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Ruralising the City: Migration and Viraha in Translocal Nepal

  • ANNA STIRR (a1)

Throughout the history of movement between country and city in the Nepali-speaking areas of the Indian subcontinent, musical links between cities and the rural hills have integrated emotional associations with rural hill life into the fabric of city life. Songs in the thematic genre of viraha – longing and the pain of separation – articulate lyrical and musical tropes that have come to characterise the experience of moving between hill villages, cities, and back again. This article explores over a century of Nepali-language viraha songs related to labour migration, arguing that as these songs take root in translocal publics crossing urban-rural divides, they contribute to an ruralisation of social and emotional life in the cities.

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1 For more on the idea of multiaccentual space and acoustemology, see Eisenberg, Andrew, “Islam, Sound, and Space: Acoustemology and Muslim Citizenship on the Kenyan Coast”, in Music, Sound, and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience, (ed.) Born, Georgina (Cambridge, 2014), pp. 186202.

2 Feld, Steven, “Waterfalls of Song: An Acoustemology of Place Resounding in Bosavi, Papua New Guinea”, in Senses of Place, (eds.) Feld, Steven and Basso, Keith (Santa Fe, NM, 1996), pp. 91136.

3 Marx, Karl, Grundrisse, translated bu Nicolaus, Martin (London and New York, 1973).

4 Leigh Pigg, Stacy, “Inventing Social Categories through Place: Social Presentation and Development in Nepal.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 34 (1992), pp. 491513 . Saubhagya Shah, “Throes of a Fledgling Nation.” Himal 6 (1993), pp. 7-10.

5 Bhattarai, Baburam, Politico-Economic Rationale of People's War, 2nd edition (Kathmandu, 2006).

6 Kolff, Dirk, Naukar, Rajput, and Sepoy: The Ethno-history of the Military Labour Market in Hindustan, 1450-1850 (New York, 2002).

7 The Indian army uses the spelling “Gorkha” for their regiments of Nepali soldiers, which remained in India after 1947. Nepali speakers across the northern subcontinent often refer to themselves as Gorkhali, and this term has also been used for the language; “Gorkha” as an ethnonym for Nepali speakers living in India is a twentieth-century development.

8 Orsini, Francesca, Love in South Asia (Cambridge, 2006).

9 Kolff, Naukar, Rajput, and Sepoy; Michael Hutt, Devkota's Muna-Madan: Translation and Analysis (Kathmandu, 1996).

10 March, Kathryn, “Two Houses and the Pain of Separation in Tamang Narratives from Highland Nepal”, in Songs, Stories, Lives: Gendered Dialogues and Cultural Critique, (ed.) Raheja, Gloria (New Delhi, 2003); Narayan, Kirin, “Singing from Separation: Women's Voices in and about Kangra Folksongs”, Oral Tradition 12 (1997), pp. 2553 ; Narayan, Kirin, “Birds on a Branch: Girlfriends and Wedding Songs in Kangra”, Ethos 14 (1987), pp. 4775.

11 Smith, Visaladevarasa, p. 57, cited in Kolff, Naukar, Rajput, and Sepoy, p. 76.

12 Alter, Joseph S., Moral Materialism: Sex and Masculinity in Modern India (Delhi, 2011). Kolff, Naukar, Rajput, and Sepoy.

13 Stirr, Anna, Singing Across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal (Oxford and New York, 2017).

14 I am grateful to Santanu Das for bringing this song to my attention, and to Ram Kumar Singh for helping with transcription.

15 Das, Santanu, ‘The Indian Sepoy in the First World War’, British Library (London, 2014) (accessed 24 February 2017).

16 Note on transcription: I give priority to the sound of what was sung and to visually representing poetic meter in the Nepali, so some spellings are nonstandard. And I follow colloquial Nepali Romanisation conventions and use ch and chh, instead of c and ch as in Sanskrit conventions.

17 Perhaps the name of a river, as I have translated it, or perhaps he means “susāī”, “whistling”, a term commonly used to describe the sound of flowing streams.

18 Jyān literally means “life” but also “body” – something like “incarnation” in the material sense, the material manifestation of life, different from juni, which is the time-span of “this life” as opposed to past and future lives. He uses this word to refer to himself and to other people, as well as sometimes to his body. This is common in songs and some rural, colloquial speech today as well. I have translated it differently in different verses according to the context. Since it appears so much throughout the song, it could also be treated as a ṭhego – a word used not for its meaning but to fill out the syllables of the meter. I have translated as a meaningful word and not a ṭhego, but either way it does not change the meaning much. Jiu is another word for body that he also uses, which connotes only the material body.

19 Charī (“birdie”) is often used to refer to a girl in folk songs.

20 While the song is quite clear here, I do not understand what a leaf-bowl from Delhi is supposed to signify in this context. It is still possible that I am mishearing /t/ as /d/, in which case “tilli pāt” would refer to leaves that were shining rather than coming from Delhi.

21 Here he is changing the last phrase to rhyme with the next half of the couplet. So torīko phul phulchha (mustard flowers bloom) is the phrase that he is throwing out.

22 The two lines of this couplet refer to funerary rituals – washing the body, making a cremation fire with straw as tinder.

23 Tolā is a measure of weight. One tolā equals 12 grams. As to why he uses this particular number, tīn tolā is a common phrase in songs, often referring to gold. I think the phrase is tīn tolā and not, for example, chār tolā, because people find the alliteration pleasing.

24 Bikram (Subi), Surendra Shah, Nepali Lokgitko Jhalak (Kathmandu, 2006).

25 Chalmers, Rhoderick, “Pandits and Pulp Fiction: Popular Publishing and the Birth of Print Capitalism in Banaras”, Studies in Nepali History and Society 7 (2002), pp. 3597 ; Chalmers, Rhoderick, “When Folk Culture Met Print Culture: Some Thoughts On The Commercialisation, Transformation and Propagation of Traditional Genres in Nepali”, Contributions to Nepalese Studies 31 (2004), pp. 243–56; Stirr, Anna, “Sounding and Writing a Nepali Public Sphere: The Music and Language of Jhyaure”, Asian Music 46, 1 (2015), pp. 338 .

26 However, this melody is not in the Asare raga of the hills of central and western Nepal, which has further associations with rice planting and thus even greater associations with love. As shown in Figure 2, the melody of Jasbahdur's song is in what could be identified as a major scale, yet without the characteristic patterns of any particular raga, classical or otherwise, as far as I am aware. This type of Nepali folk song is not usually attributed to any particular raga.

27 Chalmers, “Pandits and Pulp Fiction”; Orsini, Francesca, The Hindi Public Sphere (New Delhi, 2009); Onta, Pratyoush, “Creating a Brave Nepali Nation in British India: The Rhetoric of Jati Improvement, the Rediscovery of Bhanubhakta, and the Writing of Bir History”, Studies in Nepali History and Society 1 (1996), pp. 3776.

28 Chalmers, “When Folk Culture Met Print Culture”; Chalmers, “Pandits and Pulp Fiction”.

29 Also see Onta, “Creating a Brave Nepali Nation in British India”.

30 Chalmers, “Pandits and Pulp Fiction”.

31 Stirr, Singing Across Divides.

32 Onta, “Creating a Brave Nepali Nation in British India”.

33 Stirr, “Sounding and Writing a Nepali Public Sphere”.

34 Hutt, Devkota's Muna-Madan.

35 Ibid ., p. 7.

36 Dhrubesh Chandra Regmi, “Music in Nepal During the Rana Period” (unpublished PhD dissertation, Delhi University, 2005).

37 Grandin, Ingemar, “The Soundscape of the Radio: Engineering Modern Songs and Superculture in Nepal”, in Wired for Sound, (eds.) Porcello, Thomas and Greene, Paul (Middletown, CT, 2005).

38 Henderson, David, “‘Who Needs ‘The Folk’?’ A Nepali Remodeling Project”, Asian Music 34 (2002), p. 19 .

39 Fiol, Stefan, “From Folk to Popular and Back: Musical Feedback Between Studio Recordings and Festival Dance-Songs in Uttarakhand, North India”, Asian Music 42 (2011), pp. 2453.

40 Mani Dixit, Kanak, “The Liberation of Dohori Geet”, Himal South Asian 15 (2002), p. 60. This is a reference to Lomax's, AlanAn Appeal for Cultural Equity”, World of Music 14, 2 (1972).

41 Das, “The Indian Sepoy in the First World War”; Das, Santanu, “Indian Sepoy Experience in Europe, 1914-18: Archive, Language, and Feeling”, Twentieth Century British History 25, 3 (2014), pp. 391417.

42 Kshetri, Yam, Pariyar, Raju and Majhi, Bishnu, Siri Siri Hawa Bahunjel (Kathmandu, 2007).

43 Ellen Andors, ‘The Rodi: Female Associations Among the Gurungs of Nepal’ (unpublished PhD

dissertation, Columbia University, 1976); Messerschmidt, Donald, The Gurungs of Nepal: Conflict and Change in a Village Society (Delhi, 1976); Macfarlane, Alan, Resources and Population: A Study of the Gurungs of Nepal, 2nd edition (Kathmandu, 2003); Pignede, Bernard, The Gurungs, translated by Macfarlane, Alan (Kathmandu, 1966); Moisala, Pirkko, “Gurung Music and Culture”, Kailash 15 (1989), pp. 207222 ; Devendra Neupane, ‘Mother's Groups among the Gurung of Bhujung Village of Lamjung District’ (Tribhuvan University, Patan Multiple Campus, 2011).

44 Ring, Laura, Zenana: Everyday Peace in a Karachi Apartment Building (Bloomington, IN, 2006).

45 Interview with Khem Jung Gurung, August 2010.

46 Interview with Ganja Singh Gurung, 5 December 2006.

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