|ARTS TRIBUNE||Friday, December 21, 2001, Chandigarh, India|
damsels of the hills
Of firsts and exclusives on TV channels
Songs of ecstasy
damsels of the hills
The hardy Himachali women, well known for their legendary beauty, are craftswomen par excellence, besides being keen homemakers. Their monumental contribution to the protection, preservation and promotion of the rich cultural heritage speaks for itself.
These sturdy hill women lead more purposeful life than that of their urbane counterparts. They channelise their energies and the whatever little leisure time they can shell out from their gingerly-planned daily routine in multifarious artistic pursuits — weaving, wall-painting, knitting, doll, mat-making, clay-modelling, to be more precise. They make the best use their leisure time creating an imaginary world of their own inhabited by none else than their artistic creations. This helps them keep alive the rich cultural heritage of their beloved land and bolstering the meagre family income. You can feel the magic of their nimble fingers as you watch them, to your sheer excitement, weaving a web of fascinating folk designs in varied hues, good enough to lure a hawk-eyed connoisseur. If the art and traditional craft of this hill heartland have carved out a niche for themselves on the volatile world market, the lion’s share of the credit goes to these untiring craftswomen.
The colourful Kulu and Kinnauri shawls, scarves, blending the medieval and the modern folk patterns, loi, pattu, poolan, rumaal, chappal and of course, the snug woollen headgears, mirror their talent in warp and woof. Weaving, indeed, has been the mainstay of many Himachali families since time immemorial. Himachali shawls are popular for their elegant designs, alluring colours and intricately embroidered borders bearing winsome folk motifs. Earlier, Himachali women were trained at weaving only the traditional run-of-the-mill shawls, dohru, pattu, and other woollen garments, which is now a passe. However, with the burgeoning of the demand for heavily embroidered shawls and other woollen garments, they invented innovative ways and blends which attracted buyers from across the world.
Times were when the ritual of exchanging woollen goodies and garments amongst their kinsfolk and acquaintances was in vogue, especially on birthdays, weddings and other occasions, which reinforced the bond of their mutual love. Even casual guests were gifted with home-spun pattu, loi, shawl or woollen cap as a keepsake. In olden times, young girls used to make beautiful dolls, toys and many a faunal figures which they would give to their friends as a wedding gift.
In the snow-bound Bharmour segment, where Gaddis, the nomadic tribe of shepherds, have their homes, womenfolk shell out a fair share of their leisure time in creating a colourful collage in wool. They have contributed significantly to the enrichment of the state’s art, culture and traditional craft. While tending their sheep and goats, which is their prime vocation, their supple fingers keep spinning without a pause. Their male partners too are adept at spinning. Their Pangalwal and Lahaul-Spiti counterparts trek long distances to sell condiments and ‘dandasa’ to supplement their skeletal family income.
In the Kangra valley, womenfolk meticulously manage their homes. They are known as scrupulous homemakers. They make the best use of worn-out and discarded wears. These rags come in handy for them in the making of ‘khind-khandolu’. A patchwork of discarded wears, these are warmer than quilts which help combat the bone-rattling chill of the peak winter months. While women belonging to the Doom (Doomna) community are fine artistes and crafts women. A powerful spark of their creativity can be had as they weave out of the bamboo shoots, chungers, cheekhs, chhakus, dulls, perus, kirnoos and a host of other household items.
Women of Himachal Pradesh are wonderful sculptors and artistes par excellence. They sculpt images of various local and other deities, which is a fine example of the traditional hill clay modelling. Young girls also sculpt terra-cotta images of Rali, Rala and Vastu, the main characters of the festival of Rali, celebrated by young, unwedded girls. Taking time off their hectic schedule, they paint mythological figures on the walls of their houses, including those of Lord Ganesha, Ma Durga, Lord Shiva, Radha-Krishna, Rama-Sita, Lord Vishnu et al with their mounts, which reflect their dominant religious moorings. Wildlife too seems to have inspired them to draw figures of some feathered friends like peacock, cock, pigeon, parrot, snake and sparrow. These life-like artistic creations might intrigue a keen ornithologist.
Known as a rare confluence of compassion and courage, these undaunting damsels of the hills are equally good at farming. While they tend hearth and herds, they help their male partners in all sorts of seasonal agricultural operations, right from soil-seasoning, sowing, tiling, pruning, deweeding, manuring till reaping. At times, they have to go all alone as their hubbies are away on eking out a living in the distant lands.
After the harvesting season comes to a close, there is a near spate of local fairs and festivals which afford a welcome breather to these hardworking damsels. Dressed in their festival best and laden with the choicest ethnic jewellery, they sing songs and perform vibrant folk dances to pulsating folk tunes and other musical instruments. This reflect their abiding zest for life.
To cap it all, Himachali women are
known for the sterling qualities of their head and heart. Their high
moral character poles them apart from many of their peers. Examples of
their classic morality are countless. A fable has it that Raja Sansar
Chander, the erstwhile ruler of Kangra, once fell headlong for the
charming Gaddan, Nokhu, whom he later made his queen unruffled by the
brewing public censure. Negating all royal comforts, she lost her
life, longing for her doting gaddi, the hills and the herds.
Of firsts and exclusives on TV channels
So another national (indeed international) crisis took place on December 13 and our media stood up to it splendidly. As this column goes to press mid-week, our deadline was over for instant reactions. Which gives us a chance for what Wordsworth called "emotion recollected in tranquility" this week.
I would like to begin by decrying the "me first" rat race which has recently started on our channels. The worst offender is "Aaj Tak", which, one would have thought, having established itslf did not need to blow its own trumpet so childishly. Perhaps, one channel cannot monitor other channels from moment to moment, as we media watchers can. But on one occasion, when "Aaj Tak" was claiming a "first" and "exclusive" interview, I noticed that even ye olde Doordarshan also got the same on screen. Soon Zee also got into the act, although it was doing splendidly so far without mentioning it: Star contented itself by putting the word "exclusive" on one side of the screen. It would take too much space to list all the firsts and exclusives by different channels I saw on the small screen on that fateful day. One of the surprises was CNBC, which also did up-to-the-minute reporting, except that the eager-beaver woman wearing spectacles in the studio muffed it up by getting too excited and speaking too fast.
The coverage started with the advantage of TV reporters and camerapersons already on the spot for routine coverage. Which is why we got those fantastic shots of the terrorists actually in action. Every channel got live shots of those terrible moments of fire, counterfire and terrorists and security staff in action at some time or other. ANI’s cameraman got badly wounded in the course of duty and we must wish him an early recovery. Also imprinted in my mind are the actuality shots of a terrorist running while firing at the camerapersons. The Star News cameraman, who gallantly filled in as reporter immediately and a very good one too, was filming this standing from beside the ANI cameraman and had his camera lens cover shattered by a bullet and a very narrow escape. Reporters, camerapersons and anchors from every channel covered themselves with glory although DD lagged behind in independent comment and mostly quoted the government. Media professionals acted in the best traditions of international media and we shall not single out individuals for praise.
Except that the BBC and CNN hardly covered themselves with glory either in coverage of the event, their comments or the terms and expressions they used in the process, which showed that even when beaming to this part of the world, American and British interests take precedence over events of extreme gravity as far as this part of the world goes. They were far more interested in Israel than in India. Some of the phraseology used, borrowed straight from the US government which stops seeing beyond its nose once their own interests are secure, bordered on the colonial.
It always seems as if we are bonded slaves to the BBC and CNN when it comes to international channels. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to find on the NHK channel an Asia Vision news programme, with contributions by member states under the auspices of the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU). It is an hour-long programme devoted to exclusive coverage of Asian news, which certainly reported factually on the terrorist attack on Parliament. It also had interesting items, political and non-political, from Pakistan, Bangladesh and other Asian countries.
I also found it cheering, that in the middle of all that bedlam, DD found time to telecast on December 16 a long documented programme, on the anniversary of its birth, the freedom struggle in Bangladesh and the gruesome political and brutalising events which preceded it, including the contribution of the Indian defence services and the defeat of Pakistan. Certainly timely.
Tailpiece: There had to be a comic turn, as usual by DD, in this solemn world context. I think DD’s programme, "Mirror of The World", was started years ago by Kabir Bedi, and he anchored it with characteristic elegance and sophistication. But what I have been watching recently on DD is positively gruesome There is a woman anchor with a fancy NRI accent (DD is desperately starring many of these) which did not hide the fact that among other gaffes, the woman reporting in a very "desi" accent on some recent festival in Hong Kong said it was "alluminated" (illuminated?) which made it a great "speck-tackle". DD had better do some tackling to find better anchors and reporters since the programme it itself is now a very sorry spectacle.
BULLE SHAH BY ABIDA PARVEEN (Times Music): Sufi songs take you to a devotional journey of unalloyed pleasure. If the singer is of the calibre of Abida Parveen, you can be assured of an elevating experience.
Today, she is the finest voice of this art form. Her repertoire and style are different from that of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, but one can discern a striking similarity also at a deeper level. Both elevate the listener through their divine longing and passion to a state of spiritual ecstasy. Normally, Sufi singing is the preserve of men. She is one exception who has the "fervour of gospel, the emotion of soul, the abandon of rock and the vocal flexibility of scat". Like Teji Bhojwani, Zarina Baloch, Jalal Chandio and Allan Fakir, she has a full-throated voice. The spiritual daughter of "Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai", the major Sufi saint of Sindh, is accompanied only by a dholak or tabla and sarangi.
Here, she takes full liberty with all Sufi poets such as Shah Hussain. Bulle Shah, Farid, Sultan Bahu and Bhakti poets like Kabir to create her own composition. She inserts creative "patches" of poetry between two different couplets of a poem. These tukdas flow seamlessly into the performance of many forms, ranging from classical Urdu couplets to dohas in Brajbhasha to Punjabi.
The dominant theme of these poems is spiritual love.
KEH DO KEH DO (Magnasound): "Sa Re Ga Ma", a programme on Zee Television, has brought many hidden talents to light. Among the most promising is Mohammed Vakil, the winner of the mega finals.
When stalwarts like Jagjit Singh, Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma, Pt Jasraj, Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia, Naushad, Kalyanji-Anandji and O.P.Nayyar amongst other judged him the best of the best, he was signed on by Magnasound as an exclusive artiste. His very first album, "Kasak", went on to attain gold status, a rarity for ghazal cassettes of new artistes.
This second album of his comprises romantic songs in different moods. Vakil sings the lyrics of the late Hasrat Jaipuri, Qateel Shifai, Rafique Jaipuri and Krishna Bihari Noor with élan. The title song has also been picturised on Amar Upadhyay.
Music has been written by Ustad Ahmed Hussain and Ustad Mohammad Hussain, who happen to be his teachers and guardians.
DIL LUTTYA NAVA NAKOR (Tips): Milan Singh was the wonder girl who came into the limelight more than a decade ago by singing simultaneously in male and female voices. She would give stage performances and also cut remix versions of everyone from Rafi to Lata.
The novelty value has worn thin. She has wisely decided to establish herself as a singer in her own right. Under the tutelage of Jawahar Wattal, the girl with unusual vocal chords has decided to sing in male voice.
In the male avatar her voice has a faint resemblance with that of Mohammad Aziz. What matters more is that she has the necessary training to impress with her singing. In between, she switches over to female singing in songs like Ve raati tu ladhda…. In fact, it is a duet in her voice. Lyrics are by Babu Singh Mann, Shahab Allahabadi, Dev Kohli and Vicky Nagar.