Song of Struggle

Santanu Chakraborty

India. February 2014

Malabika Brahma is the singer for Brahmakhyapa, a band that sings songs of the Bauls and Fakirs, wandering minstrels and philosophers of Bengal. Many Bauls will take the name “Khyapa” meaning mad, in part to denote society’s perception of them, in part to embrace that deviance.

Along with Sanjay Bhattacherjee, her partner and lead guitarist, Malabika struggles, searching for expression and appreciation. The house they live in is in a constant state of flux, besieged from outside by an intolerant society and from the inside by simmering tensions among its members. Malabika’s mother, Chinu Brahma, lost her husband when her children were very young and her young son soon after to cancer. It has been a hellish journey to bring up her only daughter against unthinkable odds, and she has no patience either for the band or for any more struggle. Notu, Sanjay and Malabika’s daughter, is the life of the house and its much needed glue. Yet providing for her adds to the strain in the household.

Then, amid the struggle came a sudden ray of light. Malabika was offered, out of the blue, a role as lead singer in a Bollywood movie, “Gulaab Gang,” based on the life of a woman who fought back against domestic abuse and social injustices against women. The songs are a hit and her performance widely appreciated. Malabika continues to hope to struggle a little less and sing a little more.