I’ve heard a lot being said about the fair at Kenduli, about an hour and a half’s drive from Santiniketan, more commonly known as the Joydev Mela. It’s a carnival of sorts where bauls or wandering minstrels of Bengal gather and sing of life and death, love and God, war and peace and many other seemingly inane things the mind can think of. Their voices rise above the din of the crowd – a mix of urban as well as rural sightseers, hippies, junkies, kirtanis, other bauls, tantriks, artists, philosophers, drifters and tramps – and reach the divine depths of the sky. Or so I’ve heard.
I have always been familiar with bauls. Since my childhood, Mum taught me that bauls are saffron clad mendicants who wander about singing while plucking the string of the ektara or the single-stringed instrument, or playing the dotara, the khamak and the dubki. Since the age of five, I have been taught Rabindranath Tagore’s baul anga songs or Tagore songs that reflect the influence of baul tunes and philosophy. I had performed on stage to “Pagla hawar badol dine” dressed as a baul with the flowing beard, the saffron jobba, ektara et al. When I was in the fifth standards, I had dressed up as a baul for my school’s fancy dress competition.
This weekend will be spent among the bauls in Kenduli. No, not a vacation. I’ll be on an assignment, writing about the bauls. My editor suggested I read up the book Baulsphere by Mimlu Sen. I did. I’m moved.
It was strange how the story fell into my lap. When it was being discussed, I got suddenly hooked. It was probably my facial expression that led my editor to ask, “You want to go?” I couldn’t say no.
And so, it happens to be, on a sunny (hopeful) Saturday afternoon, we set off for Kenduli armed and armoured against the cold with sweaters, jackets, bottles of rum and, of course, loads of er…the dry thing.
Joy, Kali, says the heart!