The Exotic Nautch Girl


I first saw a nautch girl (dancer) when I was a little girl. We were at our mother’s village to attend a wedding and the nautch girl was standing in front of the community guest house.

She was ordinary looking but had a pleasant form. What made her special was the buzz surrounding her! Ladies were throwing scrutinizing glances at her while gents were checking her out through the corner of their eyes. Old ladies were chatting about beautiful baijis (another name for nautch girl) of their time. The arrival of the nautch girl had made the calm village a little noisy. She was considered a public woman, a fallen woman and everyone wanted to have a good look at her. But for me, she was exotic!


One of my relatives chided me for peeping at her. “She is not a good lady. Stay away from her. She is a nachaniya (another name for nautch girl). She dances and entertains the male crowd. Nice girls never go near her.” Her words made me all the more curious. And throughout the day, I kept a watch over the dancer through the window.

In the evening, I saw her washing her face and getting ready for the dance. We heard that groom and the baraat (group) had been received and were resting in the tents. I couldn’t wait to see her dance.

Well, at the auspicious time, the groom arrived with pomp and splendour. The nautch girl began to perform a welcome dance in front of the group. She had whiten her face, stained her teeth with betel and put on a lot of make up. Under bright lights, she looked younger than she actually was. The ladies watched the welcoming of the groom from the terrace while gents stood around her in a circle. Some young baraatis threw money at her which she pocketed fliratatiously.


I watched from above while she danced on and on…on that magical night. I forgot all about the wedding but her forbidden persona stayed with me.

It was later in life that I learnt more about the likes of her. I had almost forgotten about my exotic nautch girl when I came across this quote by James Forbes (Oriental Memoirs 1813)-

“Nautch girls are extremely delicate in their person, soft and regular in their features, with a form of perfect symmetry, and although dedicated from infancy to this profession, they in general preserve a decency and modesty in their demeanor, which is more likely to allure than the shameless effrontery of similar characters in other countries.”

I learnt that possibly my nautch girl was a crude and jaded version of the former nautch girls, who were superior in art and bearing. With time, during family functions, nautch girls got replaced by choreographed dancers.  And now we have DJs playing songs at every wedding.

Earlier, they were a prominent part of Indian life and culture during the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. They were mostly teenage girls, who typically performed in Mughal courts, the palaces of nawabs, the mahals of rajas, the bungalows of officers of the British Raj, the houses of zamindars as well as at ordinary homes wherever they were invited. Sometimes they arrived with their troupe without any invitation to a celebration and patrons were expected to pay them. They would break into an impromptu dance whenever situation demanded.

It should be kept in mind that they were not into flesh trade and their husbands accompanied them as one of the musicians. Their dance forms were an amalgam of prevalent dance forms of India at that time.


As royalty faded, the tradition of nautch lost its lustre. Some of them joined films and theatre. They have been widely portrayed in films too. The prominent ones among them were Shashimukhi from Chitpur and Phanibala. Shashimukhi was the first recorded artist of India. She went on to become the tragedy queen of Bengal theatre. 

Further on, nautch girls lost their dignity and came to be seen primarily as sex workers. That is why my concerned relative had admonished me – “Nice girls never go near them”.

I do not know whether the nautch forms are still alive in some corner of India or not but I cannot help remembering that particular  nautch girl, who had looked so divine to me! I had followed her almost like a fan adores a film star. I had enjoyed her playfulness and dance moves. I did not know then that I was witnessing a fading tradition…

Images courtesy Google

The Poetry of Earth is not dead yet!

As we drove into the gorgeous Arboretum, one of the top visitor attractions of Minnesota, US, my heart skipped a beat. It was a beautiful sunny day to explore gardens, sculptures, woodlands, walkways and trails. 


Smell, touch, feel, sights and sounds of nature filled our senses as all shades of green interspersed with colours dominated the landscape. Minnesota is more than glorious in Summers after savage and challenging winters, it is stunning!


Such sublime sights always inspires poetry in a lover of literature. Therefore, I couldn’t help chanting some famous lines by great nature poets.

Do check out the pictures, dear confidantes, and may be you can recite the poetic lines too…


When I see birches bend to left and right Across the lines of straighter darker trees, I like to think some boy’s been swinging down…. Robert Frost


Tall and erect, with tempting clusters hung, A virgin scene!–A little while I stood… William Wordsworth


Never mind silent fields— Here is a little forest, Whose leaf is ever green; Here is a brighter garden, Where not a frost has been… Emily Dickinson


Yet, if you enter the woods, Of a summer evening late, When the night-air cools on the trout-ring’d pools ,Where the otter whistles his mate… Rudyard Kipling


Hot midsummer’s petted crone, Sweet to me thy drowsy tune, Telling of countless sunny hours, Long days, and solid banks of flowers… RW Emerson

The poetry of earth is never dead: When all the birds are faint with the hot sun, And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run, From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead… John Keats


I couldn’t help thinking as we took the exit to Arboretum that nature still dwells in some places on Earth. It hasn’t taken leave of mankind as yet!

She Walks in Beauty

  
I saw her approach. She stopped and looked at my direction for a heart throbbing moment. Then, looked away. The perfumed breeze played with her long dark hair, integrating her with the colourful autumn landscape. Her flowing floral dress matched her peaches and cream complexion while red roses seemed to bloom in those cheeks. 

I was overwhelmed by the sudden brightening of the world due to her presence. The clear sky, blue lake, vibrant foliage, provided a fitting background to her supple form. Could such beauty exist? Was she a figment of my imagination? 

I started to write. It had been long since I wrote a word inspite of my self imposed exile in this cottage. Day after day, I had struggled with the dreaded writer’s block. But she appeared and my whole world changed.I needed to immortalise her in my work. 

A gentle knock jolted me out of my reverie. I put my pen down and peeped through the window. The damsel stood at my door…the evening sun formed a halo around her lovely head. I couldn’t believe my luck…!!

( The title has been borrowed from Lord Byron’s famous poem “She Walks in Beauty”. The great romantic age poet wrote this poem to celebrate virtuousness and beauty.)

This is my entry to the flash fiction challenge, Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers hosted by the lovely Priceless Joy. We are given a photo prompt and approximately 75-175 words with which to create our stories. This challenge is open to all who would like to participate. For more information, please CLICK HERE. Image courtesy pixabay.com

Madhubala – Fairest of them all…

  Arched eyebrows, classic features, mischievious smile…the Venus of the silver screen was born to captivate the very heart of India! Yes, I am talking about Madhubala, who was and remains the most beautiful actress of Indian film industry.

Her face had an unforgettable charm and expressions were priceless. No wonder, her popularity went beyond borders. She appeared in American magazine Theatre Arts in 1952. The magazine remarked, “The biggest star in the world, and she’s not in Beverly Hills.”

  

The first para says – “The actress with the greatest following, in numbers and devotion, is not to be found in Hollywood, but on the opposite side of the planet – in Bombay, India.” At that time, she was just nineteen. She had joined the film industry at the age of nine and never looked back.

    
Large languishing eyes, full lips and an aquiline nose, the camera couldn’t help loving her. Also, her unique appeal arose from a combination of personality traits – playfulness, sensuosness and innocence. She never looked wanton or cheap in her movies rather dignified and adorable. 

Who can forget her lovely expressions in the following song sequences  – Aaiye Meherbaan, Mohe Panghat Pe, Ik Pardesi Mera Dil Le Gaya? It seemed that she  tantalized the camera with every move. She was truly an actress par excellence.

It was a pity she died young at the age of 36 after going through trying times in personal life owing to break up with the superstar Dilip Kumar. She married the versatile singer actor Kishore Kumar but could not enjoy marital bliss for long as she fell terribly sick due to a heart disease.

  

 Here are some pictures of the timeless beauty, whose face still seems to be attracting fans. She continues to be every artists’s dream portrait and every poet’s muse in India. 

  
 
  
  
  
 
  

  

The Solitary Reaper sang of Loneliness!

  

Dear Mr William Wordsworth,

If you were alive today, I would present this letter to you in person. It concerns your timeless ballad, “The Solitary Reaper”. I gather that you created this classic wonder while observing a farm girl reaping  in the fields and singing a Gaelic song. 

The poem says that you were not able to decipher the content of her song because of the language but you could feel the ‘melancholic strain’ in the lyrics. 

In the course of your poem, you make guesses regarding her deep melancholy. 
Was she sad for old…far-off…unhappy things? Or was it for battles, familiar matters? Or perhaps for natural sorrow, loss or pain…?

But you overlooked one big reason for her sadness that was so evident – her solitude! In that big corn field, she was intimidated by her job of reaping, overwhelmed by the enveloping solitude, and helpless due to the lack of human companionship.

The highland lass was so alone… doing cutting and reaping, all by herself. I could not help suggesting Sir, that if you would have stopped and not ‘gently passed’ by her, she would have felt better in your company. But I think you have had your reasons.

  
Her melancholic song resonates even today everywhere…because most of us are solitary. We look for friends in the big virtual world but all is artificial there. The touch, feel and presence of family and friends cannot be compensated with messages, jokes and ‘connectivity’. 
In the real world, we are growing private, we have trust issues while making friends and we have embraced isolation rather than staying ‘in touch’ physically. We are afraid of going out in order to save ourselves from hurt. We are trapped trying to ‘touch’ others through mobile screens rather than fingers.

Even if we summon our courage and cry out, very few hear as everyone is looking and listening to their phones.

Alone we are “cutting and binding the grain”, and there is no one to listen to our “melancholy strain”. So guess, our plight is worst than the solitary reaper! She had you to applaud her Sir, we have no one.

If I were to meet you in person, I would urge you to write on “our solitary generation” too. But this time you would know the reason for the ‘melancholic strain’ in our lives. I really and truly wish you were here today to sing of our solitude.

I thank you profusely for this poem and applaud its relevance even in our world.

I beg to remain, Sir, your most humble and obedient admirer.
Images courtesy google