documented by Shubhada Chari
Retold by Heta Pandit
Grinding Stories, Songs from Goa is a translation of 26 oviyos or stories sung as women turn the heavy grinding stone, breaking into spontaneous song, with lyrics that reflect traditional, folkloric themes. Here we present three of the songs.
In A SET OF GLASS BANGLES, the storyteller obliquely refers to the whole village in the context of her in-laws. When she marries a man from a certain village, it is as though she has married a whole village (of in-laws). Everyone sees the new bride as easy game. The reference to the 100 Kauravas from the epic Mahabharata is especially significant here. It is a younger brother who has sent the bride a set of glass bangles and yet, she says, her in-laws sit in judgement, as one hostile body. The reference to the set of glass bangles arranged as a fancy package - like a palanquin - indicates the love and care that a younger brother has lavished on a gift for his sister. The new bride also calls herself ‘beautiful’ to imply that she has brought not just expensive gifts with her but also her own physical beauty.
A SET OF GLASS BANGLES
I was given to the village of Poriem
Or rather, the village was given to me.
My younger brother is so loving
He sent me a set of 12 bangles
A set of 12 because I am married.
A married Poriem lady.
Now to see this set of bangles
A courtyard filled
With 100 kauravas*
Sat with great aplomb to see
What my mother had sent for me.
The evil sit to scrutinise
And compare what the last bride
In the village had received.
There was oil for the temple lamps.
There were coconuts, betelnuts, rice
There was nachni and other millets
There was horse gram, fruit and flowers
Woven in a wreath.
Look what my younger brother has done!
He has placed the set of bangles
In the middle of a decorated wreath
Just like a palkhi**
He has made a presentation
Of the bangle set
So beautiful, just like me.
*100 Kauravas, from the epic the Mahabharata, were a family of 100 members in adverse relations with their 5 cousins, the Pandavas. Here, the reference to the 100 Kauravas is used to represent the marital family when the new bride believes herself to be “under scrutiny” and in enemy territory.
** palki, a travelling sedan car used for a procession with a deity seated on a richly decorated seat under an ornamented canopy. A palkhi is almost always carried by men on their shoulders to the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments.
In UNDER THE SURYAKANTA TREE, it is the brother's turn to lament the fact that he has no sister. A suryakanta tree is also known as a camel foot tree from the family bauhinia. The tree has leaves shaped like a camel's foot, is not very tall and has sparse foliage. To be compelled to sleep under a suryakanta tree is to be left under a harsh, leafless tree that provides little shade and no comfort. Thus, a brother without a sister's home to go to, is bereft of the comforts of love, shelter and any kind of hospitality. In Goa, as in the rest of India, it is customary to address a lady as a mother or a sister. It would also be quite acceptable to consider someone a brother or a sister without being actually related. Yet, in the poem the brother tells us that he has ‘travelled the world’ and not been able to find anyone whom he might be able to address as a sister.
UNDER THE SURYAKANTA TREE
A brother without a sister is a lost cause
He has no little sister
To call him Dada, Elder Brother
He has no older sister
To call him Little Brother.
A brother without a sister
Can only sit under the suryakanta tree
I can be a brother
Of course, a brother I can be
But I don’t have a sister
O miserable is me.
I have travelled the world
Yet met no one who
Would call me Brother
I sleep in the temple courtyard
And live on half a bhakri*
Mother dear, take pity
I am living on half a bhakri
And sleeping by the suryakanta tree
For there is no home of a sister
To stay the night
Not that I can see.
If I had had a younger sister
I would have a home to stay
She would have cared for her brother
Her in-laws would have welcomed me.
When I got home the next morning
My scarf was wet with tears.
When Mother asked me
How the scarf was wet
I wept once more
I felt I had no identity.
For a sister defines a brother.
“That’s So-and-so’s brother
How fortunate is he.
Mother, you are indeed
An unfortunate creature
Just like me
For you have not given me a sister.
Someone who clearly defines me.
*bhakri, unleavened flat bread made with rice, millet or any other grain
In I CAN ONLY COME FOR THE GANESH FESTIVAL the poem is set in the market, a public place. This is especially significant to the poem. A sister, however unhappy at her marital home, will rarely express her desperation to her brother in public. Yet, in the poem she does. Despite this, the brother tells her that it is their parents who have taken the decision to marry her off into this family and that he cannot (or will not) take her back home. He also makes it quite clear that he can only come to fetch her for the Shri Ganesh Festival, an important annual event. This indicates that after the festival, she must return to her marital home, that he will not intercede on her behalf, and that he absolves himself of the responsibility of the family's choice.
I CAN ONLY COME FOR THE GANESH FESTIVAL
भयणी भावाची झाली भ्याटाभ्याट
भयण बघुनी दुका गाळी
भयणी कोणी तुका शळिईली
भयणी कोणी तुका गांजिईली
भारताराची रे माता ती
कसा घेऊ रे बंधू वईदास
कसा घेऊ रे वईदास
आई-बाबान दिली व्हड
थयसर घेऊनी भरणी बळ
सांगलल्या नी कामाची
भयणी वाडलल्या नी अन्नाची
चवथीच्या नी सणाला
मीया येईन तुला न्यायला
भयणी येईन तुला न्यायला
In the market of Sankhli
A sister met with her brother
As soon as she saw her brother
The sister began to weep.
“What’s wrong?” asked the brother
Asked her why she was weeping.
What should she tell her brother?
That there were seven members
At her in-laws
And that they all had to be served?
“They put food in my plate, brother,”
She said, “and at the same time
Give me a chore to do.”
She could not complete one task
Before the next instruction
What to do
“Mother and father have given you away,”
The brother said to his sister.
They have given you away for a reason.
Deal with it, dear sister.
There is nothing more I can do.
I can come for you, dear sister
But only for the Ganesh festival.
I can take you home, dear sister
Home just to celebrate.
Heta Pandit’s first “real job” was with famed ethologist Dr Jane Goodall on a chimpanzee research station in Tanzania, East Africa. On her return to India in 1983, Heta volunteered with an NGO and initiated several heritage preservation projects.
She has written eight books on Goan heritage - Houses of Goa, Hidden Hands - Master builders of Goa, Dust & Other Short Stories from Goa, Walking in Goa, Walking in Old Goa and Walking with Angels. Her autobiography There’s More to Life Than a House in Goa was released at the Goa Art & Literature Festival. Heta is a Homi Bhabha Fellow and a founder member of the Goa Heritage Action Group. Her Marathi to English translations have been published in Govapuri and Ferry Crossings, an anthology of Goan Short Stories.
Shubhada Chari has assisted Dr. Rajendra Kerkar, naturalist and preservation advocate over several years. Chari presently contributes a weekly column to the Marathi daily Herald. She is a poet and initiates street plays through her troupe to create environmental awareness and education. She has been awarded the 'Yuva Srujan' Award 2015 by the West Zone Cultural Centre, Udaipur, and Directorate of Art and Culture of Goa. She has also contributed articles to the daily Lokmat on eminent Goan personalities. She has presented cultural and literary programmes for Goa Doordarshan on the rich facets of Goa's folklore and culture. Chari is the author of the book Dhangar Street in the Marathi. She has played a crucial role in the collection of, and research for the book Grinding Stories, Songs from Goa.
Banner picture by Jayaseerlourdhuraj courtesy of wikipedia.