2-8 September 2016 #824

Songs of rebellion

Lyrics of Tij songs reflect newfound independence and empowerment of Nepali women 
Smriti Basnet

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Singer Komal Oli (pictured above, centre) is not new to controversy, in fact the outspoken performer seems to thrive on it. This Tij she has created another furore with her new duet Lastai Choti (For the Last Time) with Pashupati Sharma, which contains rebellious lyrics about how she has decided to end her pursuit of a worthy husband. They say: ‘Naari lai hepne hoina, aadar garna janne, Tyesto keto pae dilma naam lekhai dinthe’ (I want a man who doesn’t scorn women, but respects them, If I find a man like that I would write his name on my heart).

Having not found anyone who has ‘Goji ma gath, ani mann ma aata’ (Cash in his pocket and strength in his heart), Oli concludes her Poi (Husband) song series — which is loved and hated in equal measure — hinting that she might enter politics to help Nepali women fight for equality.  

Adorned in red saris and heavy green tilaris, women singing and dancing has been a hallmark of the Tij festival, which this year falls on Sunday. Over the years, the songs have been laced with fatalism: male dominance, neglect, and loneliness. But Tij lyrics are becoming increasingly defiant. “Previously, Tij was the festival when women went to their parents' homes, but it has more and more been used as an opportunity to gather and share their feelings,” said Sabitri Mainali of the Culture Department at Tribhuvan University.

Singers like Oli are no longer taking their secondary role in society as a given. They are voicing their independence and using Tij songs to do it. Their songs ridicule good-for-nothing husbands and taunt wayward ones.

Jyoti Magar’s Dumsi Kade Junga (Porcupine-Like Moustache) is a monologue against her husband’s behaviour and the way she is treated by his family. Having to live with an unkempt, alcoholic and jobless husband, Magar’s songs express the pain of wasted youth: ‘Kapi kalam line haat ma kodali ra kuto' (The hand that was supposed to hold books and pens today holds a hoe).

Singing ‘Janna baba Janna’ (I don’t want to go, father) Magar refuses to return home to a slothful husband who treats her shabbily.  

Released last year, another hit duet by Pashupati Sharma and Janaki Tarami Magar is a dialogue between a wife and her husband who have been driven to poverty because of his profligacy. The wife sings: 

‘Maita chhada dukha kaile na katieko keti, 

herda herdai bhagya le ni lyayo sadak’

(I never knew hardship when I was at home, Now I have to live on the streets). 

Calling husbands worthless and incompetent seems to be a recurring theme in Tij songs of late. Sharma and Magar’s duet this year is Magarni ko Sel Roti Pasal, a sequel to last year’s hit. The wife is now running her own business, much like her husband’s pani puri shop, which has also prospered. Although by the end the wife regains confidence in her husband, her willpower and independence are celebrated throughout the song. 

Komal Oli is regarded as a pioneer in turning Tij songs into acts of defiance, starting with her super hit Poila Jana Pam (I Want to Elope) ten years ago. She faced severe criticism for her ‘salacious’ and ‘improper’ lyrics, but took it all in her stride and rode the wave of popularity, releasing a new ever-more-rebellious song every Tij. 

In her private life, too, Oli has steadfastly refused to get married. At every media interview, she has had to field the question: ‘When will you marry?’ Her reply is in another of her songs:  

‘Bihe sihe na gareni hunchha bhanthe bale, patrakar le sodhi sodhi dikka parna thale, Geet sangit ma ramauchhu, afnai haat le kamauchhu, ghumchu gau sahar, pura garchhu rahar’ (My father told me I don’t have to marry, but journalists hound me with that question, I enjoy singing, earning a living for myself, travelling and finding my own fulfilment.)

Read also

Re-inventing TIj, Mallika Aryal

The politics of Tij, Nagarik

The tij hunger strike, Manisha Aryal

Not a tease anymore, Aarti Basnyat

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