Kashmir: Interview with Pather Artist Ghulam Ali Majboor
Director: Pankaj Rishi Kumar
Duration: 00:34:21; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 18.551; Saturation: 0.184; Lightness: 0.251; Volume: 0.131; Cuts per Minute: 6.927; Words per Minute: 110.602
Summary: Kashmir, the conflict torn land at the border between Pakistan and India have been at the centre of various power wars between states, between peoples, between religious fundamentalists and between conflicting representations. The main casualty of this decades old wars is the syncretic culture of Kashmir. For the rest of India, and most probably for the rest of Pakistan too, the people of Kashmir is only to be seen and then imagined through various and contradictory representations. In order to counter this we have tried to create a small reservoir of non-hegemonic images from Kashmir in our digital media archive Godaam. Unedited footage from documentary films, published and unpublished photos from newspaper offices, images from the local photo studios, works of contemporary artists, people's private memoirs and image collections etc are part of the collection. This event is part of that collection. The interview is of an artist of Bhand Pather, the celebrated and one of the oldest folk theatre forms in the subcontinent.
"Understanding why the survival of Kashmir's folk theatre is imperative requires an engagement with its history. Performers of the Bhand Pather, who are often also custodians of classical Sufiana music, date the origins of their traditions to the 8th century AD. From this time to the 15th century AD, Kashmir saw a dramatic development of its performing arts traditions. "Each village had a stage of its own where dramatic performances were held". These traditions were consolidated and expanded with the coming of Muslim rule in 1339. In fact, the courts attracted musicians and dancers from as far as Kabul, Lahore, Delhi, Samarkand, Tashkent and Persia. Bhand Pather emerged from the high traditions of these courts, but took a unique course. Each Pather typically had two layers of narrative meaning. The first was expressly secular, using farce and satire to assault the powerful. Typically, the character of the peasant would be pitted against the feudal elite. In the Dard Pather, for example, the peasant characters contrive to seduce the wives of the oppressive ruler, who is drunk on liquor. Each performance would have explicit contemporary significance, with Maskare
(clowns) irreverently exposing the pretensions of policemen and patwaris; priests and politicians. One performance of the Haanz Pather contained references to politicians who built roads that led only to each others homes. The Maskare in a rendition of the Dard
Pather, might joke about a village mullah who tries to loot pilgrims wishing to go to Mecca by building a fake Kaaba in his backyard. At a larger level, the Pathers dealt with mystical themes: the relationship between individuals and their Pirs, and between human beings and god.
Each Pather begins with a prayer for the well being of the community and its crops, and village tradition has it that divine blessings asked for by a Bhand are never refused. "Rich families from as far away as Lahore, Delhi, Rawalpindi and Kabul used to invite us to perform at weddings during the winter", recalls Ghulam Hassan Bhagat, "and in the summer, villagers used to give us a share of the crop for performing at fairs, and on holy days at Sufi Ziarats and Dargahs". Before India,s Independence, Bhand theatres had managed to make a living from cash patronage from the court elite, and support from the rural community. After independence, this network of patronage vanished. "People who received land through Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah's reforms", he says, "began to think
of us as beggars". "They were in search of social respectability, and some of the more coarse kinds of humour which had entered Bhand Pather during the period of Dogra rule led many to disassociate themselves from what they thought was a vulgar form". Akingam's small Bhagat community illustrates the crisis in the traditions of Kashmiri folk theatre. Like other communities of Bhands, the Akingam Bhagats are desperately poor. Unlike other social groupings in Kashmir, they did not benefit from post - Independence land reform, and historically depended for their survival on patronage for their art. Low in the caste hierarchy of rural Kashmir, most young people in the community have been forced into no - future jobs like peddling pots and pans to make up for the death of income from performing. "People look down on us", says Ghulam Rasool Bhagat, one of the leading figures in Akingam's famous Bhagat Theatre, and son of one of Bhand Pather's best known exponents, Mohammad Subhan Bhagat (see event titles 'Bhand Pather Artists Subhan Bhagat and Mahjoor Bhagat' in this site). "Younger people are very conscious of the fact that others will not give their daughters to us in marriage because we are performers, and more and more look to government jobs in the cities as a way to escape from their roots". Folk theatre survived these new times, but only just. Minimal state support came in the early 1950s. in the form of a monthly grant of Rs. 50 (1$) per person, which was revised to Rs. 200 (4$) a decade later. The Jammu and Kashmir Cultural Academy continues to give annual grants of Rs. 9,500 (200$) for musical instruments and costumes". Pankaj Rishikumar
A modest brick house in a village lane. Two dogs bark their lungs out at the shooting crew. Two men carry sacks, which seem full of grains, into the house. The woman of the house and the children appear. Everybody wearing traditional winter clothes, firang.
Pankaj Rishikumar (PRK): Ghulam Saab isn't in?
Man 1: He will come soon. (he talks to the woman in Kashmiri and confirms) He will come soon. Come, sit inside...
PRK: All right. We shall wait.
Handheld ambience shots of the room. A modest cement room with a few objects - an old huckka next to the open window, traditional cane flower baskets, unfinished building outside the window, written scripts, an old radio... The protagonist Ghulam Ali Majboor enters off camera, exchange of greetings...
Ghulam Ali Majboor is an artist of Bhand Pather tradition, the syncretic folk theatre of Kashmir. Ghulam. He discusses his current project to make a 13 episode television series on Pather for Doordarshan - the national television channel.
'Dastan' means stories. 'Dastan goi' is a popular oral story telling tradition. It was originated from Persian oral fiction tradition. By the 18th century, dastan narrators had become an essential entertainment in courts and palaces of India where the court language was Persian. Later it became a local Persian-Urdu tradition. By the early 20th century the popularity of bioscope and influence of various social reformist movements slowly erase the practice of Dastan goi. Presently Mahmood Farooqi and Danish Hussian in Delhi have revived the form and texts of Dastan goi and have been performing to small but appreciative audience.
Laila Majnu is a popular folk lore about a doomed love.
The conversation in Ghulam Ali Majboor's house takes place in a relaxed atmosphere between munching of snacks and huckka smoking. The smoke from the huckka flows through the frame creating a kind of cinematic effect.
Ghulam Ali Majboor: (camera catches the conversation abruptly) A handkerchief and an Arabic turban on the head.
PRK: I just wear the traditional costume with a collar and it looks quite funny with just that as well.
G. A. Majboor: Here we have to bring in something that makes people feel that they had done something. Here we have a famous story teller, a dastan-goi, who has told the story of Laila Majnu many times on radio. There is a part where one character insists that Ismail Mir be called. The other person says "No, he has done that one so many times and he drags every episode so much so that our beards will lengthen yet his story will remain unfinished. No, no no".
In another part - 'What's this? Each village has 3-4 schools, but there is no furniture, no facilities.' The teacher too forbids him from speaking. 'Quiet!' But he protests, 'Time and again when I have tried to speak I have been forced to shut up.' So the teacher says, 'Alright, go on. Tell us what the matter is!' Then he says what do we have in the school, why will anyone come here? Children don't come to our school any more; they don't go to government schools. What are the reasons for this...
PRK: So these are the issues that will be addressed in the serial, is it?
G. A. Majboor: Yes, in the serial there is a section on the school. Then he, the teacher, writes a few words on the board and Majnu changes them. When the teacher writes 'mehnat' (labour) he changes it to 'mohobbat' (love). If you alter the nukhta, it becomes 'mohobaat'. So when the teacher writes 'ala', majnu alters it to Laila, when he writes 'mamnoon' this guy changes it to 'majhnun', in that way.
PRK: So in this way things that were affecting the national bhand theater are shown in your serial?
G. A. Majboor: We have tried.
Mid shot of Ghulam smoking Huckka. He takes time before answering the question and takes a deep drag of tobacco.
Folk arts- theatre, literature, music, craft - are essentially related to the cycle of nature and related rituals. It can be centred around harvest or fishing or rain or change of climate or even metaphoric fertility and cycle of birth and death etc. Ghulam Majboor relates the tradition of story telling and music with the harsh winter of the Himlayan land. Laila-Majnu are characters of popular oral literature. They are iconic characters in popular memory. Laila and Majnu stand for the vigour of their commitments and for withstanding all sorts of pressure from the status-quoist society. Heemal-Naigrai is a play written by eminent playwright and theatre pedagogue of Kashmir M L Kemu. He is much revered in Kashmir for revitalizing the folk culture through his work in Culture academy. He reinvented Bhand Pather form by providing support and guidance to Subham Bhagat, the renaissance character of Bhand Pather.
Sultan Zain-ul-Abideen ruled in 1420-70. He was very popular Badshah and known to be a great patron of Pather. He is fondly referred by the Kashmiri as Badshah - though there were many Badshahs and kings today the title is used only in reference to him.
PRK:You have tried to bring out the daily life?
G. A. Majboor: This is the story of today.
Second Person: It is the story of two pather traditions. They have always had this tradition.
PRK: So, do you want do give any message in your serial? At the end of the 13 episodes what message do you want to give to your audience?
Ghulam Ali Majboor: We are giving the message to the audience, that by reminding them of Laila-Majnu, Heemal-Naigrai, when we used to sit together in the winters. During severe winters when it was extremely harsh, when almonds blossomed on the trees the first thing that we did was say stories, legends, used to play musical instruments and dance. One, we are reminding them that we are losing all this, it's eroding. Our Heemal is no longer the same, what has happened to our Majnu! What has become of our cultural heritage? That is the main thing I want to bring to their notice.
PRK: Is this the first serial of its kind being shot here?
G. A. Majboor: Yes. Kashmir's first. I had once given an idea to a Producer at Doordarshan. We have had a very famous, very popular king Zain-ul-abideen Badshah. So I had told him that I will write a script, I will bring the king back to life. He will see what is happening today. But he did not like the idea. But see the co-incidence....
(conversation appears to have been truncated)
m l kemu
Ghulam and his friend (in between smoking and coughing smokers' caugh) equate the pollution of nature with the corruption in the society. 'Aangan Wadi' is a government scheme for free pre-school education with mid day meals. Like many such schemes the project is infested with instances of misuse of government aid. Ghulam wants all these contemporary issues to be part of his adaptation of Pather tradition for television. Pather plays are known for its sharp satire of political and social situations. But with the govt. officials in Doordarshan commissioning rigid issue based scripts this adaptation of Pather runs the danger of loosing its autonomous humour and independent politics.
The river Jhelum was called Vitasta by the Rigvedic tribes in the Vedic period and Hydaspes by the ancient Greeks. The Vitasta is mentioned as one of the major rivers in the Indo-Aryans scripture, the Rigveda. The name survives in Kashmiri as Vyath. In 326 BC the Greek king Alexander the Great crossed the river and invaded by defeating King Porus. The river, in some sense, is metaphoric as it flows through the borders of India and Pakistan. It rises from a spring at Verinag situated at the foot of the Pir Panjal in the south-eastern part of the valley of Kashmir and it flows W through the Vale of Kashmir, S through Pakistan-Kashmir, then SW across Punjab to the Chenab River. It has inspired many literary and art texts in Kashmiri, Punjabi and Urdu on both sides of the border.
But the contemporary Jhelum is also infested with the complex and inter-mingled issues of urban planning, migration, housing, enviorment, real estate, access etc.
(again discussion captured from the middle)
G. A. Majboor: And pollution to add to that. A lot of pollution has happened. Every sort of pollution, even the pollution of minds, pollution of souls and the pollution of land. And even religious also. Everything has been polluted. In Heemal Naigrai case I am talking about the same pollution. See what has happened. So that is the reason why I want to make it into an 'aangan wadi' worker. So that whatever flour, dal he gets he feeds it to his children only, he does not eat it up himself. Last year when there was a raid in Kupwara, all the 'aangan wadi' dal was seen being sold in markets. Thousands of dozens... oil, and grams, 20-30 quintals of chick-peas were all were seized from the market. Such news appeared in the newspapers, over radio. So such are the things. Wherever there was a river I remember my childhood. There is a book, The valley of Kashmir, Sir Walter Lawrence has written it. If you read it, it has a chapter called 'The Village'. How beautiful that village is! And it reminds me of a village which was there about forty years ago because I am about 50 right now and up to the age of 8-10 years you cannot remember much. But some 40 years back that is how our village was. This dirty drain that you saw over here, it was such a beautiful river before. During spring flowers used to blossom on both the banks during Spring, grass also used to grow...
Second Person: He writes at one point about the 'Vyath', you know Jhelum. There was an entire day devoted to its celebration. 'Vyathadin', Vyatastha. 'Vyathathruam'... a mat used to be made out of grass, oil lamps, made out of mud. They used to be filled with oil and set afloat, burning lamps used to be kept on it. Bhands were performing during this period; this used to happen in 1100s. They have written that from both the banks of Vyatasta (Jhelum) you could hear the sound of laughter. It used to be such a moment that anyone who saw this would be awe struck, 'What's this happening!' But now they have dirtied the same river. It is no longer the same, it has become dirty.
G. A. Majboor: It was mentioned in the newspaper few days back that the government has abandoned the thought of cleaning up the river because so many lakhs of people are settling on the banks of Jhelum. So their entire waste is disposed in the river itself. And this was some 150- 200 years ago.
alexander the great
sir walter lawrence
the valley of kashmir
G. A. Majboor:The right direction is that where its tradition lies. That is to go in public and perform the pather (the play). But do you know that there are some 25-30 artists associated with me, and I have to see to it that they earn. So I have done this for them. Otherwise, I am not claiming that it has anything to do with that 'form'. I don't know what is going to become of it (this form) by the time it reaches Doordarshan (national television channel). So I am not claiming that I am doing any of this as a service to 'Pather'. Yes, to some extent it will help the artists, but it won't be of any help to the form even though, yes it is a folk form.
But the true use of the form is that, it is done for the people, it is shown in public. Like how I had done last year in Tagore Hall, or some other plays that we had performed, those were 'pathar'. They were written so that they can be performed in full public. In that way full justice is done to the form. So I don't think... in Doordarshan, they must have some issues, so that will also have to be considered. Even though it does not do justice enough to the form. So that is the case.
PRK: but you are already associated with t.v. and radio.........
G. A. Majboor: Yes.
PRK: And these are the mediums of 21st century to reach out to the public...
G. A. Majboor: Yes.
PRK: So this serial could be your positive step also?
G. A. Majboor: That is true because it is important to move with the new trends. So it is not good either to keep sitting thinking fate will change things. So we have to do something..... This is the start, so let's see now. We have done only the script so far. So once we start we will know, then it will all depend on the audience.... What will they say to it. Now how do I praise my own work. But till now whatever I have done with my theater group, that has been good. That is the reason why this got approved. If I had not done those good programmes in the first place, this would not have got approved.
Ghulam ali Majboor is going through the typical dilemma of a traditional artist. Adapting to new forms of communication and entertainment is often considered as a compromise or even betrayal to the traditional form. Having agreed to adapt 'Pather' plays for the television he is suffering his share of remorse. His defense is that it had to be done for the survival of his team members. He is not even considering it as a strategy for the survival of the form itself. Often such initiatives are appreciated much later as path breaking or even as visionary, long after the protagonist of it had suffered and gone. But the purist and classicalist in us prevent us from appreciating such attempt immediately. Theatre to cinema, celluloid to video, classical music to pop, Sanskrit to spoken language in literature... there are ample examples at various stages in history.
Yet when this modest artist mildly reminds us of his previous works as a proof of his validity to take up the new task of adaptation, he looks extremely vulnerable. At the end of the sentence he looks down... the humility of such an exercise makes him appear fragile. The question is who is in-charge of validating him - some government official sitting in New Delhi without the slightest idea of the discipline. Is such humiliation an universal phenomena in the lives of artists who are compelled to find patronage - from the state, from religious and social institutions, from political outfits, from philanthropic establishment and from corporate houses?
Ghulam is much more critical about the role of the state government in Jammu & Kashmir than the central government in Delhi in the context of patronage to art and culture. He also talks about the government's priority - how culture, specially folk arts were never part of their agenda. In the post independence days, the nation making exercises have never included the non-mainstream artists in their fold. And now when some small efforts have been initiated many forms and expressions and even languages have become extinct. How true it is! Till today India does not have a ministry for culture. It is dealt by the human resource development ministry or the ministry of information and broadcasting or Youth affairs and sports etc. But the fact is that the little patronage that is being offered to the Kashmiri arts and crafts is actually part of the Indian government's political attempt to defuse the successionist movement in the valley. Many other fringe regions, such as North-East, do not even enjoy this much attention.
PRK: Ok, tell me one thing...
G. A. Majboor: Yes,
PRK: In the last 40 years whatever happened with this community....
G. A. Majboor:Yes,
PRK: Now such a phase has come for the community that, I would say you are battling circumstances, in a way..
G. A. Majboor: Yes.
PRK: You are yourself saying that this should not happen with this community, like how you told me about those one and half hour 'pather' have to be squeezed into half an hour for Doordarshan ...
G. A. Majboor:Yes
PRK: Means, a Ramayan that will take 10 days, how will you do it in 30 min?
PRK: Yes, that is the case.
What do you think will be the fate of this form in the future?
G. A. Majboor: I had become hopeless about this form, about some 4-5 years back. But now I have some hope, because now our governments attention is brought to this matter.
PRK: The Central (Markaji?) government?
G. A. Majboor:Yes, that Markaji government. The state government is still neglecting this issue. The facilities that are given to us today, if it were given some 20 years back then this form would not have died this way. That time the man who was the leader of our form... Soon after 47, when we got independence in 1947, the government undertook huge projects like electricity , education etc. their attention was not drawn to our folk culture, like how today it is towards tribal and folk art, which needed to be revived. Only if they had thought about it after 47, in 50 or 55 or in the 60s. This thought struck them later when a lot of things were lost. When we lost lot of it, the government thought about it. In the state government there is no department for this. Yes, but the human resource department of the Indian government, only they have provided everything that is here in our theater group - be it property, or costumes or whatever we have done. Whatever little bit we have taught our children is with their financial assistance. This state has done nothing about it.
kashmiri arts and crafts
Ghulam gets animated in this part - the mention of the detail of the production makes him vocal and articulate. Culture academy of Kashmir was founded in 1958. In late '60s and '70s under the leadership of M L Kemu, the maverick Kashmiri playwright, teacher, dancer and reformer; the Academy played a major role in reinventing the degenerated Bhand Pather. But under the current political turmoil and large scale public space violence the Culture Academy, as well as many other academic, cultural and social institutions in the valley have practically become insignificant and redundant. Specially the Islamic fundamentalist outfits condemn cultural and entertainment activities as un-Islamic. Earlier the people of Kashmir had never allowed them to take over the social space. Religious fundamentalism, both Islamic and Hindu kinds, had no space in the syncretic culture of Kashmir. But since early '90s various citizenship issues took complex turns and the Islamic fundamentalists maneuvered to occupy the social space in the syncretic Kashmiri society. The Government of India, its army and the Hindu fundamentalist agencies made things much worse by their rhetoric, high handed policies and counter violence. The arts and crafts of Kashmir became the worst hit. Bhand Pather, being the form of social satire, was silenced. Ghulam mentions the issue of security very cautiously and almost in the passing - which is symptomatic of the situation.
PRK: The fund that you get through government or through Doordarshan, for performing dramas, does is suffice the needs to run 'pathar'?
G. A. Majboor: How will it be sufficient? Last time a student of mine was told this by I guess someone from the press. Let me tell you, the government of India, the human resource development (ministry), now has a new name, department of youth affairs and.... it is called something like that. Department of youth affairs and?
PRK: Yes, youth affairs.
Youth affairs and?
SECOND PERSON: Culture.
G. A. Majboor:Yes, culture. Department of culture.
SECOND PERSON: Sports.
G. A. Majboor: And sports.
Department of youth affairs and sports, it is basically a department of culture. They give us financial assistance or our culture academy gives us financial assistance. We submit one project to the government saying that we want to perform this particular 'pather', we want to revive it. So they give us everything for it. For making costumes, for directors cut, for script royalty. So from this the artists get a little refreshments. Now the play is ready. But no one thinks that we have made a play, now where do we go and perform it? We want to earn through it. It is necessary to get a livelihood. So where do we perform? Here the circumstances are not such that we go amidst public. There is no security anywhere. On the other hand our politicians have a lot people moving to and fro with them for security. But haw can we perform like this? We have a lot of stuff to sell but there isn't any buyer!
Second Person: This is the apt term today -that we have enough material to sell but the buyers that are needed are not there. The TV people know that every year we come up with one production. But they reject us. Here on TV Pather plays run only for a month and there are 25 registered folk theaters here.
G. A. Majboor: That also hasn't happened since 2-3 years.
Second Person: It has not happened since 2-3 years...
We have prepared, the production is ready - now lets see what they do about it.
govt. of india
human resource development
Now if they call us from other places like Sangeet Natak Academy from Delhi, then only we can perform. Even they try from their end. Or in NSD (National School of Drama) people, this year the NSD people had also called for demonstration. We participated in the Children's theatre. Umm... earlier those North Zone people (Govt. of India has four Zonal cultural centres in the country to nurture the local forms) used to do, but now they don't anymore. They don't do anything.
G. A. Majboor: They don't have money.
Second Person:They don't have money.
G. A. Majboor: Now see we have our cultural academy in the state. Their fee structure is the same as that when the academy was first started. They give Rs.3500 for a play. Now whether we do it at Gulmarg or go to Pehalgaum to perform, we get paid Rs.3500, lump sum. And if you have to go about 20-25 kms. From here to perform then we have to hire a car for 25 people. So Rs.1000 will be charged by the contractor of the vehicle. 1000 for the minimum distance traveled. By the way 1000 is too less ye don't get a vehicle for less than 1500. Then you see what we can do. We get 2 performances a year. Now what can be done about it? So your department saw what was happening, the department which is concerned like the culture academy or the department of culture, run by the Indian government. They know... the people sitting there are highly knowledgeable. They know about theater, they have full knowledge about stage. This play that we do is an hour and half to two hours long. Now when we take this same play to the Doordarshan people, they say no sir. Our chunk is 20 minutes long. Try and fit it in that span. In such a case it gets completely changed. It no longer is a 'pather' in any sense. It is not. When a crow behaves like a swan then it no longer remains a crow, but does not become a swan either (laughts). So this is the issue.
The folk theatre whose survival completely depends on its rootedness is now completely depended on invited shows from other places. Little patronage that comes through might help them in surviving physically but without the interaction with the local audience such theatre cannot grow. This is how the spontaneous and localized arts slowly get museum-ised. Or a truncated version survives on the television. The second catch is in the television politics. Doordarshan is the national channel and run by an autonomous unit of the Ministry of information and broadcast. This channel need not make profit or even break even as it is a public sector. But as every public sector in the country is being surrendered to the private sector, Doordarshan is just counting its days. With the private satellite channels programme like Bhand Pather does not even stand a remotest chance. Today Ghulam Ali Majboor and his team is depressed as they think they are compromising their art in order to be in Doordarshan. But soon there will be no offer to compromise either. On the other hand, the absence of interaction with the audience; inability to write, perform and comment fearlessly; the forced invisibility and so on will take a toll on the discipline itself - rendering it off-sync with time. It is almost a no-win situation.
national school of drama
north zone cultural centre
sangeet natak academy
Ghulam actually talks about a feudal system in pre-market era when a price was calculated only in exchange of grains. Folk arts belong to that time when the artists learnt it as a part of family or community vocation. The knowledge earned through generations of practice was imparted to the young member as a matter of essential tools of survival and also as the essential livelihood. The 'gurukul' system is also part of that structure where a disciple was taught in exchange of services. In the post industrial-era how does such art form survive? With the time the concept of services and compensation for it has changed. But no adequate policy has been developed for the non-institutionalized forms of performances and art practices. Only the government could help such situation if it was alert towards this phenomena at the beginning of the present nation-state formation. With the loss of social ecology related to feudal structure these artists need a new concept of patronage - as these forms cannot compete with the homogenizing outreach of the reproducible and thus marketable forms such as cinema, television etc.
PRK: The 'Aishmukh amm' 9the play) that we saw - 'bhand' (players) had come there, local 'bhand', from Akhin village,.....
G. A. Majboor:Yes yes
PRK: next to that Ainu village, near Vaishnu village.
G. A. Majboor: Yes its close to that.
PRK:They had performed there, for nearly 4-5 hours.
G. A. Majboor: Yes.
PRK:The entire village had gathered.
G. A. Majboor:Yes.
PRK:So we felt, we had a glimpse of how traditional and folk the 'pathar' was.
G. A. Majboor:How powerful it is!
PRK: And how it is in some way connected to folk dance.
G. A. Majboor:To folk dance.
PRK: But then this question also popped up in our head, on one hand we are talking about earning to make a living and on the other hand, the status of the bhands may have changed.
G. A. Majboor:Yes.
PRK:So like your....umm..... your son who performs. So would he like if he performs like this and he gets wheat and rice and he roams about with a cloth...
Second Person: Roams with a bed sheet.
PRK: With a bed sheet and then people put money in it? Would the youngsters like it?
G. A. Majboor:Yes.... They would not like it. Why should they like it? See, this tradition is of the time when land belonged to land lords. That time common man had nothing to give. Then, at that time you hired a teacher to teach your children, they were also given grains. Upto this day, a barber gets paid food grains, even carpenter, even iron smith. But this work that we do after independence, (government) departments were made for it. Now entertainment is taken up by Doordarshan and radio. Cultural academy is made for this reason. So, it is their job that they hand it over to the people. It is no longer our job. Because now there are schools. Children are admitted in schools and fees are given for it. So now it is not possible that the teacher comes to your house and says that yes, I will teach your kid. Such a thing is not possible in today's age. It is government's responsibility to think about it. There is a department for this. If we ourselves go to people to prove our existence, and then what's the use of such a department. The fact that they are sitting there, getting fat salaries, and building government buildings, what is all that for? So then you invest all that money in us and see what we can do. We can bring about a cultural revolution. But in this age where there are trains, buses, aero planes so no one will wish to travel by foot only because that is their tradition. My grand father used to travel all the way upto Srinagar by foot. So I should I also do the same? Or to Delhi or Jammu. So this is also a similar case. It is the job of the departments. Now if we go, you must have seen, even in Srinagar let me tell you, I had done a programme last year for CPC. We did the shooting in Srinagar, a neighbourhood in Srinagar. Two years back. Producers too had come, they were also from Kashmir. So when we performed. We had not even changed the costume, and the tea came in about 12-13 samovars. People know how they should treat us. They know that they should feed us, give us tea and water. So today's generation, it is but natural that they will feel (if not treated well)... as if they are beggars. So such departments that work here, about ten years from now, they used to conduct tours. Culture academy used to have tours - there was a cultural unit in the information - they too conducted tours. So they used to go from village to village. No food was carried then...
Artists were working there. But they never used to carry food around with them. They used to cook. Whichever village they went to they used to perform there, so the villagers used to feed them. But still there is a lot of difference between this and that. So this is the case.
PRK: No tell me one thing, that.....
..... I wish that you live for 150 years. Both of us know that no ones life span is that long in today's age.
What do you think is the fate of this form 30 years down the line?
G. A. Majboor: As far as I can see, I have written this and cultural department has even published this. I don't think this form will last for more than 15- 20 years. Within 15- 20 years this will get totally destroyed. Because no young boy is learning 'surnai' these days, they don't learn 'dhol'. It is a very depressing thing. Surnai is very difficult to learn and it is time consuming. It needs a lot of patience. Everyone's learning acting because it is the age of Doordarshan, they are influenced by films. So they feel that if they learn a little acting, then they can act in some Doordarshan serial. If they know a little bit of dance then it will help them somewhere or the other. They feel what they will do by learning surnai. But surnai is the background music needed to perform 'pather', to add to that 'pather' has some 'vaads'. It has high pitched 'bandhetar' (?) tunes. If the surnai only is no longer there, then 50% is as it is gone. Then even if you want to do a 'pathar', or I, or my kids, then what will be the background score? Because surnai in a Pathar is like life in a body. When there is no life left in the body then what use of such a body? What is the meaning?
Surnai is a folk wind instrument with double reed, representing trumpet. Surnai is made of apricot or mulberry wood, or cooper. Cane itself represent flattened stalk. Surnai sound is very harsh, high pitched and nasal. It is also used to call people for the meetings or some ceremonies. Sometimes Surnai used in war instrumental ensembles. playing surnai require large physical effort. Surnai can be seen in the Kyrgyzstan region too.
Like all folk forms and rituals Pather is related to the harvest cycle. The whole community traveled in the harvest season and made new productions in the winter. Nature, food growing, entertainment, skill learning, livelihood, community collective... all were related and inter-dependant.
Ghulam ali Majboor lits a cigarette and shakes his head in despair.
PRK: What brings out life in a 'Pather'?
G. A. Majboor: What brings life is dedication from childhood. Our ancestors, my father, grand father, they used to learn right from childhood. It is a tradition here, the 'bhand' here, there are about 80 villages here - of the Bhands, in Kashmir. Every village has an intellect (mahaguni). Every intellectual person had an designated area which the king had marked. In the days of the king, the 'bhand' was tax free. They didn't have to pay any tax. Their job is to entertain people. They used to perform starting from when seeds are sown upto the harvest time. They traveled village to village to perform and in return got food, clothes and some money. That day people did not have money, but if there was a rich person, he even gave money. They used to take grains from the people for entertaining them for 2 months. Now that is not the case, so why should we go around asking for grains! Surely they used to take kids also with them. When they went on tours there were 100 year old men also and a 6 year old kid too. So that is when the training started for the kid. Till the age of 10 he just sits and watches the 'pather' being performed. But after that they were given entry in the plays and were asked to do something or the other. In this way a child learnt on his own, automatically. In the winters, when it snowed, classes were held, and training was imparted for surnai, dance, singing. They were taught as to what is beat, what speed, what tune, which instrument should be played when etc. These things no longer exist. Kids go to school, and those whose kids don't, they expect their kids to start earning. Someone makes carpets, some are in the market, as you must have seen how much has child labor increased. So now when a fully grown man attempts to learn surmai, he barely manages it. Because there is a period when a child can learn, if that is gone, then...... (Nods his head), then it is possible with a lot of difficulty.