Looking at Sainath’s new website, People’s Archive of Rural India, I have grown more and more excited with every moment. The everyday lives of everyday people, the diversity of rural life, rural voices, rural ways of expression … everything he talks about resonates with me and I am eager to take part in this project.
As I listened to Sainath’s introduction, I thought of photos, videos and other material I had that might be useful for these archives. Then suddenly I realized that right in my own non-rural neighborhood in Mumbai, some of the things we were doing had their roots in rural practices … such as making gobbemmalu, that embody with them the value of the land, ecology, farming and community connections. By keeping such a practice alive we were not only documenting but bring these values into our lives. In our neighborhood for several years we have been celebrating Sankranti in the traditional Andhra style with బొమ్మలు (dolls), ముగ్గు (rangoli), and గొబ్బెమ్మలు (gobbemma – decorated cow dung) and song and dance, typically to the popular గొబ్బిఎల్లోయి! (Gobbiyelloyi!) which chronicles the life of a guava from the tilling of the soil to the harvest of the fruit (plus two verses we made up on the eating of the fruit!), which celebrating the gobbemma or decorated ball of cow dung, after every verse. Traditionally people draw elaborate rangolis and adorn them with gobbemmalu for the entire month running up to Sankranti. In rural areas you will see rows and rows of decorated porches. In our neighborhood in Mumbai one woman keeps up this tradition, and just like in the villages, the rangoli gets more colorful as Sankranti draws near. In our family we have always celebrated only on the actual day. This year, however, due to some unusual circumstance and bolstered by popular demand we had a pre-Sankranti event one month in advance. The kids took the lead:
We also visited our neighbour, Smt. Jaya who draws a muggu every day and has much more practice in the art as well as ritual associated with the gobbemmalu. She graciously allowed the kids to help decorate and arrange the gobbemmalu on the muggu.
The muggu itself is an important element of rural life that many urban folk have not entirely forgotten. The simple daily muggu is a way of connecting with the earth and the community not entirely forgotten in urban neighborhoods. Once when I was walking past a series of porches, freshly dotted and drawn upon, it occurred to me that the daily muggu is like a “hello” or an “all is well” notice for the passerby. An absence of a muggu might raise an alarm about the health of those inside. A festive muggu on a holiday, a minimal muggu when one is preoccupied, each one reflects the mood of the home at the start of the day. A form of social media on the ground.
Related: Sankranti Zindabad!