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Bitchy ballads


Amarsar de papad ve main khandi na/ Tu kardayen aakad ve main saindi na/ Chhadachadak teri bodi mere haath/ Meri gut tere hath/ Je tu rakhna hai rakh/ Je tu chhadna hai, chhaad

I don't eat Amritsar's papads, I don't take your attitude either. And if you have my plait in your grip, I have your top knot in my hand too. If you want to stick with me, do so or else go, take a walk. ' That is a Punjabi bibi sharply berating her philandering husband. If you thought only an urban woman could take digs at misogyny, it's time for a rethink.
Indian folk songs have a long tradition of laying on the sarcasm thick and strong. Songs sung on a range of ocassions from weddings to harvest were remarkably full of subversive stuff and allowed festive license.

Jagori activist Jaya Srivastava, who grew up in the Bundelkhand region, says that folk songs are far more blunt and funny about stating the woman's point of view. "Laughter has always been an integral part of folk culture, " she says. "And there is a lot of subversion in this humour. "

In the Bundeli song, Dil gare atta pe kay thaari, to the question 'why do you stand forlorn in your yard', the singer says the answer is neither that her husband has ignored her nor that her mother-in-law is giving her grief. It is that Maike ke yaar mohe sapte mein dikhe, khaye hilore, chhaati phate (I am dreaming of my old lover, and my heart heaves with longing). "It can't get more irreverent than that, " says Srivastava.

Many folks songs of UP, Rajasthan, Bihar and Punjab also have powerful lyrics that help women vent their angst against the saas, sasur, devar, jethani, bhabhi. They also portray the wives as bright but stuck with moronic husbands in repressive clans.

"It is temporary catharsis and then the next day they are back at doing chulha-chakki, " says Kamla Bhasin who has often used these songs, sometimes remixing them with urban messages, in her work with feminist groups.

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