Ever heard of the Morbeen? There was a time when the Indian bagpipe was quite popular. But now, there are almost no artistes playing the instrument. We spent a day with one such fading artist
Have you heard the name of MashakBeen or Morbeen? You must have seen it in the films or in the police and the army band. It is a wind instrument played by the mouth.
There was a time when no baraat (wedding procession) could go without the Morbeen, but now it is on the verge of extinction. Even in the mountainous areas, it is now used by a handful of old artists.
Many parts of the country, including Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Bengal, used to thrive on the music of the Morbeen, also called Bean Baja. But over time, this trend has virtually died out and there are almost no artistes playing the instruments. Banjos are now reaching villages and have replaced the Morbeen. The Morbeen was very difficult to play, but many artistes nurtured it as their ancestors’ heritage.
A handful of those artistes live in Bashari village near Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. The village is located in the Maal region, which is famous for its mangoes.
However, to reach this village, the Rural Connection team had to make a lot of effort. The team first reached the village of Lasa, along the Gomti river, where Ram Asarey, 78, was once a celebrated Morbeen player.
When we met him, he said: “Bhaiya, who is interested in Lilly Ghodi (man dancing with the head of a wooden horse) and Morbeen these days? I have played Morbeen in thousands of weddings for years but now, I cannot hold my breath. Now the younger generation feels ashamed to do all this.” Ram Aasrey gives the address of Bashari village, where a group of 5-6 people have kept this art alive.
Upon reaching Basher village, 75-year-old Babu, who works as a grocer, explained: “Since the DJs and the bands have arrived, the demand for Been and Lilly Ghodi has decreased so much. Still, we try and continue to work. We have a group of six people. Playing the Been requires at least six people. We get Rs 7,000-10,000 per wedding.” He further explained: “Now it is not like old times where landlords and the rich people used to give good rewards out of sheer happiness. At that time the art was respected, the prestige of this skill and praise for it was more important than the money an artiste earned. Now it’s just a matter of doing things for the sake of doing them.”
Babu further explained that with his team, they have played the Been in thousands of weddings in the Jawar (region) until now. But there are not many old companions left in the team now and he keeps it running with a few new ones.
Ramdin, a resident of Majhigawan, who plays the Mashkbeen with Babu, said proudly: “I am playing from the time when we used to get Rs 30 for playing the Been in the weddings. Since then, the situation has changed a lot. Everyone is dancing to the tune of bands. Now, when DJs play, everyone including the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, boy, daughter-in-law, the uncle, all dance together and guests watch them dancing, so no one wants to see the Mashkbeen or the Lilli Ghodi anymore.”
The Been Needs a Lot of Effort to play
One needs very strong lungs to fill up the ‘Mashk’ the air. Showing the Been, the artist explained that the pipe which goes in the mouth is called ‘Mukhlaal’. The pipes which have holes like a flute are called ‘Tonton’ and the part that looks like a bag, it is called Mashak, which is covered with a colourful cloth. There are more pipes for accompaniment, before playing; the Mashak is blown like a balloon. It continues playing till the air is filled in that. There are three to four people playing the Been together, and as soon as there is a need to fill the air again in a Masak, the second one takes over and covers the rhythm.
Now No One in This Village Has This Talent
“The Mashkbeen cannot be played without an associate. These companions of the Been, are Kartaal, Jhunjhuna, Dholak, Manjeera and Janana, a man and a clown in the clothes of women. Together, the team of the Been is formed. Babu, who worked as a Been player for the past five decades, said in the voice of despair: “It will not last long in the changing times, as the new generation has no talent in our village. Even in my family, no child wants to learn it. I guess this Been team will end with me.”
The 40-year-old Jairam, who played the Kartal and performed on its beats in the congregation, said: “It is a task to run a Been team. It is not possible to earn one’s bread and butter for the family from this work now. It is not easy, but we get good work sometimes. But nobody wants to pay the amount according to our hard work — people have stopped appreciating art forms now.”