Ratnakar Tripathy

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over one year and six months

Ratnakar Tripathy has a doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Pune. In the past ten years he worked on Bombay cinema, folk music and theatre. Presently he is a Senior Research fellow at the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), Patna.

Ratnakar Tripathy’s proposed research on the folk musician Mahender Misir and his peers and predecessors (Bikhari Thakur, Raghuvir Narayan and Hira Dom), is driven as much by the need to recognise and understand their individual art as more generally by an urge to explore the social underpinnings of folk culture in 20th century Bihar. His own starting point, he confesses, is not rooted in any particular disciplinary position and is at best a kind of inspired ‘literary interest’ in the contribution of these figures.

Ratnakar begins by locating his study in the context of present-day Bihar – both the socio-cultural and economic realities of that state and the kind of issues pertaining to Bihar that attract academic interest. The four figures around whom Ratnakar’s study revolves, have been chosen because together they represent different aspects of the cultural history of the Bhojpuri region – the pervasively folk and popular quality of their art, which could nevertheless draw on formal education and ‘foreign’ influences, their differences in caste and background and the impact of this on each one’s perceptions, the charged dynamic between artistic interests and social and political consciousness, and finally the nature of their music/literature itself and its relationship with the larger culture of the region.

Research into Mahendar Misir, however, constitutes the core of the project. A passionate and lifelong association with music and clandestine anti-imperial political activity seem to have constituted the two threads of Misir’s life. While his songs have acquired a life of their own – they are sung by popular contemporary Bhojpuri singers and used in Bhojpuri films – the political side of Misir remains shadowy even though there is a “relatively solid threshold of information and facts” that can be used to recreate it.

Ratnakar sees his research resulting in two books – in Hindi and English – each with a slightly different emphasis. While the English version will be academically-oriented, the Hindi one will have a narrower focus. He also hopes to write a musical play in Hindi based on the life of Mahender Misir.