Songs of the Sisters
It would seem that the battle of the sexes is alive and well in almost all spheres of life today. It comes out vividly in stories, films, books and even music. This week's cover story presents the accounts of a musical show that firmly reasserts this point.
AS I got off the bus and boarded the van, I heard the passengers talking amongst themselves about a social gathering at Tomaltola where a musical act was being arranged. The van driver was saying that this would be his last trip of the day and that he would go to Tomaltola to listen to the songs. Two singers of Faridpur, two sisters, have been invited for this, and one of the passengers added that these singers have performed here before. Tomaltola used to only be a landing port for boats and ferries. Now there was a marketplace being set up there, and hence the arrangement. I immediately decided that I would go to hear the songs of the sisters.
I have been travelling for about five hours now from Dhaka, and had switched from bus to van at Sheikhpara. Very soon I would reach my home at Bashantopur, where I would freshen up and change clothes, and then I would be off to Tomaltola. But I needed a camera. Shohag, in Kushtia, had a camera, and he was just a phone call away. It took him and Kollol only forty-five minutes to cross the twenty-five kilometer distance from his home to mine, and the three of us were off to Tomaltola.
When we reached, the show had already begun, and I felt a pang of disappointment for not arriving earlier. Probably the people at the gates could feel my frustration, and informed me that the show had begun only a few minutes ago, and that I had not missed much. The platform and the costumes made it obvious that the two roles being played belong to a man and a woman, so one of the sisters would be playing a woman, and the other a man. The younger of the two, Dolly Parveen, was playing the female lead, she was 18 and unmarried. The 20-year-old elder sister Sheuly Parveen was playing the male lead, and she was married. I would later find out that Sheuly is not just a singer, but a lyricists and writer as well. This would be a new experience for me, and to my knowledge, there isn't another group of established singers of such young age. Moreover they are sisters, which is another trait unheard of. This sort of play resembles a contest between the two singers who try to establish their viewpoints in music, and the crowd seemed to be absorbed by the performance in front of them.
Sheuly (the male lead) took the stage to begin with, and proclaimed that all women are descendents of Bibi Hawa. But where did Hawa come from? She was built out of Adam's left ribs. With music in her aid, she sings that without men around, society would not progress far and that women should ideally get married and dedicate their lives to worshipping their husbands. The moment she finishes her song, her younger singer, Dolly (the female lead) whips out a rebuttal.
Dolly says that she doesn't agree that Hawa was built from Adam's ribs, if so, why isn't there a scar on Adam's chest? She sings that the mother of human beings is Fatema. Dolly sings that the country's political leaders are women, and women nowadays are even working in the fields and on the roads, so why would their lives be dependent on their husbands? She says that the Adams of this generation is sitting at home, whilst the Hawas are working outdoors. She adds that, according to the Almighty, a Muslim need not go to Mecca to perform Hajj, he can receive seventy thousand Neki (blessings) just by looking at his mother's face.
Dolly sings on, and says that men, upon death, are set to be rewarded with seventy maidens in paradise, what do women get? She says that men cannot enter paradise without his mother's blessing, since the key to paradise lies at her feet. She adds that without Hawa, Adam cannot survive.
In the middle of the verbal battle of the two sisters, a young man from the audience speaks up. He asks, “So, God created man in his image, whose image did he create woman in?” To this, Dolly answers by saying, “Women were created in the image of the women in paradise.” To this, the man lost his temper and started to yell at Dolly in a slanderous tone. He became even more agressive in his words in a matter of seconds, and when other members of the audience failed to calm him down, he was led outside by the committee that arranged the show. And the show recommenced, but not for long.
After ten minutes or so, the same man came rushing in towards the stage with a stick in his hand with the obvious intention of bodily harm! But thankfully, he is subdued by others in the audience who want to see the show continue. But, by now, the audience is too riled up to allow the show to go on; the outcry is louder than the song on the loudspeakers. Seeing that the situation is getting out of hand, one committee member stepped on to the stage, picked up the microphone and asked anyone who cannot stay calm to leave the premises so that the show can continue. It tooks time and some strong men to manage the situation, but eventually the show restarts.
It was time for Sheuly (the male lead) to take the stage again. And she came fully prepared to embellish the male ego. She said that all the Gurus and Pir-Fakirs are male, and a woman can never be as wise. In response of Dolly saying that political leaders of Bangladesh are female, Sheuly points out the fact that both of them are famous for a male that precedes them, either a father or a husband. She says that no one would even know their name without the male personality behind them. She goes on to elaborate a story about a lumberjack and his wife. The wife of the lumberjack was told that she was bound to go to heaven after her death. And when Fatema heard this, she went to the Prophet and asked him, “How come I was not assured a place in heaven yet but the lumberjack's wife has?” In reply, the Prophet said, “The lumberjack's wife has been able to take proper care of her husband, unlike you.” After hearing this, Fatema visited the lumberjack's home and saw that the wife had prepared a few things: a hand fan, kettle of water, food and a stick. When asked what they were for, the lumberjack's wife said that the hand fan was to cool off her husband after he returns from a hard day's labour, and the water was for him to freshen up. The food was his meal and the stick would be at his disposal to punish his wife if she had done anything wrong. Sheuly Parveen ends her case by saying that the biggest thing a woman can be is a mother, and for that she needs to get married to a man, making him indispensable.
Unfortunately, the day had rolled on to evening and it was time to say goodbye without ending the show properly. But, for me, it was a tremendous experience, and I learnt what such shows are all about: the contest between two singers to prove their point, the excitement amongst the audience, comedy and of course the violence of one or two of the listeners!
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