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My Ancestors Lived The Lives Shown In Enjoy Enjaami, Getting Us Where We Are Now

Posted: March 20, 2021

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Enjoy Enjaami brought up personal memories of Oppari and other songs, their lyrics were always about the labour of the person, how they toiled to live a dignified life and celebrating their identities.

It’s been two weeks that the world has started beating for the Tamil Indie song Enjoy Enjaami.

Just in this short span of time, the song has received appreciation from audience across the world with over a 33 million views on Youtube. Most of the other social media platforms are flooded with reaction videos, memes, reels, tweets and dance videos on IGTV and many more.

An addictive beat, and much more

Since the fifth of March, my day doesn’t end without listening to this song at least four to five times. It has become an addiction.

The first time I listened to Enjoy Enjaami was without the visuals, the lyrics and the beats tapped the senses so strong that it reminded the first time I listened to Oppari in my family.

Malliga periyamma (mom’s sister) passed away when I was nine years old. Amma was shattered by the news and started screaming so loudly, that my sister and I were scared to go be beside her. With the same emotions, she took us to attend the final rituals. The funeral place was crowded, with men and women we were meeting for the first time. That’s the first time my siblings and I got to know that we had so many relatives in Bangalore.

Women got together to sing and continued with the same energy until they got exhausted, their song revealed Malliga periyamma’s life. We saw Paati, Amma, Attai and far relatives sing in a melancholic rhythm. That rhythm was unusual for me.

I couldn’t relate to it back then since Appa would tune into T. M. Soundararajan and M. S. Vishwanathan at home, and Amma being an ardent fan of the Maanguyile Poonguyile song, she would play that on a loop.

I couldn’t understand most of what they said in the Oppari but one line that got stamped in my memory is – “Yennga mavaraasi, yenngala vittutu poyitiyee. Yennga veetu raasathi, yengala vittutu poyitiyee.” (Our dear daughter has left us; our dear one has left our home).

Maybe, if Appa was with us now, I would have been able to listen to this song with him and not his playlist. Or maybe, this song would have joined his playlist even before I listened to it.

Memories flooded in as I listened to Enjoy Enjaami again and again

Arivu’s lines – “Naan anju maram valarthen… Azhagana thottam vachchen… Thottam sezhithaalum en thonda nanaiyalaye,” (I planted five trees and nurtured a beautiful garden. Though my garden is flourishing, my throat remains dry.) pulled the chord of all the Opparis I have listened to in life. All the women in the family who could weave web of words on the spot for Oppari and add the ‘perfect’ rhyme and rhythm to it. Their lyrics were always about the labour of the person, how they toiled to live a dignified life and celebrating their identities.

As the beats of the song was still dancing on the mind, Arivu’s words during the audio launch was a call to own the Oppari art form. “Oppari is the Indian rap/hip-hop. If rap is about narrating stories, then, My Paati is the greatest rapper in the world” – says Arivu. That was the moment; I wanted to share with him that his Paati Valliammal reminds this Dalit woman from Bangalore of her Paati – Paanjaalai.

Paanjalai paati is from Karimangalam, a small village in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu. She worked as a coolie in farms, did pig farming, and managed all kinds of labour intense jobs in her village. She moved to Bangalore after her marriage at the age of sixteen. Though Bangalore was new, Paati started her life in a slum with her husband by owning her own eatery to support the family economically.

She is not with us now but she is one of the roots for us to branch out wide and broad.

Appa received an education till seventh standard in a Tamizh medium school in Bangalore. After exploring a few jobs, he settled down to become an auto driver at the age of 24. It was Paati’s stories that told us our roots.

Thinking back to my roots in Bangalore

It was my great grandfather – Saaminaathan who moved to Bangalore from Arambarapattu, Tiruvanamalai district. He walked for weeks to reach this metropolitan city with a hope to begin a new life. Only certain parts of the city can be accessible to the people from the margins. So, he settled in a convenient location on J.C. Road, which was closer to the city market. Being closer to the city market meant he could get jobs there to survive. Later, it turned out that my grandfather Subramani also stayed there and opened a small grocery store.

It was Appa who moved from that part of the city after I was born. We are aware that the cities get built with hard labour of the people from the margins but what they receive in return from the city is still a complex question to answer in this caste insensitive society.

While I could trace some roots of father’s side, I have started conversations with my mother’s side of the family just few years ago. Amma’s family has been fruits vendors in city market. Amma had to drop out of school after fifth standard and help her mother Paapamma in her business. Later in life she has worked as a help in a garment factory, as a domestic help, had a small business and worked as a house-keeping staff for years.

My ancestors, their hard labour are the seed for my growth. Those seeds are back to the soil to branch out wide and broad.

Songs are stories, Oppari is a storytelling form, Arivu’s paati’s story reminds me of my paati’s stories. Geography is different but the ancestral history, celebration of roots, identities and reclaiming the stories that are moved to the periphery is the threads that bind these narratives.

“Nambalin Veru Uzhaipin Verugazh” (Our roots/history/ is of our labour) – shares Arivu. The auto-ethnographic element of Enjoy Enjaami makes this song accessible and close to heart.

Recently, I screened this song in one of my classes. We were talking about narratives. Students interpreting this song made me feel an immense joy. Sadly, I couldn’t share that with Paanjaalai paati and Appa.

The last time, I listened to Oppari was during Appa’s funeral. Appa’s younger sisters Muruvamaal and Konganaata kept referring to him as Ensaami. I think there are so many Ensaamis in my life to discover. It’s a journey to take!

A big Nandri to Arivu (@terukural)

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Assistant Professor at St. Joseph's College, Bengaluru. Former Assistant Professor at Jain University, Bengaluru.

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