Smriti Wadhwa and Kiski Kahani spent a week with Niyaz Khan and his family in a village outside Jaisalmer called Bhaiya. Niyaz Khan is a Manganiyar, whose father taught him the story of Rama in the form of Ram bhajans, drawing from the poetry of Kabir, Surdas, Mirabai, Bihari and Tulsidas. The men of the family spend over six hours each day practicing and teaching their sons these stories. Every evening, they meet under the only neem tree in the village to sing together. Until the late 1970s, the Manganiyars were supported by the local rajas of the village. Now, they have ‘agent’ who co ordinates their performances in Jaisalmer and other cities in India. Today, three of Niyaz Khan’s sons work and sing in Bollywood. When we asked him if he was afraid that in time, the new generation of Manganiyars would forget the poetry of Bulleshah or Kabir, he said, “When a Manganiyar is born his first cry is always in tune. Kabir, Bulleshah and other great poets are in our blood, we can never forget them just as we can never sing out of tune.”
These photographs were taken during our week with them.
Smriti Wadhwa is a production designer for ad films, music videos and feature films. Her first love is stop motion animation, a technique that involves putting still images together to create a sense of movement. When Smriti isn’t working, she is watching documentary films. Smriti lives in Bombay.