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There is a saying in Hindi that thumri queen Girija Devi quotes to morosely predict the state of the regional arts of Uttar Pradesh if it were to be splintered: "Apni apni dafli, apna apna raag (loosely translatable as each to his own). " Funnily enough, it is also what the 75-year-old singer of a Bundeli folk form, alha, Lalloo Bajpayee, echoes: "Kucch nahin bachega (nothing will survive), apni apni dafli apna apna raag. "
There is a reason these veteran artistes want to keep the ragas and the daflis of the state together. The arts of Uttar Pradesh - whether classical or folk - have drawn richly from all regions. More importantly, patronage for the arts has come from the rich pockets of the state.
Filmmaker Muzaffar Ali takes the example of Avadh, rich with music, dance and craft. "Avadh is a very expansive cultural area. It goes beyond Lucknow, it borrows from Rohailkhand, Amroha, Agra, and it has a lot of Benares. The more these towns and provinces remain attached to each other the better it is for the state's composite culture. You can't reduce an entire ethos into fragments only for political compulsions;that is playing with the aspirations of the people, " he says.
Almost every cultural form of UP has taken root in one corner of the state, grown in another and found a permanent home elsewhere. Scholar Yogesh Praveen points out that kathak, which is now associated most with Lucknow, actually took root in and around the Vaishnavite temples of the region as katha, storytelling about the gods. Then the Mishra family of Handia, near Allahabad, took the art to a higher dance form and it finally found patronage in the prosperous court of Avadh. Birju Maharaj, the master of the art today, is a descendent of this clan which later also dropped roots in Benares.
"It is a better idea for the state's arts to grow under one roof. As it is, the arts are the first to suffer when there is political unrest or recession. I can't separate the kajri of Muzaffarpur from the thumri of Benares. The last thing we need is for these forms to be broken up between one state and the other and flail around again for state support, " says Girija Devi.
At the heart of the problem is the issue of patronage. There are pockets of the state that are rich with art forms but have no money;there are others that have the funds but little culture to nourish. In a united state, these inequalities tend to get evened out.
Bajpayee, for instance, specialises in alha that is distinctly Bundeli but his audiences and resources lie in and around Lucknow. He has set up an academy to teach youngsters alha in Unnao, off Lucknow, and has, in fact, set his music to the sub-dialects of that area rather than in Bundeli. "I have thousands turning up to listen to me in these parts because I sing in a mix of Kannauji, Avadhi and Baiswada - dialects that people here follow. Bundelkhand is too poor to spend time over music or dance, though I go there often to learn compositions and teach whoever is keen to sing alha, " says Bajpayee.
Yogesh Praveen, expert on Avadh's culture, says the regional inequities get balanced in a united UP. "The poverty of Poorvanchal and the weakness of Bundelkhand - you can pull a curtain over all these if we are united. This samanvay (equilibrium) will go if we split, " he says.
It could, of course, be said that smaller regions might look after their culture more zealously. In fact, they might become more conscious of their cultural identity. Asha Sarangi of the School of Social Sciences at the Jawaharlal Nehru University says that sometimes small, newly-formed states tend to become even more conscious about issues relating to ethnicity. But, she points out, UP didn't really have much of a uniform cultural identity to bind it together into a large state in the first place. "Among the four regions Mayawati proposes too, there are no great cultural unifiers. So if a split does happen it really is not going to lead to any dramatic change, " says Sarangi, who co-authored Interrogating Reorganisation of States along with another JNU scholar, Sudha Pai.
But artistes remain unconvinced that they might be better off in smaller states. Folk singer Malini Awasthi, who has been travelling all over UP collecting folk songs from any source she can find, says only a united UP can offer the kind of state and public patronage its art forms need to flourish.
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