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This month our set begins with “Kala Doria,” a spunky contemporary interpretation that draws from Punjabi folk tradition. I’ve been intrigued by the story it tells and have been imagining what it might reveal about women in Punjabi culture. In my “real life” (I know, it’s hard to believe there might be anything beyond dance) I’m a history teacher. This summer I’m deep into creating new courses, and I’ve been thinking this week about how to teach my students to approach and work with “primary sources,” or immediate pieces of history, instead of assigning them dry, boring homework featuring historians talking endlessly about history. “Kala Doria” qualifies as a primary source; it’s a little complicated by the fact that its singer Anamika is a contemporary Punjabi artist reinterpreting an older folk song. But I think it’s worth taking a gander to see what it might tell us.

Vicki provided the initial translation of Punjabi lyrics (I’m sad to report I’m limited to working with Devanagari), then Nina joined the music with the translation to create choreography that largely reflects the ideas and meanings behind the words. The story behind the lyrics is poetic, which is a nice way of saying “not entirely linear,” and revolves around the image of “kala doria” or a parandi with black string. This kala doria belongs to a sister-in-law, and it’s tangled around a door knob throughout the chorus of the song. And how did it get there? Through various misunderstandings, primarily quarrels, with her in-laws.

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I don’t have the experience of being a daughter-in-law within a joint family, but I can relate to the problems of “Na lad soniya teri ik parjayi way,” or “Don’t fight with your only sister-in-law” (amongst my in-laws there’s two of us sisters-in-law, so thankfully we can commiserate a little), and I’ve certainly experienced “Tussan beygaanania jeyna Gallon lahayan ney,” or “My mother-in-law just wants me off her neck.” This song is an opportunity for a daughter-in-law to speak about her experience. Historians would say this song gives a woman “agency,” or the ability to speak about and define her own experience, in a situation in which she would probably be “subaltern,” or socially and politically outside the power structure and unable to air or have her grievances addressed. Historical gobbledygook aside I think it makes her sassy, especially when she compares the squawking of her mother-in-law to a chicken laying eggs.

I’m laying my own interpretation on pretty thick, but I often feel that our experience as women is “Kala doria kunday nal adiya e oye,” or “The black thread is entangled with the door hook.” There are so many power structures and dynamics that we’re subject to that we can’t do much about, some by created by men but most formed and enforced by other women. It’s often the symbol of our femininity, that kala doria, that others are so invested in controlling. But this song shows us that if you are wearing that kala doria, you can recognize it’s tangled by forces beyond your control. And regardless of what you can and can’t do, you can always bring the truth of your experience to performance and use it to create art.

If you’re wanting a video visual, check out:  Kala Doriya Kunday Nal

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