By Meher Bhatia
Musician Uttara Chousalkar and RJ Annie Arakkal Marwaha bring Moner Manush to the National Centre for the Performing Arts’ (NCPA) Experimental Theatre on Friday. Through Chousalkar’s performance, the audience will be taken on a journey through Baul folk music, and learn about Baul culture. The history and stories behind the songs will be narrated and translated by Marwaha.
The Bauls are a Bengali musical community that amalgamates elements of Hindu Bhakti movements and Sufi Islamic music to create their own form of music. They do not identify with any religious sect, and travel from city to city, living off the earnings from their performances. They represent a form of folk music, straying away from conventional norms and exemplifying mankind’s poetic relationship with God, in hopes of achieving spiritual liberation.
Chousalkar is the first Indian classical musician from Maharashtra to perform Baul music. Her performance incorporates the use of dance and multiple instruments to tell the poetic stories Baul music is focused on. She has been a classical vocalist since she was eight, and trained in Mumbai, her hometown. Her guru, vocalist Sushila Pohankar, encouraged her to research Baul music after which Chousalkar watched the performance of the famous Baul singer Parvati Baul, who is her current guru. “A person is dancing, playing music, and performing, while also jumping. This is very different for me. As I am a classical musician, I am used to sitting and performing. That attracted me to this art form the most,” says Chousalkar.
Her journey was not easy; being of Maharashtrian descent, convincing Parvati Baul to accept her as her student took time. “It took 5-7 years to convince her that I was truly dedicated to the art form. It was only in 2014 that she began teaching me. She encouraged me to translate the songs into my mother tongue, Marathi, to spread Baul culture,” recalls Chousalkar. She met Marwaha as they were neighbours. After realising their mutual love for art, music, and culture, Chousalkar shared her learnings of Baul with Marwaha. Soon after, they designed their show, Moner Manush, with the hope of taking it across India and even abroad.
The preservation of Baul music today is becoming increasingly difficult and the community is marginalised. Moner Manush does not solely present Baul music; translations by Marwaha ensure that these songs are understood by a wider audience while keeping this unique music tradition alive. All proceeds from the show go to Sanatan Siddhashram, which is a non-profit organisation in West Bengal that works to conserve Baul culture and support Baul artists.
The Moner Manush show is scheduled at 7 pm on July 29 at NCPA’s Experimental Theatre. Tickets are available on BookMyShow.