Taking a departure from the usual sessions, which comprised readings of exceptional prose in the vernacular, Desabhasa, as part of the Dhvani conference, took a musical turn on the inviting coliseum-esque lawns of MCPH. It began with the sonorous chanting of Abhangas – a form of devotional poetry in the original Marathi, composed by the 17th century poet-saint Bahinabai – which was beautifully rendered by Rohini Shukla and Tanuja Visvanath, final year graduate students of MCPH, and seemed to invoke the rain gods themselves that roared in reciprocal appreciation.
The numerous brass Talas, distributed amongst the gathered, made for a delightfully mesmeric start to the evening after a day of intensely stimulating conversations around women, art, music & literature. The rumbling, celestial audience that had gathered, along with the various guests for the day, finally gave way as the skies opened up in a deluge that did little to dampen the proceedings, which merely shifted to the central atrium space of the building. Poignant passages were read out from Bahinabai’s autobiography, first in Marathi by Rohini and subsequently, the English translation by Tanuja.
The figure of Bahinabai is a curious one, more so within the larger context of Dhvani – a remarkable woman, in that she was one of the few poet saints who played the disparate roles of the dedicated wife, as well as that of the selfless ascetic in seemingly transgressive devotion to her guru, Tukaram. Despite being at the receiving end of an oppressive marriage, she spoke of “The Blessedness of Fidelity” and of “How to Make Domestic Life Happy”.
On the other hand, her 19th century namesake, Bahinabai Chaudhari, wrote endearingly irreverent and allegorical poems about domestic, married life in the ovi metre which were again recited by Rohini in soft, lilting verse while the English translations were read by Tanuja. Both readings, while bringing to light the work of two remarkable poets, made for a pleasurable penultimate session of the day.
Report by: Kartikeya Jain
Photography: Sissi Hamann