Featured image: ‘Lakhpati in centre’ was also taken in 2014 in Bhairotola, which is under Chandi thana of Bhojpur district. Bhairo-tola is Lakhpati’s natal village. Image credits: Asha Singh
Baba ho kate da na duyi-das dinwa nu ho,
Tale praabhu-ji lawati ayihen ho.
E beti ho humase na kati toharo dinwa nu
Chali ja na matariya bhiri ho
E mai ho kate da na duyi-das dinwa nu ho
Tale praabhu-ji lawati ayihen ho
E beti ho humase na kati toharo dinwa nu ho
Chali ja na bhaiyawa bhiri ho
Oh father, let me spend a few days at your home
Till my husband returns
Oh daughter, I can’t take care of you,
Go ask your mother.
Oh mother, let me spend a few days at your home
Till my husband returns.
Oh daughter, I can’t take care of you,
Go ask your brother.
I collected this song from Lakhpati Devi, a septuagenarian unlettered woman who is also my mother. Lakhpati, like many other Bhojpuri women her age, is a storehouse of songs. I grew up with these songs. Researching them has always been a bitter-sweet experience for me.
Sweet, as they are the only living repertoire of Bhojpuri women’s collective experiences. Bitter, as they are used to reproduce the violence of traditional gender roles and caste affinities. This is not to argue that women’s songs don’t question traditions. They do, especially when they come in contact with new ideas and aspirations.
It has been my aim as a researcher to convey this bitter-sweet nature of songs and underline their undeniable place in Bhojpuri women’s experiences of mobility and immobility.
Now, let me turn to Lakhpati Devi’s song. It is an excerpt from a long dialogue between a married daughter and her natal family. She pleads to stay with them a little longer till her migrant husband returns home. Her parents remain unwilling to commit a decision and evade her appeal. The song works as a fact-fiction. It captures the generic conditions of ‘marriage migration’ – the inaugural experience of mobility (and immobility) for most women in Bhojpuri society. Patrilocality ensures that women make no claims to resources in her natal village. This disenfranchisement, a form of structural gender-based violence, is regulated through social rituals, rules and oral art forms. This song reminds women of their status in their paternal home, post-marriage. It mirrors her own alienation from the natal home, a place she co-produced with her labour as a peasant-daughter. However, she (and the protagonist in the song) doesn’t hate her parents. Rather a deep sense of sorrow permeates the song where poor daughters realize how their equally poor parents can’t share much with them; that marrying a daughter is an economic transaction that settles delicate questions of resources. Thus, a deeper sense of patriarchal structure as violence, springs from the script of the song. Lakhpati’s parents died young of easily curable diseases in the 1970s. Singing this song perhaps is a way to remember them – a migrant child’s memories. Take a look at another such song where the daughter laments being married off to Bhojpur instead of urban Arrah or Chhapra.
In the Bhojpuri milieu, the migrant figure is usually a young man who leaves his family to earn a living. His life and actions are commemorated in women’s folk songs. If we look close enough every such song recognizes two categories of migrants. One, the easily identifiable economic male migrant. And two, the implicit, taken-for-granted marriage migrant – the main voice in the song. Let us take a look at one such song, recalled by Lakhpati Devi, which captures an exchange between these two categories of migrants –
Kahe dhani angawa ke paatar ho ram
Kahe dhani chowkathiya dhaile jhuruvas ho ram
Toharo je maiya prabhu ho awari chhinariya ho
Tauli naapiye telwa dihalan ho ram
Toharo bahiniya prabhu ho awari chhinariya ho
Loiye ganiye hathwa ke dihalan ho ram
Husband: Why do you look so thin, dear wife?
Why do you look so sad, standing at the doorway, dear wife?
Wife: Oh husband, your mother is such a bitch,
She gives me only a few drops of oil.
Oh husband, your sister is such a bitch,
She gives me only a handful of flour to cook.
When the husband asks his wife to explain the reasons for her frail frame and sorrow, the newly-wed wife tells him that her in-laws deny her oil (telwa) and portions of kneaded flour (loiya). The song is woven together additively, with ‘prabhu ho awari chhinariya ho’ acting as a bridge to add new lines. Like other women’s songs on migration, the protagonist is a ‘newly-wed’ wife. One rarely comes across songs where a middle-age married woman becomes the protagonist. The ‘newly-wed’, is a migrant coping with forms of everyday violence—the scarcity, the control, the refusals of her wishes—in her marital home.
The household is characterized by conflicts and negotiations of a marriage migrant. The micro-politics of oil and flour – daily necessities – is a slice of how women experience migration. Reflecting on the content of the song, Lakhpati Devi conceptualizes them as lapsed or persistent lived experiences which are orally passed down through generations (‘jawan beetal baa, uhe geetwa mein chhapal-ba’ or what we experience is ‘printed’ in the song). The presence or absence of the migrant husband or khanihaar (breadwinner who has the first claim to all resources) determines the status of the marriage migrant. Lakhpati’s husband, my late father, was a migrant, for almost half their marriage. His absence adversely affected her life and that of her children. Her children survived only when she left for the city with her husband.
Women’s articulations on marriage migration and its everyday violence have silently shaped Bhojpurian notions of pain and displacement. Irrespective of gender, Bhojpuri migrants draw from women’s lives and sing like women to endure the pangs of mobility. The conditions of migration in Bhojpurian society are shaped by the structural violence of socio-economic institutions. Songs register (if not reflect) disappointments with such forms of violence but also work as painkillers to endure them.
Asha Singh is an Assistant Professor in Gender Studies with Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC). She has also taught at Ambedkar University-Delhi, Amity University-Noida, Adamas University-Kolkata and Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya HindiVishwavidyalaya-Kolkata centre. Prior to her academic career, she was a journalist in Hindi newspapers NaiDunia, Bhopal and LokmatSamachar, Maharashtra. Her PhD is from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Her doctoral work focuses on the intersections of gender, caste and migration in Bhojpuri folksongs. Her current research focuses on the sociology of Bhojpuri language, its institutional history and implications on social transformation. She has published with EPW, Sociological Bulletin, Sage, Routledge and Prabudhha.As a bilingual scholar she has contributed essays in popular platforms like Hindustan Times, Roundtable India and Savari.