WRITER: Mimlu Sen
PUBLISHER: Random House India
In many of the old Hindi movies that were made by the Bengalis who left Calcutta and came to Mumbai, there would be a moment of truth when a Baul singer, a wandering minstrel playing a simple instrument like a dotara, turned up on the street beneath the house where the heroine was living out her miseries. She would turn her beautiful face to the window as the song drifted up and reminded her that there was another way. Sen herself puts it beautifully in an early passage: “To the poor, they offered the wealth of the human spirit, to the blind, the divine light of inner vision, to the sick and the ageing, they gave the comfort of faith and cured them with songs, natural medicine and yogic practice. The rich and the arrogant, the selfish and the mercenary, were all subject to their provocative mockery. To women, they offered parity in sexual relations, the possibility of exploring their own bodies, and of leading men to a greater knowledge of theirs. They decried the phallocratic society around them, caught in the shackles of the caste system, and exposed the fanatic parochialism of the mullah and the pundit.” Sen’s own journey into the world of the Bauls does not prove to be as inspiring. She is often shocked by what she sees: Bauls exploiting the poor, selling toothpaste and making something of a mockery of their own divine connection; the lack of any powerful women until she meets Gourima; the patriarchalism that makes women seekers into witches”¦This is an honest book and a searing account of one woman’s journey into the world of the Bauls.