Mahendar Misir: The man whom historical past forgot

Saran division in north Bihar is the easternmost bastion of Bhojpuri tradition within the Gangetic heartland. A flatland with wild and marshy topography, the area has been historically dogged by pure calamities, poverty and demographic disturbances. This has infused into its tradition a streak of audacity and journey, tinged with an undertone of melancholia and sorrow on the similar time. Bhojpuri tradition does not have a lot written literature, however it’s wealthy in oral and folks traditions. Kabir was one among its earliest representatives; and Ghagh, an elusive genius of yore, contemplated over the toils and travails of its people. Close to our instances, Rahul Sankrityayan, scholar- activist and globetrotter, is one other scion of this tradition. All of them had been distinctive and sailed towards the tide. Here, I attempt to monitor an equally uncommon and enigmatic consultant of the tradition. Mahendar Misir defies any epithet but suits into many—athlete, musician, poet, revolutionary, felony, wanderer, and thinker. His songs resonate all over the Bhojpuri world, but people hardly know who he was.

Documented sources about him are meagre, and the chronology of the occasions of his life will not be clear; nevertheless, oral sources abound. No historian seems to have ever labored on him; however literary works by Suresh Kumar Mishra, Bhagwati Prasad Dwivedi, Johar Safihabadi, Ravindra Bharti, Anamika and others have stored his reminiscence alive. Pandey Kapil’s Bhojpuri novel Phoolsunghi (1977; English translation by Gautam Chaubey, Penguin, 2020) might be an in depth portrayal of his life and time. Happily, a lot of Mahendar’s personal compositions communicate for him. Mahendar Misir (1886-1946) was born on March 16, 1886, at Mishraulia village in Saran. He was not taken with typical education; however mythological tales informed by his schoolteacher all the time fascinated him. In his youth, he had an curiosity in just about something that got here his approach. He was interested in athletics and excelled in wrestling and horse driving. Gradually, he was interested in music, folks theatre and mythological narratives (pravachan). He performed virtually all in style musical devices of his time, composed lyrics and sang them exceptionally properly. There was no cinema then, so, nautch, Ramlila, and performances by tawaifs (courtesans) had been the favored types of leisure. However, males of respectable households had been anticipated to avoid them, however that didn’t deter Mahendar.

His area was among the many earliest to endure the extraction of sources by Europeans; vagaries of nature added to its woes. British income policy perpetuated its poverty and compelled people emigrate to massive cities for livelihood. A lot of them, referred to as Girmitiyas (indentured labourers), went to faraway British colonies throughout the globe, forsaking many issues at house. Crime and social insecurity rose excessive and oppression acquired new kinds in usury, property disputes and exploitation of the weak, girls particularly. Natural calamities and socio-political upheavals after the First World War made issues worse. Mahatma Gandhi responded with Satyagraha and his rural reconstruction programme from Champaran, and 1000’s joined him to work for freedom. However, the writers and artists responded in their very own methods. While Raghuveer Narayan (1884-1955) wrote his iconic track Batohiya to eulogise the nation, and lots of endeavoured to stoke up patriotism for freedom, Mahendar was exercised over home excesses confronted by girls, the exploitation of the marginalised, and the emotional struggling of the youth. He empathised with them and gained inspiration for his creativity.

Very quickly, he turned identified for his prodigious expertise. A rich zamindar, Halivant Sahay of Chapra, the district headquarters, took an curiosity in him. A patron of music and dance, Sahay had misplaced his spouse early in life and had no kids. He spent most of his time in socialising and leisure, and famous musicians and tawaifs carried out at his mehfils (personal live shows). Sahay was immediately impressed by Mahendar’s singing, and so they turned buddies. Mahendar got here in contact with the artists who carried out for Sahay, and his singing stole their hearts, too.

Meanwhile, Sahay fell for one Gulzaribai, in style as Dhelabai, of Muzaffarpur. She was the daughter of the famend tawaif Meenabai. Beautiful and gifted, Dhela was completed in each singing and dance and was identified for her gracious adaaygee (fashion). The musicologist Thakur Jaidev Singh has ranked her amongst India’s main musicians of the time. Sahay craved her as his companion, however she spurned his advances.

He is claimed to have kidnapped and later married her. He put her up in a separate mansion and supplied her with all the luxuries of life to make her completely satisfied, however she by no means reconciled with the state of affairs and all the time felt caged.

Mahendar Misir grew near Dhelabai throughout musical soirees. Once, after the famous artists had completed, he was requested to sing as a debutant, however he left everybody spellbound. When the occasion was over and Mahendar was to depart, Dhela referred to as for him, applauded his singing and invited him to revisit. He was already obsessed on her magnificence and efficiency, now her gesture threw him right into a storm of feelings and daydreaming, and thus began their friendship.

Mahendar visited her mansion often and carried out on the live shows held there. When his relation with Dhelabai deepened, Mahendar apparently expressed disapproval of her openness with others. This irked Dhela, who asserted her independence in a approach he had by no means anticipated. Offended and distraught, he left Chapra and mindlessly boarded a prepare that introduced him to Benaras.

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In Benaras, he loitered for days on its ghats (riverfront) earlier than he mingled with the native musicians and have become in style in a single day. Soon, he met some main tawaifs and began giving them classes in music. Later, he additionally offered impartial performances in main cities of north India and earned some huge cash. His information {and professional} ability impressed the courtesans a lot that they invited him to their houses in Benaras, Lucknow, Kanpur, Patna and Muzaffarpur. He composed songs for them, which resonated at their kothas (skilled house) in his lifetime. They additionally invited him to their annual gatherings in Chapra, and on the well-known Sonepur honest, where they assembled from all over the nation to carry out. However, his intimacy with a famend courtesan (Vidyadhari Bai?) at Benaras appears to have damage him once more, and he left the town.

He moved to Calcutta (now Kolkata) and have become in style amongst music lovers there. Some novels check with his dalliance with courtesans and wine. His love for music, dance and poetry was actually boundless. Calcutta was a serious transit level from where the poor and the needy sailed to far-off lands for jobs, leaving their households in a state of perpetual ready and hardship. This was particularly the case within the Bhojpuri area, where pangs of poverty and separation had turn out to be a continuing of life. Lack of freedom for ladies, incompatible marriages and oppressive social customs had perpetuated the agonies of the youth, which Mahendar portrayed in his compositions with unmatched sensitivity.

In the course of his visits to varied cities, he turned intently conscious of the situation of tawaifs. During the Mughal interval, they had been revered as custodians of cultural heritage and its disseminators; however with the autumn of the Empire, they had been pressured to shift for survival from Delhi to smaller locations like Lucknow and Patna. Soon, the British disadvantaged them of their final patrons because the aristocracy turned impoverished. Many of them had been pressured to show to prostitution.

It was in these circumstances that Mahendar Misir got here to their assist, like his up to date Saratchandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938), the famous Bengali novelist. Both had been Brahmins and gifted, however they related with tawaifs. Saratchandra got here into prominence with his novella Devdas, which he wrote round 1901 while staying close to Chaturbhujsthan, the red-light space at Muzaffarpur; Mahendar began his artist’s journey from there, after Saratchandra left for Bhagalpur in 1903 (Frontline, “The mortals of Devdas”, January 9, 2015).

Making of the revolutionary

The public lifetime of Mahendar Misir started quickly after the Swadeshi motion and with the rise of revolutionary nationalism in India. In one among his poems, he wrote how the British had drained India’s wealth for a pittance in return (Hamra niko na laage Ram goran ke karni…). Seeing the inefficacy of average politics, he inclined in the direction of political terrorism, which surged after 1907. In Bihar, it began with the bombing by Khudiram Bose in 1908 at Muzaffarpur, and terrorist exercise quickly intensified round Saran district.

However, one thing occurred in the intervening time which disrupted Mahendar’s political actions and his equation with Halivant Sahay. Mahendar, who had gained recognition as an artist and doubtless as a toughie with his wrestling companions, opposed Sahay’s angle in the direction of Dhelabai, who had by no means reconciled with her relation with him. Sahay was an easy-going individual sans any ethical concern. Faced with resistance from the 2, he renounced house to dwell like an ascetic on the residence of his “godfather”, Henry Revel, the Customs Collector of Saran, a little bit away from Chapra city. Dhelabai stayed again at his mansion, with property in Chapra and zamindari within the neighborhood. Sahay had no kids, so, his kin scrambled to dislodge Dhelabai from the property. Since Mahendar cherished Dhela, he promptly got here to her rescue. Some people suspect he had been a celebration to her abduction and now needed to make amends by serving to her. However, issues couldn’t stay like earlier than. Legal disputes adopted, depleting her belongings. When the state of affairs worsened, Mahendar supported her with his personal sources, however they began drying up quickly.

Yet, he didn’t desert Dhela. By now, she was emotionally concerned with him. Thus, circumstances introduced them collectively. She bought an lodging constructed for him on her premises alongside with a Shiva temple. He lived and practised music there. She was typically woken up at nighttime by some unhappy songs of separation popping out of the temple, so goes the legend. One night time, beats of the tabla woke her up. When she got here out on her rooftop, the city was soaked in moonlight and quick asleep, and Mahendar was taking part in the tabla in a frenzy, unmindful of the world round. Dhela couldn’t management herself; on an impulse, she placed on ghungroos (anklet bells) and began dancing on the rooftop. They caught up with every other immediately, reciprocating to the beats of the tabla and Dhela’s footsteps; and an uncommon, divine dance continued in celestial cadence. When it ended, Dhela rushed to Misirji, bowed to him and offered him her nostril ring as a token of respect, and requested him to simply accept her as a disciple, recount the native people. This was a touching second that gave wings to their platonic like to soar unto their loss of life.

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However, her monetary disaster worsened; and, perhaps, issues cropped up additionally regarding their relations. As a outcome, Mahendar determined to get off the scene, and wandered away. He went to Calcutta for incomes extra money to assist Dhela. His ardour for music continued all alongside; so, as quickly as he carried out at a musical live performance there, he captivated the viewers, which comprised a sizeable variety of Bhojpuri-speakers and freedom fighters. A public speech by Subhas Bose on the Victoria Ground ignited his patriotism and introduced him near Bengali revolutionaries. They deliberate to function in Bihar via him and gave him a currency-printing machine to finance their operations there and weaken the colonial economic system with faux cash. Others say he bought it from an India-born Englishman who cherished his music, however this story will not be believable. Still others imagine he did it for the sheer greed of cash, however there is no such thing as a proof of this.

Actually, there was a streak of the insurgent in him from his early days. People imagine he was influenced by the anti-British Sanyasi revolt, which had impressed Bankimchandra’s novel Anandamath, stated to be based mostly on the revolt of Raja Fateh Sahi of Huseypur in Saran. Bankimchandra and Vivekananda urged the youth to be sturdy and courageous to battle the foreigners. Consequently, akharas appeared as distinctive centres of athletics and the humanities, and Bharat Mata was portrayed as the feminine deity Durga, referred to as the destroyer of evil (metaphorically recognized with the British at the moment). This development is more likely to have motivated Mahendar to go for martial arts, music, the feminist trigger, and revolutionary nationalism, concurrently.

Thus, on coming back from Calcutta in 1915, he began printing forex notes and used these to assist the native revolutionaries and others. He invited them to his residence, apparently for cultural meets, however there they secretly exchanged info and cash. By the Twenties, many Biharis had been influenced by revolutionary teams like Anushilan Samiti and Yugantar; now they joined Bhagat Singh’s Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). A lot of them lived in Tirhut division, and Saran was its hotbed. Just throughout the Gandak to the east lived the famous revolutionaries Jogendra Shukla and Baikunth Sukul at Jalalpur village in Muzaffarpur district. Jogendra Shukla (1896-1960) was arrested in Chapra and was jailed for over 16 years. He was among the many founders of the HSRA and a senior affiliate of the Bhagat Singh group. His nephew, Baikunth Sukul (1907-1934), was hanged at Gaya jail for killing an HSRA well mannered bureau member, P.N. Ghose of Betia, for turning approver within the Lahore conspiracy case resulting in the hanging of Bhagat Singh. Baikunth’s trial revealed how intense revolutionary actions had been happening in Saran. Is it doable that Mahendar Misir was not related with them?

By now, even kothas of tawaifs had turn out to be info centres for the revolutionaries, as tawaifs got here in shut contact with guests from whom they may elicit info. Later, some tawaifs actively helped freedom fighters. When Mahatma Gandhi visited Benaras, he requested the famous courtesan Vidyadhari Bai to boost funds via her performances for the liberty motion, main lastly to the muse of the Akhil Bharatiya Tawaif Sangh in 1920. He additionally requested the well-known courtesan Gauhar Jaan to assist on this regard. Tawaifs lived at Chapra, however Muzaffarpur was a higher centre. Their kothas had been a spot of leisure and cultural grooming for the aristocracy. However, when the the Aristocracy declined beneath the British Raj and general circumstances deteriorated after the First World War, their existence turned precarious.

Mahendar Misir acted as their saviour. His love for music and dance had introduced him to them within the prime of his youth. He appears to have empathised with them, particularly after shedding Dhela—one thing like Saratchandra’s empathy for all girls in misery after shedding Paro and Chandramukhi (in Devdas, Dheeru and Kalidasi in actual life). Thus, Misir visited tawaifs in a number of north Indian cities and tried to hone their ability in music and dance freed from cost. Above all, he helped them financially in case anybody went out of the career due to previous age or unhealthy health.

Conviction and jail time period

While this was happening, his generosity and lavish residing raised suspicions in regards to the sources of his revenue. The police spied on him, and an officer, Jatadhari Prasad, entered his family as a home assist beneath the title of Gopichand. Eventually, he received Misir’s confidence and found his involvement in counterfeiting forex notes and revolutionary actions. The police raided his home on the night time of April 16, 1924, while printing of notes was happening. They seized the machine, with bundles of printed notes, and arrested Mahendar alongside with his brothers. He was tried within the district court docket and sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment.

Subsequently, an attraction was filed within the High Court, and two sympathisers of revolutionary nationalism, Hemchandra Mishra and the famend barrister C.R. Das, represented him. Das didn’t cost any charges. The sentence was lowered to 10 years. The tawaifs, particularly Dhelabai, met the bills of the swimsuit; now they petitioned the government for his launch in lieu of silver cash and their jewelry equal to his weight, however the government declined. Even if this story will not be true, it reveals the general public notion of tawaifs’ concern for his or her benefactor.

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After his conviction, Misir was despatched to Buxar jail to endure the sentence. At this level, Jatadhari Prasad reportedly appeared earlier than him all of the sudden, applauded his patriotism, and apologised for having him arrested. Their dialogue is captured in a shifting track scripted by Misir later (“With love Gopichand served me fine betel leaves …and got me jailed…”). Incidentally, the jail Superintendent already knew Misir as a famend musician and poet; quickly, they turned buddies. In reality, with his manners and his music, he endeared himself to all within the jail. He additionally skilled them in music. Finally, he was launched in 1931, three years earlier than the due date. While in jail, he wrote on numerous topics, of which the seven-part Apoorva Ramayana, the primary epic of Bhojpuri, and Nirguns (philosophical songs about life) are notable.

Sadly, the second Mahendar returned house, he got here to know of Dhela’s sickness and rushed to fulfill her, however she was near her finish. She talked to him briefly and requested him to sing for her. Puzzled and perturbed, Mahender poured out: “O blessed bride, I see a fair, in the city of snares/O blessed bride, Fineries are sold, precious and rare…” (Maya ke nagariya males lagal ba bazaria ei sohagin suna…). As he completed, she smiled and closed her eyes endlessly.

This was devastating for Mahendar. For the subsequent 15 years, he was forlorn and melancholic and have become religious. He wrote principally unhappy songs and Nirguns, and offered Ram-Krishna katha (story) in Navtanki fashion. His actions had been restricted, and he stayed principally on the Shiv Mandir at Dhela’s residence. Every morning he would begin with raag Bhairavi and raag Vihaag; however on October 26, 1946, the eighth day of his sickness, he started with Ramdhun (prayer to God) and handed away.

Today, Dhela’s dilapidated double-storey haveli (mansion) and the Shiv Mandir stand at Shivpuri in Chapra as their final memorial. Most people have no idea them, none is . However, the commoners have sanctified them: they name Mahendar Baba (saint), and Dhela Mai (revered, divine mom), and the temple is thought after their names. Its attending poojari remembers their love as that of Radha-Krishna and of Krishna-Meera.

Looking again

Almost a century has handed since then. Let us bear in mind them on the event of the seventy fifth loss of life anniversary of Mahendar Misir on October 26, 2021. Meanwhile, quite a few variations of tales about them have floated round, making their analysis troublesome. Misir’s roots are clear; his descendants nonetheless dwell at his native Mishraulia, with a number of constructions of his time intact. Dhela got here from a lineage of celebrated Mughal tawaifs; however the confusion on the sequence and authenticity of happenings of their lives may be resolved solely after additional analysis. It is troublesome additionally to authenticate their creative excellence until we have their recorded variations; nonetheless, Misir’s numerous songs are testimony to his legacy and enthral thousands and thousands of Bhojpuri-speakers in India and the erstwhile British colonies like Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad, British Guiana, Surinam, and Myanmar. Dhela, too, survives in in style reminiscence as an elusive diva.

Misir’s compositions quantity in a whole bunch; a couple of dozen of his books are traceable, others in manuscripts are hidden right here and there. He enriched each style of music and literature, be it Thumri, Dadra, Kajri, Barahmasa, and ritual songs. He excelled in romantic songs of affection, longing and separation. Two of his hottest and sensuous songs are “The serpent has stung my finger, O Sister-in-law/Kindle the lamp and call your brother…” (Anguri males danslebiya nageenia re, ei nanadi, diyara jara da/… apna bhaiya ke bulaada…) and “Half night past, the koel cries and I am sleepless” (Adhi-adhi ratiya kuhuke koelia, Ram barania bhailee na/ Mora ankhiya ke niniya, Ram bairaniaya bhailee na…). He wrote a lot of his songs in jail. Animating his compositions with vivid imagery that brings the phrases to life, and with metaphors drawn from his environment, he has strung collectively easy, pure responses of affection, loss and the human limitations into chic poetry and stirring songs. Nowhere has he ever used vulgar phrases to depict one thing in any other case thought-about lewd. Beneath his flamboyance and dalliance, there’s a perennial undercurrent of eager for love, emotions of loss and deprivation that he skilled personally and watched his society endure. He wrote in Bhojpuri, Hindi, Awadhi and Urdu, and in addition commented on the Gita, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

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His understanding of classical music and folks traditions and eye for the delicate have enriched his compositions. Their malleability has allowed successive generations of artists to brighten them with their very own creativity and let the viewers join. His devotional verses categorical deep feelings of communion with the divine, but additionally ponder over the primordial horror of loss of life. There are fleeting glimpses of Kabir, Tulsi and others in his compositions; but he has his novelties. This is why, even with out discovering anyplace in mainstream literature or historical past, he resides in thousands and thousands of hearts throughout the globe. The Purabia fashion of gayakee is destined to stay his biggest contribution to India’s cultural wealth.

After seniors like Sharda Sinha, now a new technology of singers corresponding to Chandan Tiwari, Rameshwar Gop, Kalpna Patwari and Devi are carrying ahead his legacy of soulful songs; and with his literary enter, Manoj Bhawuk and others have introduced his admirers collectively on TV. Yet, why is Mahendar Misir absent from mainstream historical past?

Obviously, the stigma of counterfeiting and affiliation with tawaifs continues to hound him, although for the fallacious causes: The historical past of the revolutionary motion is replete with homicide and theft dedicated to boost funds for operations aimed toward destabilising the colonial economic system. Mahendar’s involvement was no completely different. True, his affiliation with the tawaifs was an excessive amount of for his conventional Brahminical society. But this obsessive moralism overlooks the social realities—his two sad marriages, which pressured him to interact with his fads that introduced him to tawaifs, and that, in flip, to the issues of man-woman relationship. He was appalled on the dehumanisation of ladies, tawaifs particularly. Missing this level within the title of morality is gross injustice to him.

Bhikhari Thakur (1887-1971) was impressed by him to interact on comparable issues, and survived to style freedom, recognition and honour after Independence (Frontline, June 12, 2016). Mahendar Misir labored on a bigger canvas with a lot deeper sensitivity, however he lived and died beneath subjugation. Ironically, he’s but to be recognised as a freedom fighter, not to mention as a Renaissance man! This is a mirrored image on his society. Pat Brown of the United States has probed the Devdas-Paro relations in Devdas, and has attributed their frailties to their social background. Why can not we see Misir in that gentle? His relation with Dhelabai is a supreme instance of human relationship, and his benevolence in the direction of tawaifs an act of braveness, too. Beneath his flamboyance and vagrancy, there was a humanist and an early exponent of feminism—a lot earlier than Simone de Beauvoir revealed The Second Sex (1949). Indeed, Mahendar Misir is a sufferer of custom and tyranny of time.

J.N. Sinha taught historical past on the University of Delhi. He may be contacted at [email protected]

(The author is grateful to Manoj Bhawuk, senior journalist, Chandan Tiwari, folksinger, and Professors Devendra Chaubey, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Anamika, Delhi University, V.P. Sahi (SHUATS, Allahabad), Gautam Chaubey, DU, and Nilesh Jha, Jai Prakash University, Chapra.)

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