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Haji Tasleem Arif (left) sings a ‘waqya qawwali’ version.
Haji Tasleem Arif (left) sings a ‘waqya qawwali’ version.

A song for a murder

Shubha Mudgal on 'Maa ka Dil' and other unknown songs about gruesome murders

We sing about the times we live in. When the mustard flowers are in bloom, our songs are about fields awash in sparkling yellow, about spring and new beginnings. When the rain clouds darken the sky, our songs are about thunder, lightning, and the call of the koel bird. We have life-cycle songs and songs for rituals, songs about going to war, about love unrequited and fulfilled, songs announcing the birth of a child, songs for wedding rituals, and for virtually every twist and turn that our lives take. But do we have songs about murder, conspiracy, brutality, crimes of passion and a near complete breakdown of familial bonds? I believe we do. If the unfolding Sheena Bora murder case is anything to go by, we should have a song or two about murder most foul and unnatural.

During my student years at the University of Allahabad, I recall hearing one of the peons sing a rather long-winded ballad titled Maa Ka Dil (Mother’s Heart), about a murder most gruesome and grisly. It tells the story of an impoverished woman with an only son, whom she brings up against all odds. In time, the strapping lad, the apple of his mother’s eye, falls in love with a village belle who spurns his advances, finally challenging her persistent suitor to lay his mother’s heart at her feet as proof of his love. Crazed in love, the lad is determined to prove himself and proceeds to mercilessly carve out his mother’s heart with a knife. As he rushes to meet his beloved, cradling the horrific trophy in his cupped hands, he stumbles against a large rock and falls—his mother’s heart falls to the ground. So staunch and immortal is a mother’s love that on seeing her son fall, the slain mother’s voice cries out loud from the very heart he has carved out of her body, “Kaho mere laal tere chot to naheen aayi (I hope you have not hurt yourself, my son)?" But the besotted young man pays no heed to his mother’s call, rushing to lay her heart at his lady love’s feet. Horrified, the young woman spurns him, saying that if he could forsake his loving mother so heartlessly, he could well cast her aside for someone else.

I first heard the Maa Ka Dil song more than 35 years ago, but different versions of the grim chant continue to resurface even today. Regional, communal and musical variations mark two of the many versions on YouTube and iTunes. The first, sung by Rajkumar Swami (https://youtu.be/C-GxDRCNods), is to the accompaniment of a dholak, chimta (tongs), harmonium and tumbi, while the other version, performed by Haji Tasleem Arif and party (https://youtu.be/9sop-2Vnqn8), is in the format of a waqya qawwali, or a qawwali that narrates an incident.

Does the tragic tale make for a good song? Not really, but it obviously attracts the attention of listeners as avidly as the Sheena Bora case does.

Also read | Shubha Mudgal’s previous Lounge columns.

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