KARWAR: Her wrinkled face wreathed in smiles, with a song on her lips and the light of battle in her eyes, this octogenarian singer-activist is strong, independent and loved by everyone.
Sukri Bomma Gowda, affectionately known as Sukrajji, is the toast of her village in Ankola, Uttara Kannada district. She hasn’t had a moment to herself ever since the news spread that she has been chosen for the prestigious Padma award. She is busy attending functions, interacting with the media, replying to the phone calls — from well-wishers to ministers. “I have not eaten or slept properly these past two weeks. I need rest as I am old,” she says.
A living encyclopaedia on the Halakki Vokkaliga tribe to which she belongs, Sukrajji, like her tribe, sings about everything. From birth to death, wedding to liquor ban, from paddy cultivation to everyday chores and to preserving their culture and tradition.
She hails from Badageri where most villagers belong to the Halakki tribe. And they are neither aware of the importance of folk arts, songs, and their tradition nor the significance of the Padma honour. Yet, they are proud of Sukrajji, the crusader, who, through her songs, fights against liquor and forest encroachment and fights for Scheduled Tribe status to her community.
Though an illiterate, her talent to compose songs impromptu and her social concerns brought her fame she richly deserves. Ironically, when she was young, no one much cared for her songs or her singing.
In the 1980s, H C Boralingaiah, folk expert and former Vice-Chancellor of Kannada University at Hampi, visited Badageri, noticed her talent and referred her name to Bananduru Kempaiah of Dharwad Akashwani Kendra. And thus the musical journey of this Nightingale of Halakkis began.
Folk experts lament that no one has documented her songs or of the Halakki community’s way of life. Sukrajji herself is doing everything to motivate the younger generation of her tribe by creating awareness about their traditions through her songs.
She has won accoclades and awards. But her economic status has not improved. However, she has now built a house with the help of her well-wishers and netas. And she has aptly named it ‘Janara Ashirwada’ (people’s blessings). And she says it is with people’s blessings that she has been chosen for the Padma honour. “I am happy to win this prestigious award. I got everything from people and I proudly say that the award belongs to the people of my community.”
Sukrajji’s poetry and music have been her natural weapons to fight against social evils and help her tribe progress.
Sukrajji will continue her fight in the hope that one day her songs will be heard loud and clear by the world and the powers-that-be.