Bawre of Gulbai Tekra

Especial thanks to: Shubham Prajapati

Ahmedabad is considered as one of the most commercial and most livable city in India having just 10% population that lives in slums. Gulbai Tekra is a remarkable slum nestled in between the busy Gujarat University Road and CG Road that houses almost 10,000 people who are genetically from Rajasthan but now blended with Gujrat in terms of their culture, language, lifestyle and Profession as well at the same time preserving some basic features of Rajasthani Culture. And now a days, because of modernism the touch of western culture is leading this culture transformation to another direction spontaneously.According to the local people, when there was a deadly drought in 1851-1854 in Rajasthan, the Rajasthani Marwadis (members of Bawre community) migrated to this place (present Ahmedabad city) and they were provided a living and livelihood space by a landowning Parsi woman devotee named Gulabi Bai. Then the place was a hilly forest (Tekra). Since the forest has changed into a very high commercial city now, the context has left a big Impact to their lifestyle. The modern city context is threatening them each and every second but they have no lacks to try best for preserving their core culture.

One of the main features, Gulbai Tekra is famous for is the rustic charm and natural beauty of the women. Since they are genetically Rajsthani, the features of Rajsthani beauty some how blink in the portraits of women and that makes them little more attention grabbing in the Gujrat context. There is a saying that, their beauty is no less than Hollywood beauties and people call this community ‘Aapna Amdavad nu Hollywood’ means ‘Hollywood of Ahmedabad’. The term ‘Hollywood’ is often used disparagingly for the locality as well, implying that it is very different from the rest of Ahmedabad, so the people of Gulbai Tekra take this as a bully and they got a tendency to be more stuck to their own style of living and most importantly, it becomes a barrier to their social development.

Whatever, they know very well to celebrate their life with so many festivals such as Marriage, Holi, Navaratri, Agyaras, tithi (dates in Indian calendar using sun and moon signs) etc. And the beauty gets another dimension during the festive time. There is so drastic change in their appearance especially in clothing and jewelry, during the festive time, that no one will believe that these people are slum-dwellers. As they are from Bawre community, they have a very strong justification of being Bawre through their celebration. ‘Bawre’ means mad or insane and they enjoy their life like insane with these festivals. Their philosophy about life is “Eat, Drink and Enjoy”. In most of the festivals they try their best to follow their Rajasthani folk rituals and tradition, which becomes a hierarchy in a context like Ahmedabad city.

Celebration of marriage is the most frequent festival at Gulbai Tekra. They strictly maintain their caste in case of marriage and the marriage takes place only within the community. In the marriage ceremony especially the women become more colorful and the multicolored procession full of traditional music gives a different vibe to the city. One noticeable thing, not only the rituals are followed by the tradition; but also still there is a very old trend of early marriage. Almost in every case the bride is under eighteen and the bridegroom is not more than twenty. This in near future results into imbalanced married life, with all sort of health, financial and social problems.    

Holi is another festival when the people of Gulbai Tekra show their extreme madness mainly the young people. They play not only with color; dust, muds with water, even eggs are also strong substitutes of color for playing holi. Holi is basically famous for Dhuleti / Dhulandi  (playing with color) all over the world but here; the main concentration is the newborn babies who are attending the holi for the first time. They have some special rituals for those special babies that start with a long procession full of music and dance and ends with a prayer.

The rarest festival that takes place once in 12 or 15 years is BADA BARWA. In this festival Gulbai Tekra gets a different look. Each caste in gulbai tekra has a headman, who controls and takes decisions for the community. Community chooses him according to his abilities and respect he holds in community. He holds that post until he dies. On his death ceremony and cremation, community celebrates a very big scale festival, which generally comes once in 12-15 years known as BADA BARWA (big/ large Twelfth day of his death). The people of community will dress up like Lord RAM and his younger brother LAKSHMAN and the ladies will dress up as Mata SITA, depicting the same story of dedication and sacrifice about what Lord Ram, Lakshman and Sita Ma possessed towards their Promise their father made to someone. Same way they show their devotion towards their community. After the procession, community selects a new Headman unanimously. 

Except all these there are some more festivals and fair. Especially these fairs are dedicated to the women and kids. Some portable rides and events are managed for the kids and the women always are there with the kids and definitely in gorgeous get up as well. The young men are also interested to have new tip-top get up but males’ get ups are less traditional than women; since the males are more connected to the outer modern world. Overall they have their ultimate enjoyment during these festivals.

Another reason for which this locality is famous is it’s becoming a hub for making idols of Lord Ganesha. This is why the locality is also known as “Ganesha galli”. After migration, sculpting was the main profession of these people. At the beginning, people used to make only idols (especially Ganesha) and only with clays but now because of commercialization people are making many different sculptures. They are using Plaster of Paris (POP) instead of clay now. It’s much quicker and easier to increase the production quantity. They have started making fiber sculptures too. But the old artists are very much disappointed because, according to them it takes so many skills in clay sculpting and the artists of these generations are lacking that as in the pop, its much easier to cast or copy the sculpture, using moulds and casts. However, a transformation or fusion is noticeable in making procedure of the sculptures, which is very natural according to the gradual transformation of time and context.

And this transformation or fusion is more prominent in terms of cultural and traditional elements such as jewelry, clothing, get-up even attitude. Not only that, this cultural transformation varies interestingly depending on gender and age also. The women specially the old women of this community are most sensitive regarding pure traditional (Rajsthani) dress and jewelry. As the men are more connected to the outer modern world they are not that much stuck in traditional get-up. The young generation is much more interested in the modern world and the western style and that clearly reflects in their get-up and attitude.

Another significant part of Rajsthani Culture is ‘Tattooing’. Mainly Rajasthani women love to do that but that is visible only on the old women’s skin because new generation women are not fond of spotting their skin anymore. Men are now more interested in tattoos. In this case the art form of the tattoos has also been modernized a lot.  At present the community has only one professional modern tattoo artist named ‘Tejas’. He has managed all of the equipment from Mumbai and learnt how to do tattooing himself. He dreams tattooing as an established profession there because it’s a part of Rajsthani culture and he likes the modern tattoos very much.

Like Tejas, there are many entrepreneurs who are now changing their lives doing something new or different. As there are so many festivals, all these celebrations led to enjoyment, wearing new clothes, mass gathering, contacting people, which directly or indirectly generated some professions like tailoring, vendor and even photography. During celebration, few people from the community roam around with cameras. They professionally take photos of the people.Some work in small studios. In the community wedding photography is now a blooming profession. These people also bought animals, birds, poultry and cattle with them, which they now use for trading and use camels and horses for cultural processions. For their livelihood, they are now bound to work as laborers, cooks, housekeepers, vendors, tailors, etc though most of them are artists by birth.

So allover in Gulbai Tekra, there are so many verities of profession related to culture directly and indirectly, which makes them possible to survive in the very fast and modern life context. These off-track entrepreneurs makes their livelihood struggling each and every day, still maintain a balance between modern life’s deviations these people are suffering and conserving their culture, tradition, rituals, festivals and celebrations.

There is a strong connection between the people and God in Gulbai Tekra and it is not only because they are God makers but also temples and prayers are very important part of their life. That’s why all of the festivals and rituals are somehow centralized to the temples. One thing is very interesting in this case that sometimes they consider their great grand father as God and they have established some temples in the name of those Gods too with some self made rituals. The other people are the followers of them and they maintain that till death. Gulbai Tekra have almost 50 temples in all.    

Since almost all the males are busy working outside, the females of the house manage most of the households but sometimes males can be seen to help in households on holidays. They do some obvious things such as cooking, washing cloths, gossiping, taking care of children, combing hair, playing with pets, sleeping little extra as daily life activities but in a chilled mood – no rush, no stress.

No matter how much enjoyment, beauty, color, vibe are saturating the life in Gulbai Tekra, there is no way to deny the fact that this is a slum after all. Though Gulbai Tekra is much different than any other slum/locality in terms of culture, but all the obvious issues and problems of a typical slum are available there also such as: unhealthy environment, poor medical facilities, poor access to water, lack of sanitation system, poor toilet facilities and last but not the least; poverty.

The major problem they are facing right now is access of water. There is no proper supply of water. Daily morning two water tanks come to the area and the people get chance to collect water once for the whole day. Usually they can collect only three buckets of water for full family per day, which is definitely not sufficient according to their basic necessity. So taking bath everyday is kind of luxury for them. Most of the time the kids take bath for once in 7-10 days. Few days ago the government has set-up one single pipe for supplying water but according to the local people that hardly fulfills their need. So they themselves started digging and making own pipe connection from the main pipe to their own houses but nothing happened at all. This further division in pipeline ultimately led to lack of water pressure and lack of quantity, reach to people.

As the environmental condition is not appropriate for living a sound life, they have to suffer from so many diseases from children to adult/old and also they don’t have proper medical facilities. There is only one small dispensary that certainly cannot give them proper medical facilities. Fever, Malnutrition, Malaria, Diarrhea etc is very frequent there. This adds on to death rate rise in Gulbai tekra.

They don’t have proper facilities of education for the children. Neither they have interests nor do the kids get chance to the mainstream schools. But recently the parents are sending their kids to some local free schools so that they can prosper in life. Sometimes parents also do not send them to schools as their family generally have 6-8 members, single man earnings cannot fulfill whole family’s need. So they drag children into business / vendoring, to get some extra income.

There is another issue, which directly creates the obstacles to their socio-economic development. Their philosophy behind life: “Eat, Drink and Enjoy”. They love to live in present, no tension of future. Which is actually good from one perspective but nevertheless having no future plan is terrible for the next generation. No family plan also affects their family life. Almost every night some of the males get heavily drunk which they arrange illegally, as alcohol is banned in Gujrat (dry state) and that creates so many family problems. Because of early marriage, they are bound to take huge responsibilities before get mature enough and this is creates problems like divorce, high child mortality rate, resulting further emotional and financial breakdowns for family.

Moreover, because of city development, this community is under immediate threat of the demolition of their workshops and living spaces as they were refugees and their place and residence are not registered to government bodies and a part of their self-built homesteads was demolished a few months ago, pushing this community towards great vulnerability and lowering their ability to survive in an urban setting as a traditional crafts people’s community. This community is in quick need of conservation and rehabilitation plans.


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