Read time: 15 mins

For a Daughter, a Kalpavrksha, the Ever-Giving Tree

by Bhushan Korgaonkar
14 July 2021

Translated from Marathi to English by Sheela Jaywant

Translator’s note

In India, the language changes every couple of kilometres, and in ‘lavani’ (which I consider a semi-orthodox performing art form, a combination of song, dance and acting), it’s hard to pinpoint just where the popular part ends and the classical begins. In order to keep the voice and flavour of ‘Indlish’ or English as it is spoken in India, I kept some conversations almost literal, without wavering too much from conventional grammatical rules. As far as possible, I did not add to or modify the text, unless it was to explain a concept. For example, the word ‘ushtha’ or ‘jootha’ has no equivalent in English; it means food that has been touched—not by the cook/server, but by someone who has tasted it, and not with a spoon but by hand or lip. It could be used to describe a non-virgin too.

I kept the sentences short to bring out the complicated emotions. To check for comprehension and ensure I had not missed out on the nuances, at times I did a personal reverse translation from English to Marathi. The most difficult part was to keep the rhythm of the lyrics without losing the order of the words.


 

For a Daughter, a Kalpavrksha, the Ever-Giving Tree

 

       When Mohana-bai sang this ghazal the first time, I was totally impressed by her acting and the expressions on her face:

            Main nazar se pi raha hoon,

                             I’m sipping with my eyes…

            Yeh sama badal na jaaye.

                              This moment; may it not pass.

            Na jhukaao tum nigahe,

                               Don’t lower your lids, don’t look away.

            Kahi raat dhal na jaaye.

                               This night; may it never pass.

            Mujhe phoonk ne se pahale,

                                 Before you fan aflame my embers.

 

                          Mera dil nikaal lena.

                                             My heart, remove it from within me.

                          Ye kisi aur ki hai amaanat.

                                             For it belongs to someone else.

                          Kahin saath jal na jaaye.

                                             This heart, it mustn’t burn with me.

       She paused after singing the line ‘mujhe phoonk ne se pehale’ (before you fan aflame my embers) and told the audience that she was never to be cremated; she would be buried, but yet…

    ‘Mera dil nikaal lena’ (my heart, remove it from within me) was vividly projected with her pretending to stab herself and rake out that vital, pulsating organ.

       The second time I heard this ghazal, I realized that the tune was as important as those gestures. That time, she sang it like a lively qawwali, not a sombre ghazal.

       When I asked her who had set the words to such an uplifting and unusual tune, ‘My father,’ she said, brightly, her voice overflowing with pride and joy.

       I had heard her speak of him many times. She had referred to minor incidents about him in various conversations. Parents play a huge role in the upbringing of every child. Even those who can’t stand their parents still have to accept the fact that they carry their genes. Mohana-bai recalled him so many times; even 20 years after he had gone, I could feel the affectionate bond between them.

       One day, I reached the theatre, Aryabhushan, earlier than usual. The women had just finished their baths. Mohana-bai was in her room, sharing her breakfast with Saira. A leftover bhakri, a flatbread, with a groundnut chutney and a pulse preparation, usal, on a single metal plate. I’d had an omelette-bread at the nearby Café Good-Luck, but was tempted to try their fare, so had a bite or two from it. A few minutes later, Payal and Pinky entered, carrying their plate. They had ordered some batata wadas. Having read my articles in the Marathi Diwali ank magazines, Mohana-bai knew exactly how I wrote. She said to Payal, ‘Show him how you mash everything up. Then he will describe it like this: “When I reached Aryabhushan early in the morning, the atmosphere was pleasant. Everyone had had their baths and begun offering prayers to God. Payal and Pinky ate from a single plate, two leftover bhakris, usal, chutney and hot batata wadas, all mixed together.”’

       Her frank mimicry was funny. I retorted, ‘Mohana-bai, today, you dictate what I should write. I will take it down, word by word. The topic? Your father.’

       She was at first reluctant, but then she opened up. This is what she told me that day and the next day:

My father, Abdul Sattar Pathan, was, as his name suggests, tall, broad, handsome, noble-looking. The goddess of learning, Saraswati, seemed to live in his fingers and on his lips. He had to hear a song just once, and he could reproduce it on the harmonium.  I’ve never seen him fumble with the keys.

He was an atheist, didn’t go to any masjid, never offered namaz, nor made any pact with God. He said God and religion were all falsehood. Yet, he knew what was written in the Koran, the Geeta and the Ramayana. Occasionally, he would quote from them, something about spirituality. As a child, I didn’t understand any of that. Gradually, I began to fathom what he was talking about. He always said we could sell our art but not our honour. ‘If a customer has a hundred rupees, take 20 as what you’ve rightfully earned, not a paisa more. Money which is forcibly taken by torment and torture brings no joy,’ he taught me. I wasn’t so smart; I didn’t know what he meant, but because he was saying so, I followed his way obediently. Truth be told, it’s the fruit of his teaching that I’m enjoying today. I have seen for myself what greed and cheating has done to so many women. They have heaps of money, but their homes are in shambles, with fights, legal tangles, illnesses. It’s like they have good meat but no teeth to eat it with. What will they do with all that money? I’m quite content with my bhakri and vegetable meal. I have my own farmland. Everything’s going well.

‘Beta, he would say, ‘we’re doing this to run our homes. Don’t ever break the homes of those who come to us as customers. Don’t trample on someone; don’t let someone’s curse be upon you.’

In the olden days, people used to say, if one sinned, he’d be punished in another life (reincarnation). Now things have changed. My father’s words were: ‘Do wrong here on earth; suffer the consequences right here.’ He’d say, ‘You’ll suffer for what you’ve done. And if you’ve done well, you’ll get the reward, too, right here.’

       Mohana-bai spoke in her part-Hindi, part-Marathi dialect:

My father could speak fluent Marathi, Hindi and Urdu and read and write in those languages. In addition, he knew more than a smattering of English, Arabic and Pharishee. He wrote poetry. He looked like a Pathan, robust and strong. But he was asthmatic. Once, he fell so ill that my mother had to admit him into a hospital. I was, as usual, at Aryabhushan. I took four days’ leave and went home. How could my mother have coped alone? She was looking after the farm as well as the house. Father felt better after two days. Unless I returned, Rehana and Muskaan could not be given any leave. They wanted to meet him. I didn’t want to go back, but I did. When I went to say goodbye to him, he told me to wait for a moment. He said he’d made a verse up. He wanted to recite it for me. I was a fan of his poetry. I used to heartily cheer him on. If I didn’t like something, I’d bluntly say so. That’s why he was not comfortable with something he’d written unless I critiqued it. So I heard him out.

            Yenw kaid hum huey ki hava ko taras gaye.

                               I was so imprisoned that I craved for a light breeze.

            Apne hi kaan apni sada ko taras gaye.

                               My ear craved someone to call out to.

            Auron ko di hai humney nayi zindagi.

                                I’ve given life to others, anew.

            Bimar khud padey toh dava ko taras gaye.

                                But when ill, I craved medicine.

I wept sudden, copious tears. My father who loved me so dearly, had I neglected him so much in his first major illness?

He tenderly told me that it was but a poem. ‘Who told you that it’s based on personal experience? But you cried. That means I won. Because when something that’s created from a little bit of imagination and a little bit of reality strikes someone’s heart so hard…what else can a poet want?’ He crinkled up his eyes and laughed so hard that they filled up with tears.

I was always a generous sort. My sisters were frugal and practical. Miserly, actually. Baba would tell them: ‘A well must have water drawn from it daily. Then the water that springs from below is clear, like gangajal. That’s what happens to Mohana. The more she spends, the more she earns. Still water gets stagnant. That’s what will happen to your money. Learn to spend. Be charitable. And then you’ll see how money will get drawn towards you, by itself.’

But my sisters are still as they used to be. It’s a good thing, though. They save, I spend—there’s a balance.

He was a superb teacher. I learned to sing correctly, in tune, thanks to him. You know, don’t you, we don’t have microphones, so we have to sing at a higher pitch and loudly. There’s always a fear of going off-note or the voice cracking. He made us practise over and over so that it would not happen to us. Never mind the singing; I learnt how to use gestures to differentiate between various emotions. He didn’t tell me or show me how anything was done. He’d tell me how I did certain things, made me observe how others did them and then taught me to improvise. ‘Watch others,’ he’d say. ‘If they are willing to teach, then learn from them. But make sure you pour into it something of your own; only then will you find happiness and success. You must do what no other woman is doing. It must be unique and it must be good. It is only then that people will come to see you dance, and they will come again and again.’ He taught me that.

Once, in my childhood, I had a fever. The temperature rose rapidly. The only doctor in our village wasn’t home. To get another doctor from a neighbouring village, my father sprinted for five kilometres. That doctor had a scooter, but since there was someone else who was taking a ride with him, my father had to walk back all the way. I took the prescribed medicine and felt better after two days. The doctor said I could have died. My father had done all that running and sweating for my sake.

       When he died, I wasn’t near him.

Rehana, Muskaan and I were at the theatre. My mother was with him at home with Chaya and Razia. They’d just finished their dinner. Baba took his medicine, watched his favourite serial and lay down to sleep. Suddenly he gasped. My sisters quickly got a rickshaw. Razia and Chaya put him in the rickshaw to take him to the hospital. He always used to say, ‘I will die on Razia’s lap, whilst Chaya will give me my last sip of water.’ That’s what happened. He died in the rickshaw. When I got the call, our baithak was in full swing. He wasn’t even ill then. I knew from Razia’s voice what had happened. I felt faint. We set off immediately. He had told us, ‘When I’m gone, make a biryani at my funeral. It’s a wonderful experience to die of old age. Celebrate it. Don’t mourn my passing. Enjoy yourselves.’ That was his wish. My sisters fulfilled it. Each time I thought of him, I burst out crying. When I hugged my mother, I remembered something he’d written:

            Manzil pe pahunchne per hairat toh sabhi ko hai.

                    Watchers are taken aback when people reach their goal.

            Per kisiine nahi dekha in paon ki chalon ko.

                    But no one’s seen the calluses on their feet.

Truly, he was a happy man, and he spread happiness to others as he raised them to higher levels. He was very keen that I should do well in my profession. Did I fulfil his dream? Whilst pushing me, his flesh and blood, to do what I’m doing, wouldn’t he have suffered? As a Muslim, and as an artist, he must have endured humiliation. His peers know how great an artist he was. But no one saw the scars on his soul as he went on his way.

It’s been so many years since he’s gone. I’ve never felt as sad as I did when he died.

       And Mohana-bai added in her unusual Hindi-Marathi dialect:

Not even when I was ditched by a lover and I had to return to this dancing profession with my head hung low in shame. When would I get the grief of my father’s passing out of my system, I wondered then. Time is the only truly effective remedy to all sorrows. But even today, I feel his presence by my side. His memory no longer pains me; on the contrary, I feel happy thinking about him. I have so many knots of his memories woven into my brain; they will remain with me until my last breath.

*****

This is a lavani plea to save an art form:

मराठमोळी कला ही न्यारी, बिचकून जाऊ नकाssss

Marathmolli kala hi nyaari, bichkoon jaoo nakaa.

            (Don’t let it startle you, this typically Marathi art form.)

लावणी विसरू नका, हो पावनं, लावणी विसरू नका ||

Lavani visroo naka, ho paavna, lavani visroo naka.

          (Sir, bear in mind, this is what a lavani is, don’t forget, a lavani.)

शाहिराच्या या लेखणीतुनि, सरस्वती हो ओघळली

shaahirachya ya lekhnituni, Saraswati hi odhal-li.

          (Saraswati herself trickles out of the pens of poets here.)

ढोलकिची घुंगरांसंगे गाठ कायमची जुळली

dholki-chi ghungrasangey gaath kayamchi jull-li.

          (The dholkidrum ties the knot with the ghungroobells here.)

या बसा, धुंद व्हा, नाचा संगेsssदबकून राहू नका

ya basa, dhund vha, nacha sangey dabkun raahoo naka.

          (Come, sit, be enthralled; don’t resist the flow, the dance.)

लावणी विसरू नका, हो पावनं, लावणी विसरू नका ||

Lavani visroo naka, ho paavna, lavani visroo naka.

          (Don’t forget the lavani, Sir, don’t forget the lavani.)

शृंगार, हास्य, रौद्र, अद्भुत

shringar, hasya, roudra, adbhut,

          (The amor, the humour, the pathos extraordinaire,)

नवरसानी हो ही नटली

navarasani ho hi natalee,

          (All the nine rasaas, or emotions, are part of the fare,)

साज, वाकी, नथ, कंबरपट्टा

saaz, vaaki, nuth, kambarputta,

          (Ornaments like armlet, nose ring and waistband,)

खास मराठी खुण पटली

khaasMarathi khun patali

          (Show the maiden to be typically Maharastrian.)

नऊवारीची पहा खुमारीsss खुसपट काढू नका

nauvarichi paha khumari khuspat kaadhu naka.

          (See her distinctive nine-yard sari; keep snide remarks aside.)

लावणी विसरू नका, हो पावनं, लावणी विसरू नका ||

Lavani visroo naka, ho paavna, lavani visroo naka.

          (For, it’s a lavani, Sir, don’t forget, a lavani.)

सगनभाऊ ते पटठे बापूराव

Sagan-bhau te Patthe Bapurao

          (From aficionados Sagan-bhau to Patthe-Bapu-rao.)

माडगूळकर ते खेबुडकर

Madhulkar te Khebudkar

          (From writers like Madgulkar and Khebudkar.)

किती जणांची नावं सांगू

kiti jananchi naav sangu,

          (So many are those I can tell you about,)

सगळेच माझे हो प्रियकर

saglech mazhe ho priyakar

          (Each one, my lover, a brief fling, a happy thing, for me and them, both ways.)

प्रेमाच्या या खेळात आताssssमाघार घेऊ नका

premache ya khelat ata maghar gheoo naka.

          (Come partake in this game of love; stay, stay, don’t go away.)

लावणी विसरू नका, हो पावनं, लावणी विसरू नका ||

Lavani visroo naka, ho paavna, lavani visroo naka.

           (Don’t forget the lavani, Sir, don’t forget the lavani.)

***


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Illustration by Syafiqah Sharom

About the Author

Bhushan Korgaonkar

Bhushan Korgaonkar is a writer, translator and theatre producer. He has been engaging with the traditional Lavani artists in Maharashtra since 2004, which led him to write his award-winning Marathi book Sangeet Bari published by Rajhans Prakashan in 2014. This is now a critically acclaimed theatre production, performed across the country and abroad. Bhushan writes […]

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