news Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 05:30
  Thirty-year-old Nandkishore Yadav, a migrant laborer working in Bengaluru is a huge fan of “Bhojpuri Queen” Kalpana Patowary, and now he gets to tell his wife that he met her. Well, at least, he got to see her up close and also take a photograph with her. Hailing from Darbhanga district, Bihar, Nandkishore had turned up to listen to her with five of his relatives after they read about the "Purabiyan Taan" event organized by the Bengaluru wing of media and arts collective Maraa in the Rajasthan Patrika. Lali (40) of Samastipur district said that they spent several months a year in Bengaluru doing stone-cutting work in the city, and go home during festivals – Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi, Holi. “Over there, we will have one day’s work. Baaki 29 days khali baithna padtha hai,” he said, adding that when they are here, they always manage to find work as stone-cutters. From the left, Nandkishore Yadav and Lali, Arun Kumar (in orange) at the Samsa amphitheatre in Ravindra Kalakshetra, Bengaluru. (Photo Courtesy: Naveen Kulkarni) If Kalpana was performing anywhere in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, they say a few thousand people would have turned up, including women. Twenty-four-year-old Arun Kumar said: “We are here because it’s a Sunday.” Another man, Mukesh, was clear about why he liked Kalpana, “We can listen to her songs with family.” *** This notion of “with family” turns up in conversations with several people. When you look at the mix of songs she sang, one understands this impression that they have of her. The first song during the performance “Jekar Nath Bholenath”, a song to Shiva. Next, she sang to river Ganga – a song by the Shakespeare of Bhojpuri literature Bhikari Thakur. It is from his drama “Ganga Snan”, she told the audience. But her repertoire includes film songs and “tadkewaale gaane” – the “spicy” songs which talk of splashing Holi colour on woman’s choli (blouse) among other things. Speaking to The News Minute later, Kalpana said she became the “Bhojpuri Queen” by a combination of chance and her own choices. Trained as a folk singer by her father, she said: “I used to sing Assamese songs and then there was this thing ke ‘Bombay jaana hai’.” In Mumbai, she sang every type of song that came her way. So far, Kalpana has sung songs in 28 languages (the Constitution only recognizes 22), including some major languages and ones spoken by smaller communities such as Garo, Khasi, Konkani. But it was the Bhojpuri audience who truly loved her. “In life, you always have (to make) a choice. They accepted me, and I too accepted Bhojpuri.” She has been associated with some of the biggest names and events in the music world – Papon, a fellow Assamese, the Dewarists, and MTV’s Coke Studio. But when she started out 15 years ago, doing shows across Uttar Pradesh and Bihar she was a woman in a male audience. “Earlier, people would fire shots into the air during shows because they were happy. I had to convince the audience that I was not the woman in the song (who was longing for the man), but merely the artist,” she said. So, she devised tactics to make the audience dance to her tunes. Or not. “Jab (maamla) garam ho jaye, to usey thanda bhi karna padta hai,” she said, laughing. She explained that she would arrange the songs so that there were devotional songs or bhajans interspersed with film popular songs or “tadkewale gaane” as they are often called. Kalpana Patowary (Photo Courtesy: Naveen Kulkarni) While she has always been aware of her audiences, she is also bothered by the stereotype that has been imposed on Bhojpuri music. “There is this misconception that Bhojpuri is vulgar, it is cheap, but what about the nirgun tatva? What about Kabir?” she asks. She added that Bhikari Thakur’s writing was nothing short of revolutionary. “I'm amazed that he wrote what he did about a woman’s physical desires 100 years ago in his drama Gabar Ghichor.” Fifty years ago there were famous women singers but these woman and other “good” women were like the two banks of a river. There was this idea that “ache ghar ki ladkiya gana nahi gaati”, she says. But over the years, when people listened to her sing everything in Bhojpuri (devotion and prayer, the songs of the fields, of the seasons, of weddings and festivals) and in all its forms (pachra, nautanki kajri, sohar, vivaah geet, chaita), people also began to make the distinction between the song and the singer. “If there is something I think I have achieved as an artist, it is this (acceptance). Today, I think people are more accepting of women on the stage. Earlier, there were hardly any,” she says. **** On stage, Kalpana prefaces each song with a story, or a context. Introducing  the song “Purvi”, about a newlywed woman who longed for her husband, she said: “Women in India are not safe, yeh thik nahi hai,” she said. Still enthused by the last song she had sung, the audience clapped even at this, and she pointed out, “This is not something to clap for,” prompting some embarrassed laughter from the audience. Arun Kumar (24) on the left. Initially, they were all quite hesitant to dance, but as the evening wore on, they would throw their hands up in abandon and dance on the spot. (Photo Courtesy: Javed Iqbal) As the evening wore on, everybody in the audience – the Bhojpuris, Bangaloreans, a couple of Assamese – was into the music, into the rhythm of every tempo – whether slow or fast. Towards the end, the organizers Maraa invited the migrant workers on to the stage to release her album “Birha” – songs of separation – which were dedicated to the migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who toil away from their homes to “build Bengaluru”. When they realised that it was for them, Nandkishore and others leapt up to go meet her. During the release of her album "Biraha". For quite some time, Kalpana Patowary was tied up with fans who wanted her autograph or a photo with her. (Photo Courtesy: Javed Iqbal) Angarika G of the organizers Maraa, told The News Minute that the event was an extension of their work with migrant workers. “In Bengaluru, certain kinds of migrant work – the blue collar, IT work – are celebrated while the discourse on migrant labourers is missing. It’s ironic. (so many of them) are building the Metro, and they themselves are cut off from the city.” She says they wanted to “create a third space, away from the construction site and their labour colony” where they could meet other people. “We realised that what travels with people when they migrate is their music, and that’s where Kalpana came in. She wanted to release the album with them.” *** If only for a brief moment, two smells, and also two mutually exclusive worlds met: you could get a whiff of the scent of a daily-wage labourer amid the pungent perfumes in the backdrop of Kalpana Patowary’s rich soul-stirring voice.