Satyabhama Maske (52) is effortlessly sliding her fingers on the harmonium keys. Next to her, Uddhav Maske (30), her son, is adjusting his dholak, and Ravindra Bansode (38) is tapping on his tabla in short intermittent tukdas, tuning his rhythm instrument to match the pitch of the singer. The trio are preparing to fill the air with what is to be their 100th song in less than 24 hours.
The mehfil is on a footpath adjacent to Shivaji Park, under a tree. For the family, this is nothing new. Led by Satyabhama, the family earns its living by going across Maharashtra, only pausing to set up their stage on a footpath, a chauthara or any clear public space.
“We sing songs to spread the teachings of Babasaheb everywhere. We sing about equality, about ill-effects of alcoholism, gutka and tobacco, about the need to protect, nurture and educate the girl child. We don’t ask for any payment for our performances. We take whatever the audience is willing to put in our hand at the end of every performance,” Satyabhama says.
Being ardent followers of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, on December 6, these street singers made their way to Shivaji Park near Chaitya Bhoomi, where Dr Ambedkar’s ashes are interred, to be a part of the melee of supporters that gather here every year to pay tributes.
The Maske family’s base is a 180-square feet room in a slum at Asalfa, where they live for about 10 days a month between their wanderings. Satyabhama, originally from Nanded, started learning music when she was nine years old, after her marriage to visually impaired Dnyanoba Maske, who was himself a singer. Eight years her senior, Dnyanoba assumed the role of Satyabhama’s music guru.
“Our first show was at Jai Bhim Nagar in Nanded. Initially, it used to always be my husband and me going around putting up street shows, accompanied by my parents. But, now my husband is 60 and has physically weakened. Hence, I have involved my sons,” Satyabhama says.