The Looking Glass.

Celebrating the birth anniversaries of Bir Chilarai and Thakur Panchanan Barma has somehow captured imaginations to experience our glorious past and identity by valorizing history’s great men and their heroism.

There are no tales of great women in Koch-Rajbangshi history, no great queens shedding blood and sweat, but only goddesses worshiped and mythologized. But one can trace their lyrical voices in Bhawaiya narratives, not as concrete persons whose idols can be inaugurated and posters illuminated, but which preserves those common waiting, mourning, and working women. The songs occupy a central position for understanding the domestic power relations, social mobility and psychosexual drives of Rajbangshi women, undisclosed in the mainstream narratives. Bhawaiya being a folk genre, therefore, engages those “meta-narratives” which fall short of traditional heroism and simultaneously upholds those social causes of their great absence in those narratives.

The waiting woman is one of the central protagonists of Doria, the emotionally charged branch of Bhawaiya songs, nonetheless, fast paced Chatka too, evoke their passivity within the hearth. In the chatka song “Haldi parer tater shari” the married women sings in despair that she has adorned herself in glittering yellow sari;  arranged for rice flakes, curd, banana to be finally denied a visit to her father’s house. The complaint is deeply rooted in her dependency and immobility. One can, therefore, associate this economic dependency, domestic orthodoxy as a decisive factor for a small count of great women. In another chatka “Ore paara sheeta mor” a young woman complains of her beauty, fading after a tiring wait for her beloved. Her careful preparations- weaving a garland, arranging betel leaf and nut, tidying the bed, proves futile. The song escalates from emotional resentment to sexual frustration. Another song “Torsha nodir uthal pathal” , in its Doria rhythm, elaborates a similar situation. Here the married woman in her husband’s absence reflects her plight through the tidal movements of the sea “uthal pathal” (heavy downpours). This dependent voice is referring to stars, night, and the moon- the symbols and imageries declaring poetically her frustrated sexual drives and her static livelihood:

“Akna taara..

Emon mojar raati jai mor…

Heliya poril purnimar chan…”

She anticipates his intimate liaisons in foreign lands where her presence is prohibited and her agony is doubled as a married woman, bound within the society’s code of monogamy.The culture of denial hence strikes a deadly blow to women’s vitality- to construct a chastened figure, bearing the family’s honor.

Thus one can trace her heroism not in the swaggering masculinity, but in her defiance and the will to defy the social codes. In many of the Bhawaiya songs, she is the figure willing to overcome temporary and material barriers through her brimming femininity. She sings of her attraction for Garial or Moishal and how the society polices it. In “oki moishal re, ghaater opare disen baathan…” the married female protagonist does not dare to abandon her family, but expresses her wish for an intimate relationship with the “moishal”.

“doio duhdo dhori jaan haamar baarire…

Kolar chawa moishal pheleya thuiya,

Kemne jaim tomar shonge choliya.”

Bhawaiya songs are a treasure trove, containing a variegated picture, plenitude of perspectives for constructing the status of the Rajbangshi women. These women are not celebrated on any particular day, but live every day, as they live now, somewhere in the corners of thatched huts or multistoried apartments; confronted daily as we cross the traffic signals or see through our looking glasses.

-NABANITA ROY (NOYA)

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