In this latest book, author Mimlu Sen tells you why she gave up a life in Paris to wander the streets of India singing with the Bauls, only to take one of them she fell in love with, back to Paris to form an afro-jazz band
She left home at 18 to join the prestigious Presidency College in Kolkata, only to drop out because she couldn't concentrate on studying Shelley's "pathetic fallacy". She then went on to do voluntary social work in famine-struck Bihar, and ended up in France when she decided to break away from her group during a college trip.
A few years later, after falling in love with a married Frenchman and living in with him and his wife in strange harmony, author Mimlu Sen returned to India when the music of the Bauls lured her back to Kolkata.
Mimlu Sen and Paban at a private concert in Kolkata, 1986.
Her book, Baulsphere, chronicles her wild journey spent travelling with the wandering minstrels of Bengal. She fell in love with one of them, Paban, with whom she travelled on foot, sang in buses and trains.
Their melodies were heart-wrenching, their texts poignant the Bauls and their favourite musical instrument the ektara introduced Mimlu to tantrics, exorcisms, witch sightings, catfish that climb
trees, sex-yogic secrets and wild, tumultuous love.
You've led a pretty exciting life. What about the Bauls made you leave Paris?
The Baul songs I heard in Paris reincarnated a life of creation and desire, for without desire, life is nothing. At the same time, I was dismayed to see the Bauls on a "scene a l'italienne", reduced to exoticism on a Western stage. They were so utterly brilliant so compelling and magnetic. Till then, I had no idea that village culture in India was so profound and close to my heart.
What's the one lesson they taught you?
They taught me that the first step towards wisdom is to know and express yourself.
What's your favourite Baul couplet and why?
Boshley Raja Uthley Gadha. It's a nomad's motto. The couplet says that when the Baul sits and sings, he is a king as he commands total attention from all those who listen to him. But when he gets up, he is a beast of burden. It's his nomadism that gives him his spiritual wealth and freedom.
What did a Baul singer and you, a Bengali memsaheb from Paris have in common to find love?
We have lots in common we adore cooking and feeding people and partying, Baul songs, playing music, watching movies, reading books, making new friends, travelling, performing and finding ways to build bridges between worlds.
Paban is a good housekeeper and I'm pretty good at bringing in the bucks! Love is a continuous struggle and can disappear at any moment. Our life together is pretty silent; we can spend days living next to each other without speaking. We are a couple not against the rest of the world, and when we are with a crowd of people, we usually loose each other pretty fast, only to come together to make music.
Your daughter Duniya and son Krishna accompanied you on your journey. How was it raising kids in a free-spirited environment?
I never forced my children into anything. They were being exposed to many different worlds and languages, and ended up turning into lovely musicians although they don't make music for a living. They travel to India on their own, have taken all their Parisian friends to the back of beyond where the Bauls live, and our shuttle has sort of created a community of friends of all ages around us.
First, you enter the Baul world. Then you take the Baul back to Paris.
That will perhaps be the subject of a new book. Getting Paban back to Paris led to all kinds of encounters, collisions and accidents happy and sad. Paban has opened out musically and his Afro-jazz band has a Frenchman, a Latin American, a Malian and a bassist from the Cameroons. How's that! Baulsphere has been published by Random House India and is available at leading bookstores for Rs 395
Who are the Bauls?
They are a group of mystic minstrels from Bengal. Baul music celebrates celestial love, and Rabindranath Tagore was greatly influenced by them. Baul music is influenced by the Hindu Bhakti movement and Sufism. They carry the ektara, a one-stringed drone instrument carved from the epicarp of a gourd, and made of bamboo and goatskin.