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Four eyes to see, two to perceive

DEEPA GANESH
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MUSIC Mooralala Marwada, from Janana village of Kutch, stuns you with his simplicity and purity of intention. For him finding the way to Kabir is far easier than finding his way in the world DEEPA GANESH

N ot even his huge moustache that twirls into a big curl on either end can come to his rescue: something that one associates with rakshasas of thundering laughter in the good old mythologicals. All Mooralala Marwada — the Sufi musician from Kutch — has to do is open his mouth and his tough look comes crashing down. An embodiment of grace and gentleness, his ardour lets him down even further: as you watch him singing his face melts into a sublime surrender that only the intensely passionate are capable of.

At ease with Kabir, Mira, Bulleshah and Shah Latif Bhitai, Mooralala, who was in Bangalore to sing for Shah Latif Bhitai poetry festival, is the seventh generation musician in his family. “I started formally paying attention to it when I was eight. It was all there — my father, grandfather and uncles were always singing. What I know is just a drop in the ocean,” says Mooralala, constantly strumming his ektara.

In his world, which is nothing else but Sufi, Mooralala swims with ease; but ask him anything else that belongs to ‘this' world and he fumbles miserably. He desperately digs his hands into both pockets of his kurta and looks for his voter ID. Sighing with relief he throws it into my hands and says: “I am told that my age is written in this. Check for yourself.” As I look at his date of birth, he bends down resting his face on the bulge of the tanpura to catch my expression: “I never went to school. Anpad hoon main….” Why? “The day my father took me to school, teacher saheb was beating my nephew. The next two days I don't know how I managed to sit in class. The third day, I wailed and pleaded not to be taken to school. My parents in their love for me said, ‘achcha beta mat jao'… that was the end of my schooling,” narrates Mooralala.

“Do you know how sad I am by that decision of mine? I can't express how I regret it all…”

Why would someone so blissful in the world of great poets want to be lettered? Formal education is a myth, I try convincing Mooralala. “You say this because you are on the other side. An educated person has four eyes and an illiterate like me has only two,” he explains, taking solace in metaphors.

Mooralala tells me that he feels like a blind man the minute he steps out of Janan, his village in Kutch – “I don't know which bus takes me where. I don't know if the station has arrived. I keep asking people around me to show me the way. I feel so lost.”

However, with Kabir “I know my way. The path is inside me and it's not daunting,” he explains, and at once I realise that we make two ends of the spectrum.

He did learn plenty from his environment, but that was not enough for him: he was constantly sitting beside the radio, waiting to hear Kabir, Mira or Bulleshah. Listening to them once was enough, Mooralala had it etched in his memory. “Since I can't read or write, all songs are imprinted here,” he says, touching his head. “I have learnt on my own, with my mind. I have picked different aspects from different sources and have cast them into our tradition of music, the Kaafi.” Now I get curious about his repertoire. “If I sing continuously for four or five nights, I will exhaust all that I know. Does that add up to a good number…?” he asks, in his characteristic naïveté. “Maybe I should not crib too much about me being an illiterate. God has been kind to give me a voice. What would I have done if I couldn't even sing…?” wonders this musician who works at the fields from morning to evening for a livelihood.

Mooralala, who sings at every gathering, at every satsang, wedding and fair at his village, doesn't believe in taking money from anyone. “When I sing at weddings they give me money. Otherwise, when it is done in the name of Kabir and in the name of love, how can I take money? My parents would always say ‘Go, serve the world with your song. Do as much as you can. Don't think about riches. Be pure in your intention. God will never desert you.' Money is transient, it comes and goes…”

Sadly, in Janan, where Mooralala lives, there is not another singer. On several occasions Mooralala has offered to teach, but is always met with a vehement refusal. “They say it's too much tension,” he puts it simply. Whenever he has a doubt, Mooralala goes to the Kabir panthis in the village, who solve his difficulties in understanding.

“Do you know many of my family members live on the other side of the border,” says Mooralala, who lives 30 kms away from the Indo-Pak border. “I want to meet them. But it has never been possible. I have only heard their voices over phone. I once recorded my songs and sent it to them. They want me to sing there. Wish we can break these cruel boundaries….,” he pauses before breaking into his favourite Kabir bhajan.


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