Saturday, July 23, 2016

Waves of melody

An interview with Jala Tarang artist, Milind Tulankar.

After we finished the interview with Milind Tulankar, he played a video of a jugalbandi featuring him playing the jala tarang, Taufiq Qureshi on djembe and Ramdas Palsule on the tabla. A few minutes into listening the sometimes fast, and sometimes slow pieces, we felt waves of joy washing over us. That experience connected us with what Tulankar was trying to say earlier, “Water is what we seek. It’s the biggest destresser.”

Tulankar, who began playing the instrument when he was nine or 10 under the tutelage of his grandfather, Pt Shankar Kanhere, explains that jala tarang is an ancient Indian music instrument, dating back to 2nd or 3rd century BC.

“It’s mentioned in Sanskrit texts as Jalatantri Veena or Udak Vadya. It was played even before we started using or discovered China Clay crockery. Earlier, it used to be played on metal utensils like copper or bronze,” says Tulankar.

Jala tarang is a basic instrument in the sense that there is not much skill or artistry involved in making it. To play it, you need some bowls of different sizes filled with varying levels of water and two sticks. The varying levels of water emanate different swars (tones), although playing classical raagas and tuning them is very difficult. Those who have an ear for music can differentiate between the tones and the pitch which depends on the water level.

“A player uses minimum of 12 and maximum of 25 bowls. The bowls and the water levels in them should be planned or tuned accordingly so that you can play the required tone or the song. Jala tarang is not like a harmonium in which there is scope for improvisation. If you are playing one particular raag, which has two komal swar (flat tone) and one teevra swar, (high tone), then the bowls have to be tuned accordingly,” the musician adds.

The players
In the present generation, besides Tulankar, there are a few more jala tarang players in the country. Some of them are senior citizens who can’t travel, while others don’t play classical music on jala tarang. So that makes Tulankar the only jala tarang artist who plays classical music on the instrument for three hours.

“My grandfather learnt to play tabla and pakhawaj under Pt Dattopant Mangalvedhekar’s tutelage. Pt Mangalvedhekar also used to play jala tarang, so my grandfather expressed an interest to play it. Even in that period, there were around seven jala tarang artists,” says Tulankar.

How to play it
A chat with Tulankar reveals that he is consistently fine-tuning the instrument, the way it’s placed to the way it’s packed for his performances abroad. Says he, “If we play on two bowls placed next to each other, then the constant movement might push them into each other, get stuck, or cause water to spill. This might affect the way tones emanate from the bowls. So my grandfather devised wooden seating for placing the bowls. But it had its own issues like the spilling of water caused the wood to swell up etc. So I replaced the seating panel with the corruagted plastic. The two panels intersect into each other and reduce the air vacuum thus improving the tonal quality. The seating of the bowls is more fixed and there is less spillage of water. I also place packing material below the corrugated plastic setting, which gives it a firm base. ”

Initially, the two sticks used to stroke the bowls were made of sheesham wood, and then cane. Tulankar uses nylon rod for sticks and he coats the tips with surgical tape.

The water available in various cities or villages can also affect playing of jala tarang. “In Canada or USA, the water is very hard. So I use distilled water, about six litres, when I am playing in these countries,” he adds.

Sourcing of bowls
Tulankar, who has composed music for a BBC film West is West, uses his grandfather’s set of jala tarang. “My set of bowls is about 80-years-old. My grandfather had collected them from across the country and some from China and Japan. I have about 300 bowls in my collection. These bowls are not crafted as music instruments. So it’s a gamble. I play them, if I find the right swar and the right size, then I pick it up,” he concludes.

In Bombay's Belly (Interview with Jerry Pinto)

I loved this memoir a lot. It's an interesting who's who of theatre and cinema personalities. It's also on Mumbai, my favourite city, which was once upon a time an inclusive city.
The interview:

When you put down I, the Salt Doll, you smile slowly to yourself. Rarely does a book take you into a familiar territory and yet manage to unearth a few new gems. I, the Salt Doll is an autobiography of Vandana Mishra, formerly known as Sushila Lotlikar, who started with experimental Marathi theatre and then went on to perform in Gujarati and Marwadi theatre in the early 1940s.
Translated by Jerry Pinto from the Marathi original — Mee Mithachi Bahuli — it captures Mumbai of the yore and journey of the author without any dramatic flourishes. Over to Pinto:

You read the original repeatedly because you connected with Mumbai, the city that was inclusive. Is there something else that you learnt about the city through the book, which you didn’t know earlier?
Each person we meet, each person we interact with, each book we read brings us something new and fresh. Mee Meethachi Bahuli brought me a world I knew only hazily.

Vandana Mishra’s book threw such a clear light on how Bhangwadi theatre was organised, where people lived, where the owner sat and watched, what kinds of plays were done, who Chhagan Romeo was and what his speciality was...This was wonderful and reminded me again of how inclusive the city can be when it wants.

For here was a girl from the Konkan coast, living in Girgaum, acting in Gujarati theatre and then going on to become a star in Marwadi theatre before marrying a Champaneri Mishra and settling down in Borivali.

Did you also travel around the areas to gather impressions about the old areas of the city?
I have always walked my city. I don’t own a car and I think that helps. It means I have to find my way about and since I often get lost, I see much more of Mumbai than most other people who see the city from behind glass. So yes, I have walked the old areas but also the new suburbs and I have found that this is the city of endless surprises.

Can you tell us something about translating abhangs, ovis, poems in the book? They sound and mean so much like the original.
Thank you. That is a compliment and I treasure it. Even before I started reading this book I had spent much time working on translating, with Neela Bhagwat, some of the women Marathi Bhakti poet-saints including Muktabai, Bahinabai, Janabai, Kanhopatra, Soyarabai and others. That stood me in good stead here.

But I also had some help. Ambarish Mishra, Vandana Mishra’s son, has spent many years working in the English-language press but he has not lost touch with the many tongues of his family home; he speaks Hindi and Marathi and probably many other languages, with great fluency. He also sings beautifully and he was very generous with his time. So when he had hummed the tunes to me, I tried to work the translations to fit the tunes. I sing very badly but I could at least see if the metre worked.

You have been taking formal Marathi lessons from Neela Bhagwat. Did it help you with the translation?
I think every language presents unique and different challenges to the non-native speaker and I can only say that I am lucky in my teachers. I started by studying Marathi with Neela Bhagwat because I wanted to learn the language formally. She is the first person to whom I read a translation. When it has passed her scrutiny, my translation guru, Shanta Gokhale listens to it and I edit it again. Then I work on it myself, smoothing a few things over, making sure the lines read well in English. In the case of this book, only then did I give it to Ambarish, who gave his imprimatur, and then it went to the press.

Did you have to leave out something from the original?
I have not edited anything out. I believe that when you fall in love with a book — and that can be the only reason for wanting to translate it — you do so because you like it for what it is, not what you can do to it. And so I try to be as faithful as possible.

At Pune International Literary Festival, you had said that you avoided meeting Sachin Kundalkar until you finished translating his Cobalt Blue. When did you meet Vandana Mishra?
I met Vandana Mishra when the translation was done. She was delightful, sitting up in her bed in her Borivali house, and supervising the cooking of a wonderful lunch.

Once upon a time with...Tagore and Gulzar

I met Gulzar at 'Boskyana' his home in Mumbai. Wonderful interview. And, a nervous me dropped my pen thrice. For once I wasn't harsh with myself for behaving clumsily. I was face to face with Gulzar, and it's okay to nervous.

On a lazy Saturday afternoon, we sit on high-backed iron chairs, plumped up with cushions. The white chair across the desk is empty but any moment, a ‘ literary giant’ is going to arrive to occupy it. The door opens and an old gentleman with twinkling eyes enters, his palms joined in Namaste.

‘Namashkar’, his low, timbered voice greets us as we rise to our feet to wish him.
The ‘giant’ disappears and in his place sits a genial man, with lots of stories to share. So, do we talk on Tagore? He queries as he settles down in the chair. And then begins his tale of friendship and admiration for another literary legend — Rabindranath Tagore. Gulzar, noted film lyricist, writer and poet, was in his tweens, when he first read the Urdu translation of Tagore’s The Gardener, a collection of poetry. Today, he has brought out a volume titled Baghban (Harper Perennial), in which he has translated the original Bangla poetry into Hindi and printed it alongside the Bangla and English versions written by Tagore.

When asked how was it to read Tagore in Urdu, the octogenarian replies, “Urdu was widely spoken in pre-Independent India. It was closer to Independence when I first came across a Tagore translation in a Calcutta library. By now, most of the janata knows that it was the first book that I stole. Reading Tagore diverted my choice of reading. I soon started reading Bangla literature in Urdu. Along with Tagore, I read Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. I also read a lot of Munshi Premchand. In later years, I kept discovering the magic and layers in stories written by Premchand and Tagore.”
Gulzar’s thirst to know Tagore and read him in the original prompted him to learn Bangla. And, when he finally read Tagore’s poetry in the original, he realised that Urdu or Hindi translation was far off from Bangla. The non-Bengalis, who translated him, did so from Tagore’s English works.

“There is a vast difference between Tagore’s English translation and his Bangla works, because he edited his poems very mercilessly. In English, it’s hardly one third of the original poetry. Tagore knew what he wanted to convey to the West. And, that was Gitanjali — a spiritual offering. He thought this is what the West should know. There is no collection titled Gitanjali in Bangla. He chose some poems from his vast writing. So the people who translated him thought that Gitanjali was the high point of his writing. But Tagore is bigger than Gitanjali and the Nobel Prize he was conferred with. And that’s why he is our National Poet.”

Gulzar wanted that Tagore should reach out to non-Bengalis, and not just confine him to be the writer of our National Anthem. “I want children living in the rest of India to grow up reading and singing Tagore’s stories and songs like kids in Bengal do. He is the poet of every Indian. So I decided to translate, choosing his works which he wrote at a young age. One is Baghban and another is Neendiya Chor, written for kids. The latter was translated from his work titled Shishu,” adds Gulzar.

Tagore beyond spirituality

Talking about his work on young Tagore, Gulzar says, “Tagore has always been in our conscience as a bearded gentleman, a profoundly spiritual being. He was all that, but he was also a young, good-looking man in love with his surroundings and with people.”
And with that he recites a poem, Do Behne, included in Baghban:
Woh don behne hansti hui
kyu aati hai,
Jab paani bharni aati hai..
Kya raste ke paar koi
Rahgir khada dekha hai?
Pedon ki ghani chhavn ke neeche, kone mein
“Such lovely lines...hain! We all admire his spiritual poetry, but one would fall in love with Tagore if you read what he wrote at a young age. Such a handsome man!” gushes Gulzar.

An avid admirer of Tagore, the poet-lyricist admits that it wasn’t easy to translate the Bard of Bengal. “He is our classic poet. You can’t touch Tukaram’s works like that... you think 100 times. You think 1,000 times before you start translating Subrahmanyam (Tamil poet-saint). I said earlier that at every stage of my life, I discovered a new Tagore. But, now at this age, I don’t think I will mature more! So I plucked courage and took the plunge. I took four-five years in checking and rechecking so that I don’t miss any line, any image, or take liberty with any of Tagore’s lines. My only insistence was that the Hindi poem must sound like a poem. And, not a meaning of the original. I tried to bring the whole rasa — melody of the poem — to the people so that they know why I like Tagore so much, what the original must read like. When you translate him from Bangla into other Indian languages, you will get the essence, because culturally, we are one. I don’t boast that my translations are the best, but I can truly boast that I have translated with all my love and passion,” adds Gulzar.

All of this requires an understanding of the culture and the temperament of the poet or writer. And, Gulzar has taken that effort not just with Tagore, but also with the work of other writers whom he admired.

“I wouldn’t have been able to translate Kusumagraj-ji’s (V V Shirwadkar) Kana if I didn’t know the culture of Maharashtra. I have translated Vinda-ji (Vinda Karandikar) and read my translation in front of him when we were travelling to Surat. (Arun) Kolatkar and Dilip Chitre are of a different league altogether. “Chitre and I have roamed together in New York, looking for non-veg eateries and drinking together in the evening. I know Chitre’s mizaz (temperament)... his sense of aristocracy, pride and self-confidence.

After living here for 50 years, I call myself a Maharashtrian. After living in Bengal, I call myself a Bengali. I am born in Punjab, which is my madari zuban and it runs in my blood. I am a good cosmopolitan Indian,” he concludes.

Writing for children
Someone who has written the still-hummed Jungle, jungle baat chali hai, Gulzar points out, that if you love and indulge children, you can write for them from within. “Aap bachchkon ke saath jaake kanche nahi kheloge, kichad mein nahi lathpath hoge, holi nahi khelonge aur rang apne par nahi daloge...toh kya likhenge,” he says.
Tagore’s poetry collection for children had none of the pari aur pari ke par. “He wrote what was happening around him, real.”

The complete Indian
Tagore is best read in regional literature, instead of English, because all his imageries are our Indian way of living. “Tagore was a complete Indian. He learnt folk songs heard in Dharwad and composed tunes for them in Bangla. He travelled through Punjab, wrote about Guru Gobind Singh and Jhelum river. He wrote a five-page poem on Shivaji. He wrote a poem praising his country, when he was asked to write something for King George’s arrival. He showed nationalism through his poetry” explains Gulzar.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Getting into someone's Kolhapuri

Here's an interview of author and former journalist Anjali Joseph

Walking down the streets of Paris, Anjali Joseph, came across a pair of Kolhapuri chappals in a fancy store. They were stamped with 'Genuine Kolhapuri Chappals' tag. In the middle of the road, Joseph stared as if she had met a family member, after long time, in a strange land,.
“I felt like asking the footwear, 'what are you doing here?' My brother and I wear Kolhapuris, most people in my family do and there's deep attachment and comfort associated with the footwear,” says Joseph.
No wonder than that the Kolhapuris and their makers find themselves in Joseph's third book – The Living. “There are two main characters in the book. Claire is a a single parent to a teenaged boy. She is working in one of the last surviving shoe factories, in Norwich, United Kingdom. And, then there is a man called Arun in Kolhapur, who makes the Kolhapuri chappals. The protagonists don't meet, but their stories are loosely linked. It is a book about craft and how we look at work, how it shapes the person and the experiences that they have,” explains Joseph.
Craft and heritage is something that has always appealed to the writer. A former journalist in Mumbai, she did new features, meeting people who might have something interesting to share.
“Everyone has a story. I am interested in writing about people, who don't see themselves as subject of art or think they are interesting - I think that's interesting. I don't think I will be able to write about an famous actor. I don't think that's interesting for me,” adds Joseph.
Is that why she has chosen to focus on working class in The Living?
“Yes, that's one reason. Another reason is that chappal or shoe making is an art - just like a sculptor sculpts an idol. But the shoemakers can't write their names on the chappals or footwear. They are a part of tradition, but not named ever. Their working in oblivion also interested me,” says she.
And, also the fact that they are crafting a product amidst worries about their future.
“Claire, as I said, earlier is working in one of the last shoe factories in UK. Earlier, the shoemakers were paid per piece. They didn't have a margin, they worked hard because their livelihood depends on it. It's now that the shoemakers in UK are paid. Arun in
Kolhapur is worried about who will carry forward his legacy. I spent a week in England and then couple of weeks in Kolhapur, watching them at work,” says Joseph.
The flipside, adds she, is that despite the constraints Claire and Arun face because of their skill, their work is very absorbing; they are working with their hands and that helps them to concentrate.
Having spent several years in UK and working in Mumbai, Joseph has always yearned for experiences, trying to learn about people and about herself everytime.
“I spent quite a few years studying in UK. Then, working as a trainee accountant, teaching at the university. I took up journalism in Mumbai because for an introvert person like me this was one way of chatting up people and looking for stories. And, then I took up writing fiction, because I always wanted to tell stories,” says Joseph, who now shuttles between Guwahati and Pune, where her parents lived.
When asked if this penchant for experiences helps in becoming a writer?
“ I have the freedom to make certain choices, so this is how I lived. But look at R K Narayan. He lived all his life in one place, but wrote some wonderful stories. Ultimately, it's about a craft. Writing is a craft for me, and not winning awards. I love day dreaming, dreaming of the ordinariness. We don't often appreciate our lives. But if through my writing, I can make people appreciate their lives, routine of getting into a bus/train, commuting to work, then that's my success. After all, a good piece of literature is about longevity. So if you want to wear a skilled chappal like Kolhapuri or another footwear for Rs 300 with stitched soles...then the choice is yours. I would opt for the crafted Kolhapuri any day,” concludes Joseph.

Messengers of social reform

I had chatted with Dr Ramchandra Dekhane. Here's the interview

Around 800 years ago, the sant sampraday (saint community) of Maharashtra wanted to reach out to the masses. They knew that their attempt to bring about a renaissance in society through writing would be limited to a niche segment. By then, folk artists like Vasudev, Kadak Lakshmi, Pingala and Joshi had already made inroads into the villages. They entertained the villagers through their acts. Sant Eknath and others then decided that these folk artists would be the messengers of social reform,” explains Dr Ramchandra Dekhane, a research scholar in the field of folk art and saint literature.

These folk artistes were called the ‘Bahurupi Kalakar’ or multi-faceted artists. The Bahurupi, down the ages, began to be referred to as Bharud. “Bharud is a spiritual folk art. It is also a full-fledged form of sant/ saint literature and is connected with the kirtan tradition of Maharashtra. It is also associated with folk art. As a performance, Bharud has natya (drama), samvad (dialogue), lok kala (folk art) and manoranjan (entertainment). Thanks to all these elements, we can say that modern Marathi theatre has its roots in Bharud,” points out Dekhane.

The research scholar, who is also a Bharud performer and has trained people, is gearing up to host the 2,100th show of Bahurupi Bharud on Saturday evening at Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir.

Talking about the show, Dekhane says, “Marathi manoos is well-acquainted with Bharud, but the tradition is slowly going into extinction mode. So this is our attempt to rejuvenate it. The USP of the show is that we have retained the originality and authenticity of the folk performances. We have used old instruments like the sambal, chaughada, dholki and mridang. The show starts with dindi (the annual walk warkari pilgrims undertake from Alandi and Dehu to Pandharpur via Pune, chanting Lord Vitthala’s name) in which we will explain and perform vatchali, abhang, jaatyavarchi ovi and fugadi. The dindi will be followed by acts of Vasudev, Kadak Lakshmi, Vedi, Vinchu, Gondhal and Jogwa. The two-and-a-half hour show will come to a close with the rendition of Raaga Bhairavi and Pasaydan.”

The 40-member team of Bahurupi Bharud draws into its fold artists as well laymen, who want to experience the cultural ethos. “Some members of the original team continue to be a part of it, along with teachers, lawyers, entrepreneurs. Many of them who had watched the show, came to us later saying, ‘I can play dholki and I would like to join your troupe.’ Or ‘I want to dance in the dindi.’ We have welcomed them. Rehearsals are important, but more than that, it’s the spontaneous outpouring of emotions and connecting with the compositions by the saints that sets their performance apart,” he points out.

Dekhane points out that not all Bharuds are performance-oriented. The social message or drawing attention to social ills can also be conveyed through bhajans.

- Vasudev’s character signifies the act of daan or giving alms. It means to help the needy and those in distress. This is one value that we need to cherish and subscribe to even in modern society. “In fact, in present times, the act of donating blood connects with the values that Vasudev is trying to preach,” points out Dekhane.
- Kadak Lakshmi is not a comment on fierce women with tyrannical tendencies. Sant Eknath through his compositions had tried to invoke Kadak Lakshmi, a metaphor for Adi Shakti or Adi Maya. “The use of the whip in Kadak Lakshmi’s hand is not meant to be used physically, to flog oneself, but it has to be used to crack down on perverse practices. It’s a metaphor to fight off the evil spreading in society,” says Dekhane.
- Vinchu or scorpion bite is compared to the six evils or Shadripu — kaam (lust), krodh (anger), mada (pride), maya (wealth), moha (attachment) and matsar (envy). If you have to fight off these tendencies, then truth is your armour.

A true Warkari

Who is a true Warkari?

The laymen gathered on the roadside to watch the palkhis-procession of Saint Dnyaneshwar and Saint Tukaram, often express awe at the clock-work precision of the wari. The stops are scheduled, the dindis or the groups preceding and following the palkhi are disciplined. Explaining the working of the dindi, Vivekananda or Rana Vaskar Maharaj, says, “The Vaskar dindi is the first, immediate dindi ahead of Dnyanoba raya's palkhi. Ahead of us are 27 authorised dindis, nagarkhana and the horse. Behind the palkhi there are several more dindis and followers, not necessarily warkaris.”
The current Maharaj's ancestor, Mallappan Vaskar, Haibat Baba Arphalkar and Shitole Sardar (sardar in Mahadji Shinde's armed force) resumed the practise of wari to Pandharpur. So the first honour in the long line of procession goes to Vaskar dindi. The head of Vaskar dindi is also the one who settles any difference or grievances amongst the warkaris.
“The format of dindi has remained same over the years. Wari means singing and chanting bhajans, abhangs and kirtan. We remember Lord Vithoba and the saints teachings. Over the years, social cause and projects have been taken up in association with private social organisations. We also follow social and public interest schemes announced by the State Government. This year we will be focusing on cleanliness,” explains Rana Vaskar Maharaj.
The warkaris cover about 20 kms each day, their stops scheduled and chalked to detail.
“We do not send out letters or messages, Whats App...nothing of that sort. The pilgrims arrive on their own on the specific tithi (according to Hindu Almanac),” informs Vaibhav Joshi, a member of the Vaskar dindi. He adds, “Every dindi has its own pennant. Ours is white flag amidst a bunch of orange flags. It's called kainchi. So incase our pilgrim loses his way, he knows how to locate the tents. Most of our followers are illiterate, but they all have been assigned tasks, which they do over the years – like making arrangement of water, food etc.”
When asked about the role of warkari, Rana Maharaj replies, “A true warkari will be walking in the dindi, amidst the pataka or paper flags. He will not accept water or food from the passers-by. He is dressed in a certain way – Nehru Shirt and Dhotar. A turban sits on his head. He wears a maal (beads) around his neck and abstains from drinking alcohol and eating non-veg food. He also takes a periodic pilgrimage during Ashadi, Karthiki, Chaitra and Magh. This is the external appearance of a warkari. As far as the internal appearance or the mind of a warkari is concerned, he goes by the teachings of Saint Dnyaneshwar and Saint Tukaram. Throughout the 21 day pilgrimage, he chants the name of the Lord, sings Hari Paath, abhangs and kirtans. You will not find any wrong-doing or inappropriate behaviour by the warkaris.”

Kitchen on the road

This is another Wari story. Talked to the women who manage the kitchen of dindis - or groups of warkari.

For several years now, Pune has been playing a good host to the warkaris, offering food, water, medication etc. But, a dedicated or a true-blue warkari will not accept any assistance, decline it gently, chanting the name of 'Hari'. The reason is that every dindi has their own kitchen, a team of dedicated cooks, who do no charge a single penny for feeding 300 or more number of pilgrims.
We meet a group of women cooks at Alandi, who have travelled all the way from Kolhapur district to serve the warkaris of Vaskar dindi. Ranjana Patil, accompanied by her son, Nitin and his wife, and a group of six women, cook breakfast, lunch, evening, tea and dinner for the warkaris.
“We have been coming to Alandi for 25-30 years now. We get all the samaan – from utensils to rice, dal, masalas, pickles, salt, sugar etc on our own. We collect money amongst ourselves, sometimes someone from the village offers rice or sugar as daan. Only vegetables are bought en route if needed,” explains Ranjana Patil.
These members are not a part of the walking troupe and often set out in trucks or tempos before the other warkaris. “We reach the pit stops ahead of the warkaris, setting up tents, taking a bath and then setting down to cook. By the time warkaris halt for the night, the food is ready, to be served piping hot,” says Patil.
The breakfast consists of pohe, while the meals comprise chapati or bhakri, one vegetable, dal and rice. The team requires about 16 cylinders, which can be replaced en route, sanctioned to them by the government. Their tent has a generator set too.
The number of people dining during the wari is specific, so the food doesn't go waste nor does it fall short.
“The chopdar (supervisor or in-charge) has a list of names of people who are part of the dindi. So we know there are 10 people from Mumbai or 20 from Nashik and so on. Accordingly, we plan the meals. There's surplus food for ten people but not more,” explains Patil.
Her son, Nitin, adds that they consider this as seva to Vithu Mauli and his devotees. “We get to meet so many people, learn a few things from them,” he adds. When prodded about unsavoury experience, Nitin says, “This is one of the true and pious Bhakti movement. The soul of warkaris has not been corrupted. We do meet pervert minds, but even they do not indulge in too much mischief or cross the line. Have you heard of terror attacks or bomb explosions or threats to Wari? It's because wari means purity. There are many around us, who make money by selling odds and ends. But they are few and far between.” This is certainly food for thought.

Smiling, happy faces throng the wari

I was asked to visit Alandi to meet the warkaris (people who undertake annual pilgrimage from Alandi to Pandharpur via Pune and other towns). Here's the first story

Smiling, happy faces throng the wari

A steady stream of people, the men in dhoti or vijar and sadra (white dhoti or loose pants and shirt), the women mostly in nine-yard sarees, with kids in tow, are crossing the bridge over the Indrayani river to meet their Mauli. Saint Dnyaneshwar's or Mauli's samadhi at Alandi is their destination for tonight. On Wednesday morning, alongwith the palkhi or the procession of Sant Dnyaneshwar's paduka (wooden footwear), they will set out on foot to Pune, their pit stop for two days, before crossing several villages to congregate at Pandharpur on Ekadashi.
The journey, which might seem arduous to most of us, is nothing short of worship for the warkaris – or the pilgrims. “Don't ask me how many times I have gone on wari. We don't count. Does one keep track of how many chapatis we eat for lunch? It's a family tradition. My first wari was in my mother's womb. And, I am 49-years-old. So I guess this must be my 50th wari,” says Aaba Shinde, who hails from Karmala taluka in Solapur district.
Shinde and many others are part of Vaskar Maharaj's dindi, the first dindi, which leads the palkhi of Sant Dnyaneshwar. Many of the warkaris are of farming background, illiterate, but happy to be a part of the wari in any capacity. Sarjerao Shinde, the sprightly 94-year-old warkari has been making water arrangements for the Vaskar dindi for nearly 75 years now. A grinning Sarjerao says, “I am happy to serve Mauli. I ensure that the warkaris get water for their daily needs. Everything in dindi is disciplined and we work with clock-work precision.”
When asked about water scarcity in his village, the nonagenarian replies, “There was little rain yesterday. So I sowed the seeds before leaving for Alandi. Vithu Mauli (Lord Vithoba) will take care of us.”
Another group of grape growers from Manerajuri village Sangli district is resting in the shaded courtyard. They too have left their farms in the care of their children and relatives and hope by the time they come back, rains would have given some respite.
“Our grapes are sent across the country. And, even exported. But for the last few years rains have played a truant. We hold two acres of land, so we haven't grown anything this season. If it rains in our absence, then our sons will take care. Or will have to do dobar farming,” explains Bala Jamdade, who has been participating in the wari for five years now.
Their listless looks and blank eyes are an exception in the sea of happy and smiling faces. Earlier, Rana Vaskar Maharaj said that dejected and disappointed farmers should definitely become a part of the wari. “We want more and more farmers to join the wari. If they experience the spiritual soaked atmosphere of wari, understand the true meaning of Dnyanoba and Tukoba's teachings, they won't take the decision to end their lives. They will get inspired to not give up.” says Rana Maharaj.
His words rang true, when we gathered at the Samadhi Mandir, where Sant Dnyaneshwar's palkhi was being decked up. One by one dindis marched in, playing cymbals, dancing gaily in the rains, to the chants of Gyanba-Tukaram. It was as if the Rain Gods were pleased with the devotion of the peasantry and decided to lessen their plight.