|HER WORLD||Sunday, March 30, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
woman needs a wife!
Life in shadow zone
An ode to the marasins of Punjab on celluloid stirs fond memories of a culture lost in the bylanes of Patiala, writes Nirupama Dutt
"IF only a film could be made on them!" Such was my wish when I returned full of songs, warmth and affection from the home of two sisters, Sugran and Bhagi, in the Adalat Bazar of Patiala. This must have been some nine or ten years ago. I had gone to write a feature on them but the experience was more than could be summed up in about 800 words.
In my long years as feature writer, Patiala was always a favourite destination for features here were just lying in the lanes and the by-lanes. One just had to gather them. During one such gathering spree, I fortunately had a Patialvi friend guiding me and we decided to trace the mirasis.
We first visited the home of Faqira in the Dooman-wali Gali. Faqira had served long in the Punjab Languages department as an assistant. But that job was just for survival. His real talent lay elsewhere as my guide and friend Manmohan Sharma recalled looking back at his own childhood. He was a star of the local Ramlila. "I remember Faqira in the role of Kakeyi. He was marvellous and he made an entry juggling balls. When the rest of his clan migrated to Pakistan, he stayed back for he could not do without the Ramlila," Manmohan said. Of course, when I met Faqira he was old and out of the Ramlila. Sprawled on his cot, he talked happily of the old times. And it was he who guided us to the home of the two sisters.
The two sisters lived in the home with their older sister, an attendant and a couple of pomeranian dogs. Their mantlepiece was full of black and white photographs and they were full of memories of old times. Distinctly, they were remnants of an era gone by. Sugran and Bhagi were their names and they had made a living for themselves all their lives as marasins. This meant singing and participating in the rituals, both of joy and sorrow, in the princely and feudal families. They received us with warmth, served us tea and biscuits, talked uninhibitedly and best of all they sang for us. Both sisters had lilting voices and had received training in Hindustani classical music. Sugran, especially, was magical in her singing. And when it was time to leave, they presented me with two turquoise blue lacquer bangles studded with small mirrors.
And my wish that a film be made on them was fulfilled many years later by a Delhi-based filmmaker Shikha Jhingan. Picking up the threads from my story on Sugran and Bhagi, she did a project of documenting the songs sung by the marasins of Punjab for Majlis, a women's group in Mumbai, and then came a project from the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts (INGCA). Born to Sing is the name Shikha has given to her film, which was screened recently at the India International Centre, New Delhi.
By the time, Shikha completed her documentation project and moved to the actual shooting of the film, Bhagi had expired. The central figure of this film is thus Sugran, who sadly passed away following a brief illness some two weeks after Shikha had shot the film. Thus Shikha's film preserves something that is lost forever. There are some poignant moments in the film like Sugran's picture of her youth when she is all decked up in fine clothes and jewels. When asked why did she not marry, Sugran replied, "Those were bad days when we came of age. Those were days of killing, rioting and the Partition. All the young men of our community migrated to Pakistan. Who were we to marry?"
They sang instead at the marriages of others and in the process supported in the process their mother and widowed sister. Not just that, they also educated their sister's son, who became a doctor. The film has a lively video tape recording of the sisters singing marriage songs in the evening of their life at the wedding in the home of a Patiala sardar: Mathe te chamkan waal mere banarhe de`85 (The lock of the bridegroom's hair shines on his forehead).
After a taste of Patiala, Shikha moves to the village of Kupkalan near Malerkotla where she had captured the music of old Sito and her companions. The mourning songs rendered by them are a high spot of the film.
Besides, there is an interview with Salma, the wife of celebrated Ustad Bhaqar Husain of Malerkotla and his daughters. Salma sings soulfully the Jigar Moradabadi ghazal: Ai jazbaye dil gar tu chaahe har cheez muhatib ho jaaye; Do gaam chaloon manzil ki taraf aur saamne manzil aa jaye. And she tells Shikha of the lost glory and patronage with the feudal times coming to an end.
The marasis in Punjab trace their lineage to Mardana, the rabab-playing companion of Guru Nanak. And they had a vital role to play in the feudal times and were also given respect by the patrons. And the marasis of North India also contributed and in a way preserved the tradition of Hindustani classical music in their family lineage. However, they are now rendered irrelevant. Shikha says, "While many young marasi men have found employment in the pop music culture, the women singers have been totally marginalised for tradition does not allow them to do lewd disco numbers as wedding entertainment of the nouveau riche."
The marasins were
not just singers but deeply involved in the rituals of birth, marriage
and death of their patrons. Can something be done to keep at least
their music alive? Shikha says, "If something has to be done it
be done fast for the marasins have neared extinction."
This young filmmaker has shown a way and will someone come to pick up
the threads so that the songs of the daughters of Baqar Husain do not
fade into oblivion?
of the major causes of disagreements in a marriage is money. It also
looms large in marital rifts and divorces. To avoid a long-term
disaster, it is essential to get one’s priorities right from the
start by working out a budgeting plan and paying attention to
finances. Contrary to popular belief, in this wives can often play a
major part. Husbands should never underestimate the value of an alert
wife when it comes to money management.
The most sensible approach is for a couple to sit down together and work out a system that suits them both. The first thing that Ramesh (a doctor) and Rama Vij (a dental surgeon) did after they got married was shaking out their finances. "We drew up two columns. In one we wrote out our income and on the other side, the items that have to be paid for. We put down fixed expenses such as rent, electricity, water, phone bills, car running etc. — items that are on-time payment. We added these up to see what’s left and categorised other expenses for housekeeping, clothes etc. After totalling all this up, we saw what was left so we knew what to expect and how much we could afford to spend and what percentage to save."
For every family, ownership of a home is a dream. Rentals paid to landlords are never retrievable so most couples, even in these days of high-priced housing should ideally plan to purchase their own bit of real estate as early as possible. This is possible even in the early days of marriage, especially if the partners in the marriage have worked hard before marriage and accumulated a nest-egg at the bank. Alka (who works for a newspaper) and Shivam Kumar, (in the Merchant Navy), pooled in their funds, and along with a loan from the bank, managed an adequate deposit on a flat in one of the outer sectors of Chandigarh. "We’re still paying off the loan but at least our house is our own and the money isn’t going into any landlord’s pocket... We figured that the best time to buy a house is today. Tomorrow’s prices will be significantly more. If we hadn’t taken the step four years ago, we’d have been wishing now that we had, because rentals have really gone up and we’d still have owned nothing".
Each young couple wants everyday domestic conveniences right from the start. However, many get trapped in the snare of financial overcommitment. Says Swati Singh, a teacher in a kindergarten, "To buy today and pay back later seemed so easy. When Iqbal and I got married, we did so against our parent’s wishes so there wasn’t much financial support from them. Looking around, there were so many time payment plans so we promptly bought a fridge, T.V., A.C. and even furniture. Only too soon we realised that we’d put a financial noose around our necks. For the next three years, till after we paid off the instalments, we never had money left for anything". Swati and Sudheer realised that it was far better to wait a little longer so that the bank account could build up and then buy. "Now we’ve become smart shoppers and are always on the lookout for hefty off-season discounts and sales", laughs Swati.
In the early days of marriage, it is often convenient for both partners to work, and with double incomes, the chances of amassing a tidy sum increases greatly. When the couple has to depend on themselves to make a home, buy a car or a house, this is perhaps the only way it can be done. It is sensible to get the money into a bank as soon as the paycheck is given out and then do the spending by check. Ready money in the bag or wallet leads to "impulse buying" which one may regret later, especially if it pushes the realisation of long-term dreams further.
To prioritise is very important if a family is trying to conserve funds to make a major purchase. Cutting down costs is a way out. Owning a car, for instance, is great but it’s running costs are huge. Unless it is absolutely essential for business or work-related needs, early in a marriage, one can consider waiting a while. When one does buy, one can think of a good second-hand model. "Lots of people said that you buy the other chap’s problems if you buy a second hand car. But I figured that I was paying proportionately less for it too. Plus, the day you step into a brand new car, it becomes second hand." Says Major Vineet Shukla. "We bought our first car four years after we got married and had our first baby. Today, after 13 years of being married, we’ve bought a brand new car without feeling the financial pinch." Similarly, having a mobile phone connection is great and very convenient, but mobiles are notorious for chewing up money and one must consider how essential it is before going in for one.
It’s important for each partner to have some amount of money. "No wife likes begging for extra money to buy clothes or cosmetics," says Harjit, a teacher. "Even when we were living on a tight budget, we allowed something for the little extras that make life livable. Birthday and anniversary gifts, the odds and the ends.... Otherwise, life becomes an unending drudgery."
Often in a marriage, one partner is obviously better at handling money than the other. It is a better idea to let the more financially astute member take care of the overall financial situation. Says Balpreet, who runs a computer centre". "Harjit (my wife) can run rings around me when it comes to balancing the budget, doing the banking, even looking at the investments and taxation... I don’t consider this a ‘slur’ to my masculinity. I’m pretty happy to ‘delegate’ responsibility to my wife."
Finance is often cited
in divorce cases as being a big factor in breeding marital discontent.
Usually, this is totally unnecessary. A sensible partnership, working
together in harmony, should be able to take care of finances in a
manner that suits both. Only care, common sense and trust is required.
Every woman needs a wife!
ONCE upon a time women took pride in polishing the silverware, starching the linen and shining the house windows. But the everyday stress of modern living has now made many women want to be "wives without strings".
More and more women don't want to be superwomen - working, running the house, looking after children, cooking great meals and looking beautiful. Many in Sydney delegate home chores and other responsibilities to a specialised agency provocatively named Wife Without Strings (WWS).
For A$30-40 (1US$=A$1.75) an hour, WWS provides services like paying bills, sorting out tax invoices, supervising the plumber, dropping clothes to the dry cleaners, returning videos, taking the dog to the vet and also buying and wrapping gifts.
Says WWS founder Nicola Read, "I saw potted plants dying, cars unregistered in the homes of highly paid professionals who were always racing. They had no time for everyday chores. In the beginning, I started doing errands for friends, who referred to my services as 'no strings wife'." In 1989 Read registered WWS as a company and has not looked back since.
Read, who herself was retrenched as a personnel consultant by a Sydney firm before she hit upon the WWS idea, says, "It is like having a wife. We do everything." This 'wife' pays the parking fines without complaining, takes guests sightseeing while the client is at work, matches the nailpolish to your dress, sends birthday greetings to different members of your family and prepares the child of divorced woman or man for a weekly visit to the other parent.
The name, Wife Without Strings, has worked both ways. Some people misconstrue WWS as a dating agency and call at unearthly hours for 'other services'. But at the same time it ignites interest among people and brings in a regular flow of clients.
Interestingly, more than divorced or widowed men it is women executives who seek WWS services. "Every woman needs a wife," opines Read, adding, "often single women admit to a feeling of guilt on getting their chores done by someone else." Often called the "Queen of housekeeping" by her husband's friends, Read is meticulous in planning for her clients. "Sometimes, I bought all the things I thought my client would like. But later after observing the things the client did not eat or relish, I figured out what the client likes or dislikes."
Edward Hogg, a corporate advisor living on his own for the past 10 years, appreciates WWS's personalised services. "Unlike other cleaners, WWS staff has overall perception, great initiative, and needs no supervision. They work as the lady of the house would. If they see a brass lamp losing shine, they will polish it. What makes it worthwhile is that they do my shopping.
Like most men, I abhor markets."
The 25-member staff at WWS mostly comprises of mothers working part-time during school hours. Mary Hall, who left the corporate world where she had won awards as a wool manufacturer, has been a full-time worker with WWS for the past three years. "I love looking after people. My clients are corporate executives and as I have been on that track myself, I know exactly what they are looking for," says Hall, whose work involves a variety of tasks like coordinating shoes, dresses, lipsticks, and spring cleaning kitchens.
Going to someone's house to work can be a nerve-racking experience. One may trip on the burglar alarm or have difficulty in letting the dog out before feeling at home. Hall, 53, feels mature women are better house managers. She finds her work enjoyable and rewarding. "The beauty of WWS is that we have several long-term clients whose needs and tastes we have come to know. Recently, one client's car broke down; I offered her my car keys so she could take her children for a picnic. She later sent me a free voucher to go and pamper myself at the beauty parlour. It is these little gestures that make the work so fulfilling."
Louise Shaw, 47, who owns WWS says, "We are exploring new avenues for expansion. We have tied up with real estate agents who rent out homes to foreign travellers for a short duration. We arrange the house according to the specific needs of each traveller, making them feel at home on arrival."
people discovering the boon of outsourcing housework, families will
have more time for leisure and bonding. It may also reduce domestic
conflict. Surely, the "domestic security blanket" of WWS may
help in creating stress-free homes.
A life without strings?
NO one with even the slightest of inkling about how an average Indian household functions would never imagine an agency like WWS in the Indian context.
Our culture, heritage and of course, these days Balaji Telefilms, ensures that for the great Indian family to endure, the monotonous drudgery of the ever-patient homemaker too endures. Housework, that equaliser of women of all castes and classes is supposed to mean much more than just a series of chores. So inextricably woven is the woman’s own sense of self-worth with the capacity to perform nerve-wrecking and body-breaking roles to perfection that she feels that her nirvana lies in her role as a wife/mother. The extent of fatigue is, as it were, directly proportionate to her involvement in her role. She is the one who feels deprived if she ever were to be denied the pleasure of tiring herself out.
A woman is bound to be on a perpetual guilt-trip if you ask her to delegate chores to even her children or husband, leave alone to an agency! Even mention that an agency is going to do chores that are a prerogative of a woman would be enough for hell to break loose. Imagine the scenario in an Indian home if an agency volunteer were to take ma-in-law to the doctor or temple or even the kitty party! That is bound to raise tempers and blood pressure of the family. After all not only does the family treat a homemaker/career woman as a five-in-one but she herself would rather groan and crash rather than crib, refuse or rebel. Should she try to rock the boat, she will be the one who will be drowned. An agency can not take the flak, listen to taunts or be bothered about the pre-chore or post-chore reactions.
What would come of all the
soap operas that exalt and cannonise women always in the kitchen and
always tending to the oh-so-small-but-important chores that make up the
life of a wife? What would happen to the numerous ads of detergents,
cooking oil, washing machines, masalas and mixer-grinders, not to
mention pain-relieving gels. An average Indian wife and mother loves to
do much more than she can and she loves telling everyone that! She quite
enjoys being martyr material. Don’t we all love our halos? The idea is
that she would be stress-free and be able to spend quality time with her
husband and kids. The only quality time a woman has is the quality of
care she provides to all—the young, old, infirm. She is the one
smoothening cushion covers, watering plants and empathising with
teenagers and toddlers. Rushing to serve hot chappatis to a
family who is glued to the telly-watching Tendulkar’s ton...picking up
junior from school, teaching senior kid and in-between making special
meals for finicky in-laws and querulous relatives with a beatific smile
pasted on her tired face. All in the name of love and care—the mark of
an Indian woman’s pativrata temperament that ensures she will
think a hundred times before ruffling egos and rocking the boat. A man
may not be an oil painting but he has an ego that is as huge as it is
fragile and the kids are often enough so pampered as to demand room
service without a thought for the woman of the house. Pitching in for
duties is as out of character as is splurging for a thrifty housewife.
In some households it is considered laziness to use time-saving gadgets
or modern conveniences, an agency is bound to be a symbol of moral
degeneration! After all sacrifice is the scent of a woman! — AN