Manganhars struggling to survive in dot.com century
By: Jan Khaskheli
Karachi: Sixty-year-old Mai Haleema, one of the leading wedding song singers belonging to traditional Manganhar community, is still looking optimistic to continue keeping the folklore alive despite facing hardships.
Living in the village Haji Rasheed Manganhar, located near Sanghar town, she frequently travels three-to-five kilometers distance to visit different villages to know if there is any wedding function scheduled there.
The Manganhar village is famous for the well skilled artistes, both male and female. Majority of the residents happen to be poor but they still encourage their children to follow the tradition and learn singing and playing musical instruments.
It is an old custom that the parents of groom prefer to invite Manganhar women to perform wedding songs, while the community men play drum and Shehnais on such happy occasions. The presence of these Manganhar artistes clad in traditional costumes adds colour to the event.
Haleema, the mother of five children, is herself a leading wedding song singer in the district. She leads the group on such occasions and is an eyewitness to the changing scenario. She says that hardly a small number of people now want the women singers to perform old songs, as majority of them have changed their mindset and ask for singing modern songs, which sometimes create problems.
Despite being illiterate, she remembers more than 100 songs. Each song is performed on different events during the week-long wedding celebrations. These artistes are very much careful about the rituals and their timing.
However, it has been witnessed that the fast growing communication system did not benefit these people, as they do not have mobile phones. It is for this reason that Haleema travels to different villages to learn if there is any wedding function scheduled there. In return, the generous village women present grains and seasonal fruits, vegetables etc, to them to keep their old relationship with these artistes intact.
Recalling her elder sister, Izat Khatoon, who had a pure melodious voice and was popular in the entire area, Haleema says: “Gone are the days when the wedding song enthusiasts used to stay whole night at the functions. But now, we are sometimes asked to perform modern songs, which are usually sung by male singers”.
Izat Khatoon earned fame because of her melodious voice or else a number of groups of women artistes have been performing in the neighborhood, she says.
Haleema is not alone in this profession as many of her female relatives are carrying on this custom in the area. A number of different artiste groups have become famous for having melodious voice and new faces have also emerged in this specific field to keep this tradition alive, which is a healthy sign, she says.
Haleema claims to have a considerable following of women singers who perform in different areas. “We use to visit different villages because rural women themselves show generosity to meet wedding song performers who make their celebrations colourful.”
However, Haleema seems worried as the people have been using modern gadgets, as stereo tapes and sound system have virtually replaced wedding song performers in most of Sindhi marriage customs. People are abandoning old customs of wedding songs, thus compelling the community members to switch to alternative sources of income.
Manganhars are living in agriculture-based areas. Some of them are still associated with their traditions and customs while the rest have almost changed their profession for the sake of survival.
Living in this dot.com century, Haleema still does a lot in the field to know about the schedule of weddings as she doesn’t use mobile phone to get quick information on this count.
“Visiting the villages personally makes one know many other things apart from performing at the marriage events. Each visit gives us something… at least some money. And maintaining regular contact strengthens the bond of our relationship with these people and give us a hope that this custom still remains alive,” says Haleema.