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To Music, Their Only Master

Once rich and influential, tawaifs now peck at society’s margins. Dewan’s evocative, de-romanticised account looks into their glory and pain.

To Music, Their Only Master
To Music, Their Only Master
outlookindia.com
2019-08-30T10:38:13+05:30

A family portrait features only women who “stare fearlessly into the camera”. The reader’s curiosity is piqued. What is the connection of these classical singers, famous as tawa­ifs or courtesans, who once commanded societal respect in glittering and classy salons, and are now relegated to the bar dancers in Mumbai, gyrating on the margins of society to popular Hindi songs in seedy bars?

Saba Dewan traces the laughter and tears, the light and darkness, the music and tragedies of three generations of one family of ‘khandani’ tawaifs from Benares to Bhabua in Tawaifnama to provide a fascinating peep into their lives. Indeed, it is a glimpse into history itself.

A very telling sign of the times is that the protaganist of the book, once a legendary tawaif of Benares, is now leading a “respectable life” and does not want her family embarrassed by her past. Told in a fascinating style, as an address to the protaganist, Dewan continually uses the second person singular (‘you’) throughout the story, using...

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