Sarubai Kadu of Dapodi village in Pune district is the most prolific singer in the grindmill songs database. In this first part of a two-part story, she sings ten ovi about sons who drift away, daughters who are fleetingly pampered, and wayward husbands
“I cannot remember anything now, and I can’t sing at all,” Sarubai Kadu said. Grimacing, over 70, she sat on the floor cross-legged, rested her back against the verandah wall and pressed her aching knees with her fingers. We felt disappointed, but hoped that some pleading might help change her mind.
We were in Daund taluka, about 80 kilometres from Pune city, where we had travelled in July looking for the singer who gave the grindmill songs database over 5,000 couplets. That is the highest number by a single performer – the second highest is about half that much. The bulk of these songs were composed by Sarubai herself.
The team that started the Grindmill Songs Project had written down by hand the 5,000-plus songs that Sarubai sang over several meetings in different villages in Mulshi taluka and in Pune from 1996 to 2009. These became a part of the database of over 110,000 ovi. The project is now hosted on PARI, and revisiting the villages to meet the singers, take photographs and record videos is a part of the continuing effort. This July, about 20 years after the grindmill team’s visits, we recorded some of Sarubai’s songs on audio as well as video.
Sarubai Kadu sitting in the verandah of her son's house in Dapodi village
The singer was a member of the Garib Dongri Sanghatana, an organisation working for the rural poor in the hilly regions of Mulshi taluka. Though uneducated, Sarubai participated in self-learning literacy workshops as a volunteer for the organisation.
Sarubai is from Wadavali village in Mulshi taluka, which was submerged when the Varasgaon dam was built over the Mose river in 1994. The dam – a popular picnic spot – is one of the sources of water for Pune city, about 50 kilometres away. People from several villages in the Varasgaon dam area were resettled in Daund taluka, around 120 kilometres from Mulshi.
A board announcing the resettlement of Sarubai's village Wadavali, which was submerged when the Varasgaon dam was built in`1994
When we reach Dapodi village, we see a woman sitting outside a dilapidated mud and brick hut at the start of a narrow lane. Jitendra Maid, a member of the original Grindmill Songs Project team, who is travelling with the team from PARI, tells us that the woman is Sarubai Kadu. She leads us down the lane to another house, with a gate and an open verandah. "This is where I live." We ask her why she was sitting outside the hut. "Oh, it is somebody else's house, I was guarding it, because the woman who lives there has gone out." Her explanation seems a bit odd and we are not convinced.
We remind her about the songs, more than 5,000 of them. But she is emphatic that she cannot remember any ovi. Moreover, the left side of Sarubai’s face was affected by mild paralysis some months ago, and though she has recovered, it makes singing difficult.
Just then, a neighbour, Tarabai Margale is passing by, and Sarubai calls out to her to join us. Her presence seems to help and we record 10 songs, a few of which Sarubai improvises into nearly new compositions.
Watch video: Sarubai sings 10 ovi, while her neighbour Tarabai looks on and joins in the conversation
Sarubai sings an ovi about a son who goes away, asking him not to become a stranger. This is followed by four couplets about a daughter, that say: “Don’t make us too attached to you, for one day you will be married and go to live with your in-laws.” The beloved daughter asks her father for gifts. The girl’s mother says, “Pampering you is in our hands, you may add pearls to your ear tops.” In the next song, the daughter holds her father’s hand and demands a silver bracelet.
This is followed by three songs about the infidelity of men. We are foolish women, we fight for water, while the husband behaves like a rooster, mad with desire outside another woman’s door. Even though a wife gives succour and is tender like a freshly baked poli (chapati) on an iron girdle, the foolish husband hides a blouse for another woman in his pocket – which speaks of his desire for a secret liaison with another woman. The wife may quench his thirst like the water from a large pot, and yet the foolish man makes a pitiable face, for he desires another woman.
The last two songs are about the wedding of a son and the haldi ceremony before the event. The son bathes in water that has neem leaves for cleansing, and as the paste of turmeric that was applied to him washes off, the yellow haldi water flows out in a stream outside the wedding pavilion. The mother says to her son that her fingers and fists are yellow with turmeric and blesses him with a long life.
A few weeks ago, Sarubai's son asked her to leave his house; she now lives in this dilapidated hut at the entrance to the village
After the singing, Tarabai wants to leave, she must go weeding on a farm. We talk some more. Though Tarabai is not one of the singers from the Grindmill Songs Project, her presence that day helped Sarubai overcome her reluctance to sing. The lives of both these women are personified in the songs they sing. The affection for children, the infidelity of husbands, the blessings given to sons even though the women do not get the support they need in their old age. Tarabai is separated from her husband who has a second wife. Sarubai’s husband died about two years ago. She had four sons, two still living.
We are interrupted by Sarubai’s son Dilip, who has come home after hearing of visitors. He tells us that the land they got from the government was less than what they owned in Wadavali. It was fallow, and the family spent a lot of effort and money to cultivate it. Dilip also works as a mason and runs a grocery shop along with his wife. “We have to do many things to make ends meet,” he says.
After Dilip leaves, Sarubhai finally tells us: just a few weeks ago, there was a conflict at home and now she is not allowed to live in her son’s house. She lives in the hut where we first saw her at the entrance to the village. She will sing many more songs in that hut, her home. Those couplets will be published in part two of this edition of the Grindmill Songs Project.
गावाला गं गेलं बाळ, गावासारखा होऊ नको
तपल्यागं सुरपाचं, उणं कुणाला दावू नको
लाडकी गं माझी लेक, लयी लाडकी होवू नको
जाशील परघरी, वेडी माया लावू नको
लाडकी गं माझी लेक, लाड सांगती बापाला
सांगते गं बाई तुला, देणं मागती चापाला
लाडकी गं माझी मैना, लाड कोड माझ्या हाती
आता माझी बाई, लाव कुडक्याला मोती
लाडकी गं माझी मैना, धरी बापाच्या बोटाला
सांगते गं बाई तुला, चांदी मागती गोठाला
आपण गं येडी नार, जसा पाण्याचा झुंबडा
लोकाच्या गं नारीसाठी, मूर्ख घरीचा कोंबडा
आपली गं येडी नार, जशी तव्यातली पोळी
लोकाच्या नारीसाठी मूर्ख खिशात घाली चोळी
आपली गं येडीजस पाण्याचं घंगाळ
लोकाच्या नारीसाठी तोंड करीतो वंगाळ
मांडवाच्या दारी हळदीबाईचं पाटं गेलं
वाणी चं गं माझं बाळ लिंबाचं न्हाण न्हालं
मांडवाच्या दारी माझ्या पिवळ्या झाल्या मुठी
सांगते बाळा तुला, तुला हळद जगू जेठी
gāvālā gaṁ gēlaṁ bāḷa, gāvāsārakhā hōū nakō
tapalyāgaṁ surapācaṁ, uṇaṁ kuṇālā dāvū nakō
lāḍakē lēkī phāra lāḍakī hōvū nakō
jāśīla paragharī vēḍī māyā lāvū nakō
lāḍakī gaṁ mājhī lēka, lāḍa sāṅgatī bāpālā
sāṅgatē gaṁ bāī tulā, dēṇaṁ māgatī cāpālā
lāḍakī mājhī mainā lāḍa kōḍa mājhyā hātī
ātā mājhī bāī lāva kuḍakyālā mōtī
lāḍakī gaṁ mājhī mainā, dharī bāpācyā bōṭālā
sāṅgatē gaṁ bāī tulā, cāndī māgatī gōṭhālā
āpaṇa gaṁ yēḍī nāra, jasā pāṇyācā jhumbaḍā
lōkācyā gaṁ nārīsāṭhī, mūrkha gharīcā kōmbaḍā
āpayalī nāra jaśī tavyātalī pōḷī
lōkācyā nārīsāṭhī ghātalī khiśāta cōḷī
āpayalī nāra jasa pāṇyāca ghaṅgāḷa
lōkācyā nārīsāṭhī tōṇḍa karītō vaṅgāḷa
māṇḍavācyā dārī haḷadībāīca pāṭa gēlā
navarā bāḷa mājhā limbācā nhāṇa nhālā
māṇḍavācyā dārī pivaḷyā jhālyā muṭhī
sāṅgatē bāḷā tulā tulā haḷada jagū jēṭhī
You’ve gone to another village, my son, don’t go away from me
Don’t reveal to others, what is lacking in your life
Darling daughter, don’t make us shower too much of affection on you
You will go to your in-laws’ family, don’t make me too attached to you
My darling daughter tells her father to fulfil her wish
I tell you, O woman, she asks for a hair clip
My darling daughter, my mynah, to pamper you is in my hands
Now, dear daughter, you may add pearls to your ear-tops
My darling daughter, my mynah, holds her father’s finger
I tell you, O woman, she asks for silver to make a bracelet
We are foolish women, we are women who fight for water
For another woman, he [husband] is like a mad rooster at her door
Though his own wife is [tender] like a [steaming] chapati on the iron girdle
For another woman, the fool [husband] puts a blouse in his pocket
Though his own wife is [perfect] like a round water vessel
For another woman, he [husband] makes a pitiable face
At the entrance of the marriage pandal, a stream of haldi water flowed
My son, the bridegroom, had a bath with water with neem leaves
At the entrance of the marriage pandal, my fists are yellow with haldi
I tell you my son, [the bridegroom], may you have a long life
Performer/Singer: Sarubai Kadu
Children: 4 sons (2 living)
Occupation: Farmer, agricultural labourer
Date: These songs were recorded on audio and video on July 24, 2017. The transcripts were first written by hand between 1996 and 2009.
Photos: Bernard Bel and Binaifer Bharucha
Poster: Shreya Katyayini