G B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad successfully concluded its two day cultural meet ‘Amrai II’ held at A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna, on December16, 2014, and at J P University, Chhapra, on December 18, 2014, under the project ‘Migration and Cultural Traditions of Bhojpuri Region – A Research and Documentation Programme’, under the aegis of Sir Jamsetji Tata Trust, Mumbai.

The first day of the programme i.e., December 16, 2014 was organized in collaboration with A.N Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna.

The objective of this meet was to understand and analyze the experience of migration in the Bhojpuri folk repertoire “Bidesia”, from the homeland perspective. Bidesia is the Folk Tradition of the Bhojpuri region that had evolved during the colonial period when a huge population of Bhojpuri people left the Indian shores to work in sugarcane, cocoa, jute and other plantations in Caribbean countries like Mauritius, Suriname, Guyana, Fiji etc., that were owned by colonial countries like Britain, France and Holland. The pain and anguish of the people of the Bhojpuri region at this mass migration gave birth to this distinct folk culture that narrated the agony and grief of both the migrants and their loved ones left behind.  Migration from this region is still taking place with a large number of youths migrating to big cities of India like Delhi, Mumbai, Surat etc., and a rich cultural heritage of Bhojpuri folk culture exists in this region beginning with Bhojpuri folk song and theatre composers like Bhikari Thakur and Mahendra Mishra in the colonial to composers in the contemporary period. This folk culture of the Bhojpuri region is constantly changing and evolving due to the impact of contemporary migration. In the present time, folk poets (kavijis) are carrying this tradition forward and the emotion produced by the separation, is still running through it. A thriving Bhojpuri music industry has developed in India with a large number of CDs and cassettes being recorded and produced consisting of Bhojpuri folk songs based on genres like Biraha, Purvi, Jantsar etc., that are sung by Bhojpuri folk singers. However the kavijis who compose the songs are mostly living on the periphery of the society and the industry. A major aim of this project is to identify and honour the kavijis and bring them into the limelight. Alongside it will also try to explore the reasons why some folk forms decay and die in the process of evolution. This project will also try to document the diminishing folk forms that reflect the memory of that time and how do new folk forms and contents develop and acquire life due to their interaction with modernity and technology.

In the meet held in Bihar, which is a major homeland point for migration, eminent academicians, litterateurs, folk singers, folk theatre artistes, folk story tellers and folk performers, who are established and renowned in their spheres participated and interacted with community intellectuals and folk poets.

Prof Badri Narayan, Project director and coordinator of this programme welcomed all the eminent guests. While discussing the objective of the conference, he said that this discourse is trying to give recognition to folk poets and artists who are living in the periphery. These folk poets are the ‘subaltern of the folk’ living on the margins of the margin. They are often considered as worthless in their villages / towns but in fact they are the real barometers of social change in the contemporary time. Folk poets who lived and composed in the colonial period like Bhikhari Thakur and Mahendra Mishra were the real indicators of social realities of their time who mapped social transformation very closely. Every village witnesses social change which is observed by the kavijis very closely who then document the social phenomena through their compositions. These folk poets are carrying forward their rich traditions even in the modern era of technology and are articulating the pain of grassroots migrants in a true way. The singers who sing their songs earn a lot of money but these kavijis usually live in wretched conditions. He said that through the project we will try to conduct a cultural survey to document this phenomenon, and try to give them the due respect and recognition.

He added that most of the studies on migration focus on the economic aspect of the migration and limit themselves to the destination points only, but this project is trying to focus on the cultural aspect of the migration and is documenting the situation in the homeland as well as in the destination. Folklore is a very important aspect of migration as it is an attempt to recover the emotional loss of migrants and left ones. The whole process of migration also reshapes and reconstructs folk culture since the folk culture documents the process of migration.  Folklore transforms labour into human being. In the destination points all the Bhojpuri migrants who usually work as unskilled labourers, taxi drivers, auto drivers etc., gather together in the evenings after work and sing the folk songs, which help them to release their pent up emotions. They also celebrate their traditional festivals with great fervor, which reflects their cultural legacy on the one side and transforms them in an organized unit on the other.

Prof, Ram Bachan Roy, eminent litterateur from Patna delivered the inaugural speech. He congratulated the GB Pant Institute for making such an important attempt to document the decaying Bhojpuri folk culture. He said that folk culture has always been marginalized by mainstream culture but this attempt will enrich the subaltern history of folk culture and will create space for subalterns in mainstream. He quoted the book of James Scott “The Art of Not Being Governed” which documents the history of subalterns deprived from history of the elite and said that this project too was the documentation of the history of the people who had no history. Documentation of folk forms will be a commendable step and will add to the subaltern studies. He added that folk culture has a tendency to restore the decay of society. Bhojpuri society is a struggling society and this society has encountered migration over many years since the beginning of the colonial period. This pain of migration is expressed in different folk forms like Birha, Jatsar, Purbi etc. Most of these songs make an appeal to stop migration. In one such song a wife appeals to her husband not to go to Bides

Panch rupiya ka Naukariya,

Das yehi deb

Piya ji Mat ja bides

He also said that this cultural tradition is very rich but with the passage of time it is thinning. Our society has an inherent attitude of festivity which helps it to struggle against adversities but this festivity is dying with the passage of time and advent of modernity. It is the need of the hour to conserve it as folk forms make society enduring since they assimilate the cultural forms of folk life.

Prof. Shaibal Gupta, Director, ADRI, Patna chaired the inaugural session. In his speech he said that now trends are changing and vernacular elites are replacing traditional elites. He stated that Bhojpuri language was democratic from the very beginning. After the Green Revolution the vernacular elite started to assert their language identity by speaking Bhojpuri. Bhojpuri folk forms have portrayed the pain of migration in a very influential way and the approach of Bhikhari Thakur was not the top down approach but bottom up approach. The entire Bhojpuri folk tradition is a rich legacy of oral tradition, which has a social base that was really democratic. This is democratization of language which will lead to a real democratic society.

The first thematic session was on ‘Migration from Bhojpuri region’ which was chaired by eminent poet Khagendra Thakur, Patna. While discussing about indenture migration that took place in the colonial period he said that the migrants preserved their culture in very hard conditions in foreign lands. These indentured labours carried copies of Ramcharitmanas and Hanuman Chalisa with them but they were not allowed to read them. However they somehow managed and used to read them regularly. He said that we have to understand that situation in which our ancestors preserved culture for us. According to him industrialization has forced a change in both folk life and folk forms. Mostly economic need is the root cause of migration. There are villages where only women reside since the men have migrated to metro cities in search of livelihood. Folk forms are changing with the process of development so we must initiate steps to document the traditional forms of Bhojpuri culture.

Taiyyab Hussain, eminent littérateur of Bhojpuri culture stated in his speech that most of the Bidesia plays are centered on pain of migration. Migration has both positive and negative aspects. Bhikari Thakur and Mahendra Mishra, the two most eminent folk composers of the colonial period, have documented both the aspects of migration. In their compositions they narrated the real everyday problems experienced by people who were suffering from the pain of migration. That is why people can associate with them easily and they have a strong social base of followers. In a song composed by Mahendra Mishra a woman comments on the change in life-style in her migrant husband but later when she asked about his profit he became annoyed. This anger shows that though he pretends that he is well-off there but there also he is struggling to earn and to fulfill the wishes of his beloved wife. But we have to understand these emotions in contemporary context. His talk was centered on the plays of Bhikari Thakur which were described by eminent litterateur Jagdish Chandra Mathur as “lokdharmi natak”. These plays usually discussed the struggle of men who went to bides to earn money while the wife who was left behind suffers from the pain of loneliness and socio-economic torture in the village.

Brahma Prakash, JNU, New Delhi, in his speech said that loss of memory is the biggest loss in the process of migration. Though migration is a crisis but it also provides various kinds of opportunities too. Our task is to change that crisis into opportunity. He quoted a song ‘laga nathuniya ka dhakka balam kalkatta pahuch gaye’ in which a wife wishes to buy a nose ring and forced her husband to go to earn money in Calcutta. He said that there is an emotional thread beneath all the migrations and we have to understand new facts of this subaltern folk culture by focusing on its emotional perspective.

Ratnakerji, a scholar of culture, Patna, said that migration is a very old tradition that has generated a legacy of folk culture. Initially folk was not respected so much and was somewhat marginalized but now through media, their culture, which is usually in the form of oral culture, has registered its presence. It is such a powerful presence that it has entered in modern technological system without struggling in print media, and is now widely recognized across the globe. He added that different perspectives of migration are opening up new scholarly studies and requested the project director to prepare a glossary of the words related to migration in different languages.

Usha Kiran Khan, Eminent writer, Patna stated that the migrants who went to Caribbean countries during the colonial carried with them their Bhojpuri folk forms too. The descendants of the migrants living in the Caribbean countries at present are very keen to visit their homeland as they want to fill their 150 year old cultural reservoir with new songs from their homeland. The folk forms which their ancestors took with them are still very prominent in their lives and they have carefully preserved them as their legacy. He said that migration is still continuing from the Bhojpuri region and the Bhojpuri folk culture generated by the migration is found all over the world. Folk poets are constantly composing songs which are being documented on CDs and cassettes and by this method we will be able to save our cultural heritage.

Shrikantji, Director, Jagjivan Ram Institute of Parliamentary Studies, Patna, also shared his views on this topic. He said that we can’t deny that migration has caused development and prosperity in the Bhojpuri region through the remittances sent by the migrants. This change in the lifestyle of the people has also created aspirations in the people in the villages in the Bhojpuri region. Now even poor people are sending their children to convent schools to become educated and learn English so that they can get good jobs in other places. However migration always gives birth to pain and no one leaves his homeland willingly. The writings of Totaram Sanadhya, the stories and novels written by Munshi Premchand, and the novel ‘Murdahiya’ written by Tulsiram have documented this pain. He said that migration should be analyzed in a broader context. We can’t deny that the Bhojpuri folk culture is getting corrupted and deteriorating in quality but it is still a rich cultural heritage and should be conserved. He congratulated Prof. Badrinarayan and his Institute for undertaking this project.

Dr. Neearj Singh, academician from Aarah considered the phenomena of migration from a positive angle. He said that migration adds to development in the homeland and is always progressive. We should try to understand the reasons for migration in the contemporary context. Conservation of folk forms should be done but how we can do it with the continuous phenomena of migration is an important question. Initially migration was forced but now people are leaving willingly for their betterment.  We have to make our folk forms relevant to the present time so that they will survive and flourish. Only then we will be able to preserve and conserve our culture.

Santosh Shreyansh, cultural activist from Arrah talked about the geographical location of the Bhojpuri region that compelled people to migrate. The overflowing rivers in rainy seasons prevented people from getting their regular earning for four to five months, compelling them to migrate. When they migrate to cities for their livelihood, they were exposed to a market economy from an agricultural economy; they thus started commercializing their folk forms by the needs of the market. In this process the form of pain present in these songs also changes. He lamented that instead of being proud of our cultural heritage we feel ashamed in speaking our vernacular language in this era of globalization.  He added that such a discourse will make our younger generations conscious of their culture and they will be exposed to that pain and will become aware of their cultural grounding.

The second thematic session “Bhojpuri folklore and the pain of migration’ was chaired by Arun Kamal, eminent poet Patna.

Tarkeshwar Mishra Rahi, eminent folklorist from Ballia sung a few songs composed by him narrating both the pain of migrants and the ones left behind. The narratives in the songs clearly portray the everyday struggle of people.

Ram Narayan Tiwari, eminent academician of folk culture, Gazipur discussed different folk forms of Purbi genre like Chhaprahiya, Mirzapuri and Khari. He said that it is very interesting that in all these forms we can see the pain and tolerance of women who in spite of all adversities in the village offer all pleasure to their husbands to stop migration.

Manoranjan Ojha, eminent folk singer, Patna said that vulgarity is also the result of migration. Market, greed of money and popularity forces folk performers to interpolate their cultural genre according to the demands of the market.

Buddh Sharan Hans, eminent dalit writer from Patna opined that we always discuss the problem of migration but never think why people migrate from villages. Villages are not as beautiful as portrayed in songs but are full of adversities, pain, suffering and exploitation. Ambedker has described villages are slaughter houses for Dalits and poor. In cities these people get good life, security and satisfaction, which are not possible in villages. Migration fulfills the dream of a well-off life and that why it is inevitable.

Arun Kamal in his presidential speech said that folk forms like Barahmasa and Purbi narrate every minute details of pain and sufferings of migrants and left ones. They reflect the social facts of that time and are authentic documentation of folk genre.

Arun Shitansh, Arrah, Suresh Mishra, Chhapra, and Jeetendra, Patna shared their opinion around the theme.

In the concluding session, Ramchandra Khan, retired IPS from Patna who has witnessed the time of Mahendra Mishra and Bhikhari Thakur, said that migration gives both pain and happiness. But the whole process should be analyzed through the narratives of migration which describe the life of people.

Alok Dhanowa, eminent littérateur, Patna said that writings of Bhikari Thakur and Mahendra Mishra are still appreciated a lot. Sanjay Upadhayay’s Bidesia is still very popular in the theatres of metro cities. Though new people are writing but we should analyse what is in those old forms that still make people to cry.   Pain should not be guided by market needs; it should be guided by experience of sufferers.

Vyas ji Mishra, Additional Secretary said that before conserving folk forms we have to focus on people who are migrating due to hardships of villages. We should think how can we stop exploitation and pain of villages and how to provide them a better life.

The second day of programme i.e. December 18, 2014 was organized in collaboration with J.P. University, Chhapra, Bihar. Chhapra is a historical place which has given birth to two legendary figures of Bhojpuri culture namely Bhikahri Thakur and Mahendra Mishra. The purpose of this cultural event was to identify and honour folk poets and performers who are carrying forward the rich tradition of Bhojpuri and are witnessing social change from below.  This cultural event tried to bring forward the hidden talents of folk artists and provide them a stage to show their skills.  The programme brought together academicians, young students and common people and tried to make them understand the pain and suffering of folk performers. The event also helped folk performers to connect with mainstream through their compositions. During this meet eminent academician, litterateurs, folk singers, folk theatre artistes, folk story tellers and folk performers interacted with prominent singers, theatre persons, performers and singers who are established and renowned in their spheres. A companion of Bhikhari Thakur named Shivlal  stunned the spectators with his folk performances and forced us to think how a rich cultural heritage is lying unrecognized beyond the so-called academic domain. These singers and composers are the lokgyanis who are beyond the framework of mainstream but carry within them a rich cultural legacy.

The programme also included discourses by the village folk poets / singers and the mainstream folk artistes engaged in different forms. Eminent academicians and litterateurs were also enriched by the experiences of folk artists which they narrated, and were thus exposed to the ground realities, which sensitized them towards the problems of the people left behind at homelands. The project, of which the function was a part, was not only a search and documentation of folk poets as data but is a documentation of the whole process of creation of folk genres, and the live surroundings in which this folk genre has been created. These folk poets try to recover the emotional loss of migration by creating the songs. This is a recovery of loss of memory. To understand the hidden phenomena of the folk repertoire and its creators we need to develop new innovative perspectives of social science. Another purpose behind the academic collaboration with educational institutes was to sensitize students and researchers about this subaltern knowledge reservoir.

Cultural performances were also given by Manoranjan Ojha and team, Patna ; Ramdas Giri and team,  Chhapra and Kusumavati Upadhyaya, Priya and Ranjana , Chhapra during the meet.

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