Shahu Kamble from Mulshi taluka, Pune, sings about being hurt by a friend and turning to her family, especially her mother, for emotional support and sustenance

What does a woman do when a friend betrays her trust and breaks her heart? A few decades ago, if she were from rural Maharashtra, her emotional response to being betrayed by a confidant would have been transformed into a few ovi. She would have sung those couplets while sitting at the grindmill and crushing the day’s share of grains. This is exactly what Shahu Kamble did.

The late Shahubai sang 26 songs to express the painful interactions of a woman with a neighbour who is also her friend. In the first of these couplets, all of which were set to tune by Shahubai, she says:

It was futile to share my secrets with my neighbour
She is not my mother who will keep it to herself

It wasn’t just betrayal, but the friend had uttered sharp words that pierced the singer’s heart and drove her to tears all day and night. The woman tells the neighbour how she feels:

I am fed up with your harshly bitter words,
Like the banana leaf being torn by the breeze

When the neighbour flaunts gold ornaments on her neck and arms, the singer says that her son and daughter are brighter than the gold to her, and more precious. The couplet suggests that the strain in the friendship is perhaps due to a wealth disparity between them.

Hurt by her friend, the singer finds comfort in familial love. She recalls her visits to the seashore, where she once found “a basket of fish,” and at another time, “a pearl…in the hollow of my palms.” These are metaphors that show she revels in the pleasure of being blessed with a daughter and a son.
Shahu Kamble's sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren in Nangaon village. Her sister-in-law and friend Kusum Sonawane, who also sings grindmill songs, is standing third from the left
PHOTO • Samyukta Shastri

Shahu Kamble's sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren in Nangaon village. Her sister-in-law and friend Kusum Sonawane, who also sings grindmill songs, is standing third from the left

Although the singer tells herself not to expect anything from others, she discloses that her own mother is the only person in the world on whom she can depend on completely. The ocean leaves her thirsty, she says, but her mother is like the water of River Ganga, descending from heaven. She goes on to compare her mother’s generosity to an overflowing River Chandrabhaga. The river, in Maharashtra’s Solapur district, is better known as Bhima. It is immortalised as a ‘destroyer of sins’ by the Bhakti poet, Sant Eknath, in ‘ Mazhe maher pandhari ,’ his popular abhanga , or devotional poem.

The singer’s feelings of love and her complete trust in her mother are reinforced in the last 10 couplets of this collection. In one ovi she says that keeping a count of what is borrowed from a neighbour is necessary in order to return it, but there is no such need while borrowing from one’s mother. In another ovi , the narrator compares her mother to amsul (dried kokum ), an ingredient used in food or drink for the tanginess it brings, making it flavourful and tasty.

“I often miss my mother’s cooking,” says the singer who has been away from her parental home after getting married. It is from her mother, she says, that she learnt the secrets of running her household efficiently and economically – by grinding the grain so fine that more flour gets milled, and more bhakar (a form of roti ) can be made.

Shahubai’s message is clear in ovi set:  when a woman is hurt by unpleasantness in the world outside, the affection of her family, especially her mother’s love, is the balm that heals her wounded heart.

In September 2017, when the PARI GSP Team visited Shahubai’s village, Nandgaon, we could not meet the singer; she had passed away the previous year. Her sister-in-law and friend, Kusumtai Sonawane, who also sings grindmill songs , told PARI about the tunes Shahubai had composed. “She was adept at setting songs to new, melodious tunes. She knew exactly which galaa [tune] would work well for an ovi. Not every woman can do that, Kusumtai said.

With richly layered metaphors, this collection of songs is enhanced by Shahubai humming the tune of ‘ Nesale ga bai, aaj shalu banarasi ,’ a popular gaulan , or folk number. Sung in her special style, the tune sets the tone for the ovi that follow.

Listen to Shahu Kamble sing the gaulan and ovi

अशी शेजी नं पाशी गुज, माझं बोलुनी गेलं वाया
अशी नं नव्हं माझी बया, पोटात गं  साठवाया

अशी शेजीपाशी गुज, शेजी आरध्या गुजाची
कशी आता माझी बया, किती अंतरभेदाची

अशी नं काई बोललीस, तुझ्या बोलण्याचा चटवटी
खवुट गं बोलण्याच्या, माझ्या हृदयी झाल्या गाठी

खवुट बोलण्यानी, माझ्या उरात झाली जाळी
कशी रात्र गं दिवस, नेत्रं माझी पाणी ढाळी

खवुट गं बोलण्यानी, मन माझं ते विटलं
अशी नं वाऱ्याच्या समुख, पान केळीचं फाटलं

शेजी काय लेणी लेती, ही तर येळाची हाडकं
अशी नं चल माझ्या वाड्या, सोनं दाविते भडक

अशी काही लेणं लेती, बाई हिनवती मला
अशी नं चल माझ्या वाड्या, सोनं दाविते तुला

अशी नं लेण्या लुगड्याचे, नको बसू शेजाराला
अशी नं आता माझी बाळ, जर माझ्या पदराला

अशी नं पुतळ्याची माळ, घालिते मी कवाबवा
अशी नं आता माझी बाळ, चंद्रहार केला नवा

अशी जिवाला सोडवण, एक असावी लेक बाळ
अशी नं आता माझी बाई, गळ्या पुतळ्याची माळ

अशी नं पुतळ्याची माळ, लोंबती गं पाठीपोटी
अशी नं माझिया बाळानी, चंद्रहारानी केली दाटी

अशी नं दे रे देवा मला, नाही मागत ठेवाईला
अशी नं आता माझी बाई, कुंकू मागती लावाया

अशी नं दुसऱ्याची आशा, नको करु येड्या मना
माझ्या बाळांच्या बाही बळ, यास दे रे भगवना

अशी दुसऱ्याची आशा, नको करु येड्या जिवा
माझ्या बाळांच्या बाही बळ, यास दे रे तूच देवा

अशी नं दरव्याच्या काठी, गेले व्हते लालासाठी

अशी नं आता माझी बाई, हेलव्यानी आली पेटी

अशी नं दरव्याच्या काठी, सहज गेले आंघोळीला
अशी नं आता माझी बाळ, मोती आलं वंजळीला

अशीसमींद्र सुकल्यानी, नाही झाली माझी तहान
अशी नं आता माझी बया, गंगा आली आसमान

समींद्र ग सुकल्यानी, नाही ना झाला एक घोट
अशी नं माझिया बयाला, चंद्रभागाला आला लोट

अशी नं बया बया म्हणं, बया कुणीच व्हईना
म्हणं नं बयाईची सर, शेजा नारीला येईना

अशी नं बया बया म्हणं, बया आमसुलाची पुडी
अशी नं त्याही पुडीमंदी, माझी जलमली कुडी

अशी नं बया बया म्हणं, बया काहीच जिनस
अशी नं घेतिईलं सोनं, नाही लाविली कानस

अशी नं शेजीचं उसनं, हाये ना अधुली पायली
माझ्या बयाच्या उसन्याची, याद कुणाला राहिली

अशी नं शेजीचं उसनं, फेडिते मी काडी काडी
माझ्या नं बयाचं उसनं, माझ्या भिडलं हाडोहाडी

अशी नं शेजीच उसनं, कसं दारात बसुनी
माझ्या नं बयाचं उसनं, माझ्या जलमापासुनी

बारीक गं दळ नारी, येकीची गं व्हईल दीड
माझ्या बयानी शिकविली, मला संसाराची मोड

बारीक गं दळणाची, भाकर ना चौफेरी
माझ्या बयाच्या भोजनाची, याद येती घडोघडी

aśī śējī nā pāśī guja mājha bōlūnī gēla vāyā
aśī nā nava mājhī bayā pōṭāta ga sāṭhavāyā

aśī śējīpāśī guja śējī āradhyā gujācī
kāśī ātā mājhī bayā kitī ādarabhēdācī

aśī nā kāī bōlalīsa tujhyā bōlaṇyācā caṭavaṭī
khavūṭa ga bōlaṇyācyā mājhyā huradī jhālyā gāṭhī

khavūṭa bōlaṇyānī mājhyā aurāta jhālī jāḷī
kaśī rātra ga divasa nētra mājhī pāṇī gāḷī

khavūṭa ga bōlaṇyānī mana nā mājhaṁ tē viṭalē
aśī nā vāryācyā samukha pāna nā kēḷīca phāṭala

śējī kāya lēṇī lētī hī tara yēḷācī hāḍaka
cala mājhyā vāḍyā sōna dāvītē bhaḍaka

aśī kāhī lēṇa lētī nā hinavatī malā
aśī na cala vāḍyā mainā mājhī bāḷa sōna dāvītē tulā

aśī na lēṇyā lugaḍyācē nakō basū śējārālā
ātā mājhī bāḷa jara mājhyā padarālā

aśī na putaḷyācī māḷa ghālītē kavābavā
ātā mājhī bāḷa candrahāra kēlā navā

aśī jivālā sōḍavaṇa ēka asāvī lēkabāḷa
ātā mājhī bāī gaḷyā putaḷyācī māḷa

aśī na putaḷyācī māḷa lōmbatī ga pāṭhīpōṭī
mājhyā yā bāḷānī candrahārānī kēlī dāṭī

aśī nā dērē dēvā malā nāhī nā māgata ṭhēvāīlā
aśī nā ātā mājhī bāī kuṅkū māgatī lāvāyā

aśī na dusaryācī āśā nakō karu yēḍyā manā
mājhyā bāḷāñcyā bāhī baḷa yāsa dērē bhagavanā

aśī dusaryācī āśā nakō karu yēḍyā jivā
mājhyā bāḷāñcyā bāhī baḷa yāsa dērē tūca dēvā

aśī na daravyācyā kāṭhī gēlē vhatē lālāsāṭhī
aśī na ātā mājhī bāī hēlavyācī pēṭī

aśī na daravyācyā kāṭhī sahaja gēlē aṅghōḷīlā
aśī na ātā mājhī bāḷa mōtī āla vañjaḷīlā

aśī samīdra sukalyānī nāhī jhālī mājhī tahāna
aśī nā ātā mājhī bayā gaṅgā ālī āsamāna

samīdra ga sukalyānī nāhī nā jhālā aēka ghōṭa
aśī nā mājhī nā bayālā candrabhāgālā ālā lōṭa

aśī nā bayā bayā mhaṇa bayā kuṇīca vhīnā
mājhyā nā bayāīcā sara śējā nārīlā yēīnā

aśī nā bayā bayā mhaṇa bayā āmasulācī pūḍī
aśī nā tyāhī puḍīmandī mājhī jalamalī kuḍī

aśī nā bayā bayā mhaṇa bayā kāhīca jinasa
ghētīīla sōna nāhī lāvīlī kānasa

aśī nā śējīca usaṇa hāyē nā adhulī pāyalī
mājhyā bayācyā usaṇyācī yāda kuṇālā rāhīlī

aśī nā śējīca usaṇa phēḍītē mī kāḍī kāḍī
mājhyā nā bayāca usaṇa mājhyā bhiḍala hāḍōhāḍī

aśī nā śējīca usaṇa kasa dārāta basunī
mājhyā nā bayāca usaṇa mājhyā jalamāpāsūnī

bārīka ga daḷa nārī yēkīcī ga hōīla dīḍa
mājhyā bayānī sikavilī malā sansārācī mōḍa

bārīka ga daḷaṇācī bhākara nā cauphērī
mājhyā bayācyā bhōjanācī yāda yētī ghaḍōghaḍī

It was futile to share my secrets with my neighbour
She is not my mother, who will keep it to herself

If I confide in my neighbour, she will reveal it to others
But my mother will keep it all to herself

Whatever you have said, your talk smells of rivalry
Your bitter words have hurt me very deeply

Your acerbic words are like a cobweb in my heart
My eyes are shedding tears day and night

I am fed up with your harsh words,
Like the banana leaf being torn by the breeze

The ornaments my neighbour wears are thin, bone-like armlets
Come to my house, I will show you gold [my son] that shines bright

She wears some jewellery, humiliates and looks down upon me
Come to the house, I will show you my gold, my son and daughter

Don’t sit beside me decked in heavy ornaments and saree
My children mean more to me, like the brocade edges of my saree

A necklace with gold coins, I do wear sometimes
Now my son is my new chandrahar [necklace of gold beads]

To get deliverance from this world, one should have a daughter
Now my dear precious daughter is like a necklace of gold coins

A necklace with gold coins, hangs around my neck
My son, my chandrahar , is crowding my neck [with other ornaments]

I ask of you, God, kunku for my forehead [long life for my husband]
I don’t ask for it to keep with me forever

O foolish mind, don’t expect anything from others
I pray to you, God, give my son enough strength

O foolish heart, don’t expect anything from others
I pray to you, God, give my son enough strength

On the seashore, I had gone to seek a boon, for a son
And a daughter was born, like a basket of fish

I casually went for a bath on the seashore
And my son, my pearl, came into the hollow of my palms

I could not quench my thirst as the sea had dried up
But my mother has come like the Ganga from the heaven above

I could not get a bit of water as the sea had dried up
But my mother is like River Chandrabhaga in spate

Just calling anyone ‘mother,’ doesn’t make her my mother
The woman next door is no comparison to my mother

My mother is like a packet of amsul [mangosteen]
I was born to this packet of the [long-lasting] fruit

Mother, mother, we say, mother is a gold ornament
That is guaranteed pure gold, no need to test it

I may borrow two or four kilos from my neighbour
But I borrow from mother without keeping count

If I borrow from my neighbour, I will return it bit by bit
But borrowing from mother, I am used to it

I borrow from my neighbour, sitting in the doorway
From my mother I have borrowed so much since my birth

Woman, grind the flour fine, to make one and a half bhakar
My mother taught me how to manage the household

A fine round bhakar made from finely ground flour
I often miss my mother’s cooking

Shahu Kamble

Performer/Singer: Shahu Kamble

Village: Nandgaon

Taluka: Mulshi

District: Pune

Caste: Nav Bauddha (Neo Buddhist)

Age: 70 (She died of uterine cancer in August 2016)

Children: Two sons and two daughters

Occupation: Farmer and midwife

Date: These songs and the accompanying information were recorded on October 5, 1999. The photographs were taken on September 11, 2017.

Poster: Urja

Read about the original Grindmill Songs Project founded by Hema Rairkar and Guy Poitevin.

Namita Waikar is a writer, translator and Managing Editor at the People's Archive of Rural India. She is the author of the novel 'The Long March', published in 2018.

Other stories by Namita Waikar

PARI Grindmill Songs Project Team: Asha Ogale (translation); Bernard Bel (digitisation, database design, development and maintenance); Jitendra Maid (transcription, translation assistance); Namita Waikar (project lead and curation); Rajani Khaladkar (data entry).

Other stories by PARI GSP Team