'Marenge toh manch pe marenge': Experiencing love and finding answers in Maltirao Baudh's songs

On the evening of 10 December 2018, in a small auditorium at the Vishwa Yuva Kendra in Delhi — singer Maltirao Baudh is slowly dismantling Hinduism (Hinduism as a way of life/torture — potato/potato — whatever you want to call it). Although she is singing loudly and powerfully, her words fall on my ears slowly, deliberately — perhaps because I am shaken by what she is doing — and like a sponge, I want to absorb every single thing she is saying.

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Maltirao Baudh during her performance. All images courtesy of the author.

We are at the 20th-anniversary celebrations of NCDHR (National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights) and since morning, a lot has happened — panel discussions, speeches, declarations. Everyone has spoken about revolution, politics and Ambedkar. But as Asha Zech, General Secretary of AIDMAM (All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch) observed — no revolution is as powerful as Maltirao Baudh’s voice.

She stands tall onstage. Her pink dupatta never slipping off her shoulder, even if she’s moving, dancing, gesturing — which she does very often. I like to think that this is not just the job of safety pins. Something else is at work here.

Behind her, sit three men with a harmonium, a dholak, and a banjo. Maltirao looks at them often — responding to each of their beats with a ferocious nod, and sometimes with an invitation to leave the instruments and come join her celebration.

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When she sings about Ambedkar, she sings with the pride of a mother praising her son and the abandon of a devotee waiting for many more Ambedkars to be born again and again.

Karshako toh apni wadi main woh honhar paida karo — aur rukh hawaaon ka badal do — woh ashar paida karo — agar jeena hai iss duniya main, arre insaan ki zindagi — toh har ek ghar main, ek ek Ambedkar ko paida karo

(Bring a promise into the world that can change the direction of wind — let there be one-one Ambedkar in each house if you want to live like a human being)

In another part of the same world, I imagine many men in Saffron frothing at the mouth and rolling on the floor, weeping — as Maltirao says this:

Kyunki hamare bhim ne aisa samvidhan diya hain, dharti kabhi jhukti nahi asmaan ke aage aur koyi dusra rasta nahi, samshaan ke aage. Arre aakhir ram mandir ka bhi faisla court main aagaya kyunki ram ko bhi jhukna pada samvidhaan ke aage

(Because our Bhim has given us such a constitution — where the earth will never bow down before the sky and there will be no other road beyond a graveyard. After all, even the Ayodhya verdict has been decided in court because even your Lord Ram had to bow down before our constitution)

Bhim aise ek asra hai, zaha uzhala hi uzhala kar dala — hamein jo andhere main rakhte the, unka toh mooh kala hi kala kar dala

(Bhim is a weapon who has brought light everywhere and he has blackened the faces of those who kept us in darkness before)

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You never know what you are going to get when you listen to her. The first couple of stanzas in her songs are popular Bollywood numbers – with their lyrics intact. But the next couple of stanzas offer shock, pause, and reflection – all in one line. So you’ll never know that after singing the first few lines of ‘Hume toh loot liya milke husna waalon ne’ – the next lines are going to be ‘Hume toh loot liya dekho chai wale ne’.

***

When she begins singing about Savitri Mai, her sweat becomes her tears and her tears become her sweat. All around me, men and women are removing their shawls and sweaters and clapping loudly. During Maltirao’s performance, there is no room for Dilli ki sardi (Delhi’s winter).

When Savitri Mai walked to work every morning — upper caste men and women stood with cow dung in their hands and threw it at her. She taught at a school that both she and Jotiba Phule had established for young girls despite upper-caste opposition and threats.

And with the voice of something that’s soft, like honey, and harsh like jaggery — Maltirao says that Savitrimai never bothered throwing the cow dung back at them. She didn’t even run.

She walked calmly, receiving all the cow dung. She carried an extra sari in her bag and when she reached school, she’d change and wear the other one.

After school, she changed back into the cow dung sari knowing that like every day, they would be standing, there waiting with cow dung in their hands again — almost as if they didn’t move all day, almost as if the only point to their entire lives was holding cow dung in their hands, and waiting for Savitri Mai to return from work.

There is no word in the English language to explain how my body responded to this story. This story was like a slap, a punch, a seizure. It was an answer, a solution that Maltirao dropped heavily on my lap, like a sack of onions, and I caught it. I caught it and I am never letting it go.

Indeed how much time do I, and those like me, spend every day in defending our work against attacks? Sometimes it feels like all we ever actually do is defend our work. And if you are a DBA man or woman in academia today — it’s all you end up doing. Defending your writing, defending your classes, defending reservation, defending your course, defending your department and defending yourself. Against whom? Not important. Wait while I change my sari.

It never occurred to me that walking quietly and carrying an extra sari is the solution. The answer need not be taking the cow dung and throwing it back and getting late to work. The answer could simply be walking away. The answer could be loving oneself just a little more than hating others.

Watching Maltirao perform on stage is an experience in love. If Hannah Gadsby makes comedy confront anger, Maltirao makes anger confront love.

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***

Next morning, at a writing workshop that I am conducting for the Dalit women activists of AIDMAM, Maltirao Baudh tells us that she works as a midwife in Ambedkar colony, Ghaziabad. She has been suspended at least 12 times and right-wing goons have tried to kill her at least four times. The last time this happened, the bullet passed by her ear and wounded her husband who was hospitalised for months.

We have to prod her to tell us about the first three times she was shot at, even though Maltirao dismisses it as ‘kuch nahi hua’ (nothing happened).

Apparently, the first two times happened in the middle of her performance and she had to be rushed backstage. The third time, the goons arrived at her house and waited for her to get out of the car. But they were in a hurry to kill her and began firing at the car. They emptied all their bullets which, much like the historical cow dung — fell about lifelessly, and Maltirao survived.

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Maltirao Baudh

Someone asks her about why she was suspended and she tells us about the Panditjis in Ghaziabad who hate her and her guts. They keep preventing her from working. The last time this happened, she chased a Panditji down the road, held him by the collar and slapped him.

"Patak patak ke maara," she says showing us pictures of this spectacle on her phone. All of us clapped and howled madly.

***
Aapko dar nahi lagta? (Aren’t you afraid?)

Arre dar kis baat ka? Marenge toh manch pe marenge — gaana gaate gaate (Why fear? If I die, I’ll die on stage — singing”.

I am curious about her response to the Savarna audience who watch her perform. The ones who make faces and sulk, the ones who think they know better and don’t use either guns or cow dung to attack.

She says "Mujhe yeh doubt hain dil main, ki aise log humse bohat darte hain (Somewhere in my heart, I have a doubt that these people are very afraid of us)".

So what do we do? How to deal with them?

Apne shabdon se maaron unko (Kill them with your words)".

So many answers.

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Updated Date: Dec 22, 2018 14:31:16 IST

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