“Ever since the call centre has come / Our youth has forgotten its own mother-tongue, / When we have our monthly Marathi mass / They dress in suits and go to Don Bosco (for the English mass)”
These translated lyrics of an East Indian Marathi song bemoan the cultural alienation of the community’s youth, but the very culture of singing Marathi songs has grown more popular among young East Indians in the past few years.
The inter-gaothan singing competitions, organised annually by more than 25 gaothans (East Indian villages), have been the community’s favourite social entertainment for over two decades. In the past three years, however, at least six new gaothans have begun hosting their own competitions, and more than 15 young singers have started participating alongside the regular middle-aged singers.
Between May 21 and 29, competitions will be held in Vikhroli, Kanjurmarg, Dahisar and Worli, of which the last two are just a year-old on the hosting scene. And while a mere 20 singers would register for a competition back in 2005, nearly 50 now rush to enrol in every contest, forcing organisers to register the first 25 participants.
“Political awareness and activism about gaothans and East Indians has increased a lot in two years, so our people themselves are taking more interest in their culture,” said Franklin Pereira, an organiser whose gaothan in Sion became the latest village to join the host-list for the competitions in October 2010.
East Indian singing contests are usually staged in gaothan grounds, and follow their own set of rules: the host gaothan cannot participate in the singing, new lyrics have to be composed by the singers or villagers themselves, use of English words is not allowed, and a song that wins a prize cannot be repeated in any other competition. Song lyrics take up every issue from current affairs and anti-establishment critique to East Indian social values and changing culture.
“Singing these songs makes me feel a sense of pride and attachment to my community,” said Valona Sutari, 19, a commerce student from a Juhu gaothan who began singing in competitions a year and a half ago. “Young people today speak more English than Marathi, so they need to participate more in their culture.”
Musician Adolf Creado, 41, hopes that more youth would also take up East Indian music. He is the guitarist, trumpeter and composer for one of the only two East Indian bands providing impromptu background score for the competitions. “These competitions are now our only form of community entertainment, and we need to preserve them,” said Creado.