When London underground drivers go on strike, BA workers walk out or teachers throw down their red pens, the consequences might seem drastic. London comes to a standstill; tens of thousands are stranded at airports across the globe and children run riot across the country. Employers are under a huge pressure to negotiate a settlement, and quickly.
Collectively, workers who provide a technical service in crucial areas have huge bargaining power.
But when a musician finds himself faced with a mean employer – one who defers on payment or cancels performances with no notice – what can he do? Throw down his flute in a rage and refuse to play? Big deal.
But the musicians of Rajasthan -where artistic unions are barely operable – have developed a few methods of their own. Some of which have far further-reaching consequences than a mere 24-hour strike on the London underground.
In the following excerpt from ‘Musicians for the People’, Komal Kothari describes the increasingly serious steps that can be taken by a Rajasthani musician to show his disgruntlement.
Step 1: “In a dispute, a musician’s first step… is to cease reciting subraj [poetic stanzas of respect] for his patron. When this occurs, other people may mediate between the parties.”
Step 2: “If the conflict is not resolved, the musician buries his turban in front of his patron’s house or hut.”
Step 3: “If the dispute still persists, he takes the strings off his instrument and buries them.”
Step 4: “If even this does not help, he prepares an effigy (lolar) of the patron, ties it to a donkey’s tail, and parades the donkey among the patron’s relatives, insulting the effigy, beating it with shoes, and loudly abusing it […] There are many reported cases where patrons have had to marry their children into lower caste and endure other social penalties as a result of this”
Alternative Steps: Performers can compose “poems of censure or abuse, which remain known for many generations.”
Extreme Steps: “The Charans (Rajasthan’s bardic caste) used to go to extreme lengths. In the case of a serious dispute, a Charan would take a big knife and gradually cut off first his fingers, and then other parts of his body, until he eventually died. The patron would then bear the heavy curse of having been responsible for a Charan’s death. This gruesome tradition is known as taga, and there have been occasions when many Charans committed this kind of suicide together as a form of protest.”
Unite the Union, eat your heart out.
Excerpts taken from Komal Kothari, ‘Musicians for the People: The Manganiyars of Western Rajasthan’, pp. 205 – 237, in Schomer, Erdman, Lodrick, Rudolph (ed.’s) The Idea of Rajasthan: Explorations in Regional Identity