Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Honey Gatherers

'The Honey Gatherers' is Mimlu Sen's fascinating account of her life amongst Baul singers and sadhus. One of whom, a singer, Paban Das Baul, has become her lifelong companion.

The Baul, rooted in Bengal, celebrate a life of love and desire, mirrored after Krishna's love for Radha. They celebrate the present, passion and fulfilled interaction of women and men over any formal or institutional practice of religion and life. That liberation must be found now, in this particular body, and from within. Though, as Sen points out, though they may 'upset' traditional dynamics between men and women, they rarely topple them into something new within everyday life. Patriarchy often rolls back into its place after the celebration is done. Like 'Carnival' in the West, Baul festival is a timed reversal of traditional mores.

The book tells of how Mimlu Sen, the daughter of a well-to-do Bengali family, found herself inexorably drawn into the Baul world, how she slowly came to comprehend her love of it and of Paban, and of trying to find a way to allow it to thrive in a world where many of its traditional, rural foundations have been undermined by social change and globalisation.

The paragraphs where she describes the struggle of Paban's family to survive its rural displacement into urban insecurity, a vivid testimony to the relentless pursuit of poverty and the stratagems need to survive it are deeply moving, and say more than myriad volumes on 'development'!

But there is much more to her account - filled with striking 'characters' and family tragedy - it teems with a life unknown - one where story embodied in song continually teases us out of time into a place of hoped for liberation. It is a liberation that can only be earned as an individual (though often one as part of a coupling), out of a struggle for understanding, a surrender into a music that transforms.

It is a tradition subversive of orthodoxies and of 'neat' boundaries drawn between traditions; here especially between Hindu and Muslim. As India grows more 'modern', these boundaries are drawn ever more sharply - the intermediate worlds, that are predominantly rural, fade.

In the book you taste a critical part of India though often marginalised - in its light and in its shadow - and a CD 'The Honey Gatherers' completes the text, showing its heart.

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