KARNATAKA

Working woman's songs of Tulunadu

TRUE LOVE:Kamala sings for the radio, but she prefers singing in the paddy fields.— Photo: Anisha Sheth

TRUE LOVE:Kamala sings for the radio, but she prefers singing in the paddy fields.— Photo: Anisha Sheth  

“Come everybody/ O-bele/ Let us step into the field/ O-bele/ the children of ten mothers/ O-bele/ together/ O-bele/ let us sing a paad-daana / O-bele…”

This paad-daana (Tulu folk songs sung during agricultural activities and religious rituals) is one of Kamala's favourites. Her voice has a quality that makes you stop and listen. ‘O-Bele', which literally means ‘O work' is the chorus.

Kamala of Bajal area of Mangalore is one of the thousands of women in the coastal districts of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada who sang these songs as they planted and transplanted paddy. Singing paad-daana s while doing agricultural work is a tradition among Taulavas, especially women, of all castes except Brahmins and Jains, who didn't work in the fields.

However, the 68-year-old is one of the few who has taken her songs beyond her work sphere to perform on All India Radio for nearly 25 years.

Singing on the land

Kamala started working in the fields — both her mother's and others' — at 10. “I learnt to sing as I worked.” Her mother's land (since the system was matriarchal) was in Pavoor-Harekala, around 10 km from Mangalore. Even though they had their own land, the family was large and the paddy they harvested just about sustained them. She had to work in others' fields in exchange for rice.

Once she got married and moved to the city, Kamala was forced to take up beedi-rolling. “Even then, I sometimes went to fields that were far from my house.” Though the swaying paddy was far away, the city gave an audience to her songs. One day, she heard an announcement on All India Radio inviting those who knew paad-daana s for auditions. “So I went. They did a voice test and I was chosen to sing on radio.”

However, says Kamala, she prefers work in the fields and loves the songs she sings.

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