Simhastha fair is dealing a blow to nautch girls of Ujjain, who are forced to give a one-month break to thumari, kajari and earnings under an unofficial ban.
Pinjarwadi, famous as the tawaif locality in Ujjain, was set up by the ancestors of the Scindias in the 1700s for courtesan Malka Bai. Since then, the locality had been a home for tawaifs, Indian music and dancing.
However, Simhastha is a kind of the second blow to the 20-odd tawaifs (nautch girls) and a team of 50 ustads (musicians, tabla, sarangi and harmonium players) who have had no earnings for the past one week. The first one came in 2004, when a crackdown by the Uma Bharati government had left them literally out of business. Many of them had to diversify to marriage functions, Durga puja and other such events to make both ends meet. But, the problem was that they were considered sex workers, which they strongly pleaded against, but all their pleas then fell on deaf ears.
Chunni Aapa, who is in her 50s, says, “This has been all because of the misconception among people that tawaifs are sex workers. For past 7-8 days, we have stopped performing mujra (dance and singing form of art) as some of our well-wishers and residents asked us not to continue with the tradition until the fair is over. No one from the police and administration has issued any warning till now.” She says people will start coming probably after Simhastha. However, the pain of the blow came out of her mouth, “With the advent of television and DJs, the number of kadardaans (listeners) of mujra (music and dance performance) has decreased.”
The plight of Shakeela, Parveen, Gudia, Shanno is the same. Before Simhastha, they had been earning through mujras and shows. The latter fetched them around `16,000 to `20,000 per batch. But, for the last seven-eight days they have neither been getting any shows nor kadardans (audience) at their homes due to unofficial restrictions.
Kaluram, a harmonium player, says, “There is no work due to Simhastha, so I am planning to go back to my native village in Agar. I have a family to feed.”
All they want is respect and kadardaans. “I wish tawaifs and mujra culture, which was once known for tameez (etiquettes) shall prevail in the days to come. Kings used to send their kids to us for grooming in etiquettes,” she Appa says.
Tawaifs, who excelled and contributed immensely to the world of Hindustani music, Mujra (a form of dance), theatre and Urdu literary tradition are today mute, as society chooses to leave them behind and move ahead with evolving music styles.
On one hand government administration claims to be promoting the month-long Simhastha fair in Ujjain as a conjuncture of religions, cultures and art, and on other hand it has unofficially restrained Tawaifs in Ujjain from coming out of closed quarters in Pinjarwadi.
Pinjarwadi Gali was earlier resided by sex-workers, but ahead of last Simhastha in 2004, Uma Bharti government shooed them out of this place. They used to live in the lower part of every building in the lane and Kotha (upper storey of building) was inhabited by Tawaifs. Most of the buildings in the lane are old architectures and are in dilapidated state.
After the drive of 2004, for some time tawaifs also stopped performing, but things changed gradually and the lane again became famous for Mujras. No one stopped them for almost 11 years again due to pressure of the nearby residents they stopped performing.