Meri Zindagi all-female band with founding member Dr Jaya Tiwari performing at an event.
"Woh mujhe judge karte hain, dekho yeh mujhe judge karte hain [they judge me, look, they judge me]" — the words are not unfamiliar to a woman, subjected to constant scrutiny at every step of her way. And that's what this song and other songs of Dr Jaya Tiwari are aimed at, which is, to speak about women and their issues through music.
Tiwari, 39, from Lucknow, got together with two other women to start an all-female rock band, Meri Zindagi, in 2010. As challenging as it may have been for these middle-class musicians to gain acceptance almost a decade ago, they did not want to make songs just for entertainment, Tiwari and her band would go on to focus on social issues, especially that of women.
"As a child, I had heard that music bands were created as a revolutionary medium. From the beginning itself, we wanted to address issues concerning the girl child. We started writing songs about female foeticide, child marriage, girl child education, women's health and gradually ventured into other social subjects," Tiwari told indianexpress.com.
"The major challenge we faced was that of acceptance," Tiwari agreed. "You know the audience here is not as receptive to original band music as compared to a Bollywood number. More so, when you are a group of women performers dedicated to a specific cause. The audience wants constant entertainment. But that's not what defines us," said the founding member. Meri Zindagi also collaborated with NGOs and the state government for awareness campaigns like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and anti-smoking.
'We would jam at 5 am'
Meri Zindagi began with small-scale shows. Tiwari recalled how they would hold jam sessions as early as 5 am and then get back to their respective chores or go to their offices, and meet later for evening shows. Thankfully, their respective families were supportive too. "I am very lucky that my in-laws, husband and son supported me throughout the journey. It was the same for the other band members too. The family members were not very sure of where we were heading but they showed enough trust and confidence. Most importantly, they did not stop us from following our dream," she said.
Initially, it was difficult to communicate to the audience what their music essentially stood for. But that did not discourage the musicians. They kept working on their music and even chose a dress code — magenta-coloured outfits — for their stage performances. They gradually gained recognition, and social media played a part too.
Meri Zindagi all-female band in their magenta attire.
'Meri Zindagi is a tool to raise awareness'
Music has played a crucial role as socio-political and cultural tool since time immemorial. From songs of love, freedom and dissent to those heralding new movements, it has held up a mirror to society time and again. Tiwari believes music has the power to effectively convey a message without making it sound boring, as compared to a conference or a panel discussion. "We try to make the songs as peppy as possible to attract the audience without compromising with the message, full of positivity. The essence of our songs lies in lyrics. Our songs address issues that every girl or woman will relate to. It is their story that we sing about, be it from any strata of the society," the lead musician, who also pens the songs, expressed.
How does Tiwari choose her themes? "Jo feel karti hoon, usi ko hi likhti hoon [ I write what I feel]," she said. "A lot of my inspiration for the songs come from my conversations with the youth. Social media, news channels, NGOs are some of the other means of becoming aware of pressing social issues, which are reflected in the songs I write."
'Want to start a women's radio channel'
Today, Meri Zindagi has expanded to include many other women in their band, including a 15-year-old drummer. Tiwari, who has also worked as a radio jockey, is conceptualising a women's radio channel, besides composing new numbers. The journey began almost 10 years ago but their struggle continues. "It has been 10 years and we still have a long way to go. We are very much aware of our responsibilities and hope to motivate more and more women, especially those hunting for hope. But we are careful to not commercialise our music and let it represent what we actually believe in," she emphasised.