chunda, to also hold in place the vaeel (veil), or ghunghat — a mild, but constant reminder of subjugation.

Nothing about it states dainty; nothing about it is delicate. She is hardy, conditioned for hardships. Home, fields, six or more kids, an extended family — chauka-chulha is her lot.

Covered from top to toe, she hasn’t seen the inside of a school. And so, it is most striking, unbelievable even, that in the visibly limited sphere of her insulated world, she is touched by the kranti ki leher, and the socio-political occurrences in the vast world outside.

Caught up in life’s grind, she interknits stories in songs — some light and cheery; some reflective, poignant. Songs about the struggle for freedom against the British Raj; Gandhi’s entreaty to take to the charkha; Bhagat Singh’s supreme sacrifice; Subhas Chandra Bose; abominable deeds of Hitler….

The songs pass on from one woman to the next. The words are powerful; persuasive. The young, the not-so-young, walk together to the wells in groups large and small. And they sing, as they balance the many toknis (pots) on their head, over a hand-woven eendhi…

Gandhi aaya hey manne suna/Aaka maangya swaraj/ Chhati dhadki Angrej ki/Tobar golein hey soot ke/Maare Landan mein jaa/ Chhati dhadki Angrej ki/ Ghar-ghar charkhe hey de diye/ Kaato mata aur bhaan (Gandhi is here, I have heard, demanding Swaraj, unnerving the British. Balls of cotton have exploded in London, shaking up the Empire; Gandhi is urging mothers and sisters in every household to embrace the charkha).

A young Bhagat Singh has dared to challenge the British: Thar-thar kanpein the Angrej; bhaage chhod kursi er mej/ Sher jab wo lalkara re/ Bhagat Singh ne Assembly mein gola mara re/ Vir surma-naami, na kisi tein sher darega/ Maran-maaran mein bilkul tyaar rehwega/ Bharta dugna josh/ Na tha baithaniya khamosh/ Dushman khoob sudhara re/ Assembly mein gola maara re (Alarmed, the British are fleeing, challenged by the tiger who lobbed a grenade in the Assembly/He is a warrior and unafraid; ready to kill or die; he will not sit quiet; the enemy has been warned).

Mother India’s son Bhagat Singh is hanged. They wail. And immortalise him in their song. As they walk to the fields under the flaming sun, a tear is shed…

Bina jaan ki parwaah karke/Maa ka karaj chukaaya re/ Bharat maa kare pukaar/ Bhagat Singh feir bhi aaiye re (Without caring for his life, he has paid the debt of his mother; the motherland wishes for him to be born again).

In Bose, they see hope; a hero: Bharat Maa teri katha adhuri, veeron ke ithihaas bina/ Des mein azaadi na aati/ Netaji vir Subhas bina (The history of the bravehearts of our motherland is incomplete without Bose, without whom freedom would not have been a reality).

Bose’s meeting with Hitler finds a mention: Barsan laage phool Bose par/ Haath mila Hitler tein/ Aage-aage band baajta, paachhe car Bose ki/ Bhaaj Hitler ne koli bharli saache yaar Bose ki (Bose is welcomed with flowers as he shakes hands with Hitler; a welcome band precedes Bose’s car; Hitler rushes to embrace his true friend).

And then, Netaji’s mysterious air crash: Chandra Bose teine reha na hosh/ Kit jhaaj chadhaayi re/ Dekhe duniya baat teri/ Teine kit jaan khapayi re (Where did your plane crash; the world is waiting for you; is it the end of you?).

The times are painfully uncertain. Bizarre things are taking place beyond even the ceaseless limits of the Raj. Hitler has set in motion unutterable evil. So many butchered. Not their hero, no; they curse him in their song…

Chhoti kaathi, maanas ka bairi/ Karmon ka phal tu bhogaiga/ Hitler tera jaeeyo naash/ Duniya kay khapa diye laal (Short-statured and enemy of humanity, your bad deeds will come to haunt you/ Hitler, may ruin befall you for killing many, many sons).

These women are long gone. But their songs remain; with their daughters. And their granddaughters.

The ghagra has made way for salwar-kameez. The chunda is gone. The chunni now sits easy and light on the head.

The ghunghat remains.

The hard work too; at home and in the fields.

Is the woman of today aware of the world around her; like the one before her, from long ago?

Is she singing a song?


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