Cover

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Half Title, Series Info, Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Foreword

Ann Grodzins Gold

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pp. vii-xvi

Margaret Trawick’s writings on Tamil women’s songs and lives offer rare and intimate glimpses into kinship, myth, work, want, anger, reverence, and more. Revealing a subtle, never static, interplay between abjection and empowerment, this book testifies that human beings, low born and ill-treat​­ed within a punishing social system,

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Preface

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pp. xvii-xviii

The fieldwork that resulted in this book was done intermittently from 1975 to 1991 while I was engaged in other projects in Tamil Nadu. The study for the book and the writing of it have been done continuously until now. Emergent from this work has been, among other things, a picture of how the government of India, and the British colonial government before it, ...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-28

When you’re looking for something you haven’t yet seen, what you encounter may be entirely different from what you expect. Among my unsought experiences have been the people, the stories, and the songs appearing in this book. Franz Boas realized that the Inuit, then called Eskimo, knew more than geologists about the geology of the area that he studied and where they lived. ...

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Chapter 1. Māriamman

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pp. 29-70

My first encounter with Sarasvati was in 1975, while I was doing research for my doctoral dissertation. She did not fit into that dissertation, but what she showed me was more enduring, if less elegant, than what I was able to write about then. The dissertation was about Tamil views of the living body. ...

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Chapter 2. Sorrow and Protest

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pp. 71-111

One day when I was standing near the rice mill by the road, a woman dressed in a Catholic Sister’s habit came walking by from where the bus had stopped.1 She saw me, smiled, and beckoned me to her. We spoke, and she told me she lived in a village just down the road, where women would come at night and sing traditional folk songs. She invited me to join them. ...

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Chapter 3. Work and Love

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pp. 112-137

The Paṟaiyar women’s laments were part of a global genre. They bore the message, “My fate is to lose.” The singers were condemned to lives of slow, relentless death, and their songs said this was not fair. They showed not a glimmer of a way out. ...

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Chapter 4. On the Edge of the Wild

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pp. 138-164

The fact that certain groups of people in India have been designated as “tribals” or “Adivasis” by British colonial administrators, government officials, and others represents the idea that the people so designated have always been “primitive,” “backward,” and “criminal” by nature. In modern, postcolonial times they are considered to be just now facing the light of civilization, ...

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Chapter 5. The Life of Sevi

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pp. 165-191

This chapter and the next address, in a small and local way, two rather large and abstract issues: the relation between art and life, and the relation between people and place. As regards art and life, the view is that an artistic performance is not an object separate from the life of the performer. Rather, the artistic act is continuous with the actor’s ordinary life; ...

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Chapter 6. The Song of Siṅgammā

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pp. 192-208

The Kuṟavars are by tradition hunters, an honored profession. The word Kuṟavar in Tamil means hunter. In earlier times, Kuṟavars are said to have lived by hunting wild animals in the mountain forests, where they also cultivated millet, and where the young women drove away the birds that came to eat the millet. ...

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Conclusion

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pp. 209-222

The South Asian subcontinent is like a net: it holds what it catches. Much of what it catches and holds is beneficial, such as writings in magazines and newspapers, now all online, free to express a wide range of views in half a dozen or more different languages; delicious food of countless varieties; gorgeous saris; superb poetry ancient and new; classical music. ...

Notes

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pp. 223-254

Glossary of Tamil Words and Phrases

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pp. 255-260

References

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pp. 261-276

Index

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pp. 277-282

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 283-284

I am grateful to all the people who helped me with this book. First come those who sang for me and talked with me in Tamil Nadu toward the writing of this book: Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Vasantā, Pushpam, Kamalā, Nīlammā, Muttammāḷ, Kanyammā, Sevi, Veḷḷaiccāmi, Rāghupathi, Gnāna Sundari, ...