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The bagpipers of matrimony
NIDHI GUPTA  11th Dec 2011

Dholwallas perfoming at a wedding

eddings are life changing decisions for some, an opportunity to hobnob for others and a source of livelihood for a section of the populace in India. The band wallahs who play at baraats depend on the wedding season, lasting for about 4-5 months, to earn a major chunk of their livelihood. These men who play drums, euphoniums or trumpets are part of a hard-working species, who moonlight as artisans with their day jobs, which are as diverse as farming to hawking handicrafts in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Sheikh Ahmed, 26, is from a village in Mirzapur, eastern UP, and has already played the dhol at over 15 weddings this season. Hired by Ravi Brass Band, he says, he hopes to make about Rs 50,000 by the end of March 2012, which is when the season ends. "Making music is a tradition in my family. I've inherited the skill," he says, while taking a break from rehearsing in front of his shop in Tagore Garden. Apart from this passion, he is also a carpenter and specialise in wood carvings. "Carpentry is my family business, we need to do it to sustain through the year," he says.

For Deepak Kumar, a farmer from Gujarat, playing euphonium became a passion since the day he saw a video of a man playing saxophone on TV. "I really wanted to learn how to play a brass wind instrument and a neighbour, who often plays in Delhi, taught me how to play euphonium and hooked me up for this job," says the enthusiastic 18-year-old, on his first foray into the big city. His father lets him indulge in this 'pastime', but commands his presence back at the village during harvest season in January.

These men are part of a hard-working species, who moonlight as artisans with their day jobs, which range from activities as diverse as farming to hawking handicrafts.

Master Ramesh, 37, has been playing duggi, a percussion instrument, for the past 20 years. "Initially I earned Rs 50 per day when the season was on, and sold balloons rest of the year," he says. Today, with the help of an uncle and his life-savings, he has started his own company and has already played at a dozen weddings. "But this is a very rude industry, I have stayed only because I know nothing else," he says, recalling countless incidents of dealing with 'over-zealous' relatives at parties. "But it is still better than hawking, because I enjoy playing music," he smiles.

Sanjay Sharma, owner of Master Band, puts this into perspective. "It is really hard for common artisans to make a living by just playing music in this country. They may have exceptional skills, but that doesn't guarantee them two meals a day," he adds. Krishan Gopal, owner of Sajan Band, agrees. "The youngsters these days choose more stable and well paying jobs in the corporate or government sector, which is available to them as they have better education and reservations," he points out.

So does this mean a slow demise of this popular band culture? Not yet, says Ahmed. "This is more than just a source of money for a lot of us. It is a way of life. Music is still a big part of our identity," he assures.

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