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‘India is essentially like a palimpsest’: Nidhi Dugar Kundalia

Nidhi Dugar Kundalia

Nidhi Dugar Kundalia

Nidhi Dugar Kundalia’s “The Lost Generation” (Random House) presents stories 11 professionals ranging from rudaalis of Rajasthan to street dentists of Baroda, Jharkhand’s godna artists to Delhi’s Urdu scribes, each of which have been integral part of life in the past. A journalist by profession, Nidhi, in an email interview, gives her view on the meeting of the new and old worlds and the loss of these avocations, while giving details about the research for the book.

Edited excerpts:

Comment on the intersection of the new and old in unpredictable ways in the India you mention

India is essentially like a palimpsest. Empires were built and torn away, cultures integrated with each other. Look at the rudaalis, for example. The ones I interviewed were Manganiyaars of Muslim origin but worked as rudaalis or mourners for Hindu ceremonies. They live in India which is still beyond the reach of the Government and police but mobile phones and television sets have well established their presence. This hamlet where they live is among the seven or eight regions still under the fierce control of the kith and kin of the Rajputs and the presence of the State, if at all, is personified in the form of the upper caste patriarchal head of the village, known as the thakur.

Then there are the women grave diggers of Kerala. In a way, they are essentially doing a man’s job but still discriminated against because of the lower caste backgrounds they come from.

Your take on the loss of the ancient vocations and the cultural diversities

I’m definitely saddened by their loss. Take the storytellers of Andhra for instance, the Burrakatha artists who have memorised a number of epics such as Mahabharata, Ramayana, Yellamma over centuries, composed songs and witty, lyrical scripts, adapted them to deliver social messages and Government campaigns like those of polio, AIDS, family planning, etc. They still use ancient musical instruments like tambura, dimki and andelu. All this while they survive on a diet of rice and rats. Discriminations on the basis of caste have kept them on the fringes of the society. Most of their children are now rag pickers or garbage cleaners, a job they have resorted to now that Burrakatha renditions hardly have any takers. It is tragic to see this living history fizzle away.

How did the book come about?

As a child, I have spent a lot of time with my grandparents. I remember them talking about their own childhood. They would tell me about the traditional midwives, rat catchers, the lamp-post lighters and the drummers. There were numerous such professions each with a social relevance that was more than just colourful tapestry in the fabric of our society. But as these things fade away from the world, it becomes necessary to document what is destined to become history. That is when I started travelling to the suburbs and rural areas, documenting lives of these professionals.

The fading 11 :

Godna artists, Jharkhand

Rudaalis, Rajasthan

Genealogists, Haridwar

Kabootarbaaz, Old Delhi

Storytellers, Andhra

Street dentists, Baroda

Urdu scribes, Delhi

Boat makers, Balagarh

Ittarwallahs, Hyderabad

Bhishiwallahs, Calcutta

Letterswriters, Bombay


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Printable version | Jun 30, 2022 12:09:43 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/india-is-essentially-like-a-palimpsest-nidhi-dugar-kundalia/article8318229.ece