This New Year I was in a small town in the Malnad region of Karnataka that has a substantial population of Konkani community. I was invited to be a part of the function organized by the Mahila Mandali there. Now I had never ever attended a function that has been completely organized by women in rural India. And the one that is community-based. So I was pretty keen to see how this works. What an impression it has left on me. Since this was a New Year day, maybe it is a sign for the year to come.
Mahila Mandali Cultural Function
The four-hour event included community rituals, prize distribution and a lot of song and dance. The scale and professionalism with which the event was managed were worth appreciating. The level of participation was huge. I assume it is because it is a close-knit community and people know each other, so they are more participative. Apparently, they had organized sports and cultural competitions before this function. And distributed prizes for the same while giving cash prizes to children who performed well in their academics. Whatever little I could understand of what they spoke, I could make out that the focus of their lives remains their children.
Before the cultural part of the event, they followed their own elaborate rituals of honoring the elderly in the traditional way, keeping their cultural ethos alive. All the women were wearing their best Saris. When many of them came on the stage, they created a kaleidoscopic sight that I really liked. Urban India is getting very colorless, with women wearing more neutral and subtle colors. Especially in a professional environment, in order to not stand out. Here every woman was wearing a strong color to stand in. In fact, I wore a Sari there so that I do not stand out and get an insider’s perspective.
Music & Dance
Bollywood dominated the music and dance that went on for 3 hours. Though it was a community of non-Hindi speakers and not a word of Hindi was uttered otherwise during the function. Age of performers ranged from 3-70. It was painful for me to see 3-year-olds going through the trauma of being on stage for the sake of a smile on the parent’s face who were all excited with cameras and video recorders. At the same time, it was heartening to see an elderly lady perform on Chammak Challo in a very graceful and innovative way. And then coming back in another garb to entertain with a one-act play that had the audience laughing through the act.
There were Karaoke style singing, small plays and a couple of performances based on mythology with classical music and dance, Bollywood dances and of course Kolaveri. Though you could not call them great dancers or performers but their enthusiasm was unbeatable. The costumes, the makeup, and choreography were all well prepared. You could see the impact of popular media everywhere. The music systems, the camera guy and video recorders all over the place could have competed easily with any up-market urban event. Though the number of cameras always make me wonder why we are creating so many copies of the same content. Do people even have time to look at the content once it is created?
Above all, this Mahila Mandali function was a platform for women to be express their creativity. To be able to get out of their homes, organize themselves, manage funds and enjoy themselves. It was also an impetus for them to keep themselves updated on what is happening around in the world. It seems the event is pretty much a part of their lives as it repeats itself every 1st January. To me, it was a revelation. And changed my view of how I think women in small-town India live. They know how to enjoy themselves and go all out and enjoy with each other, without their menfolk, but never without their kids.
It made me think if we women in urban India are grossly missing out on this fun. Are we trying too hard to be a part of the men’s world? In the process missing out on the basic fun in life.
Some astrologers said that this century is going to belong to women. Maybe and hope they were right!
Recommend you to read following travel blog posts on Tourist Places in Karnataka.