The rhythmic beat is overwhelming. Few could resist swaying to the ‘Arabic daff’. As the tempo picks up, the bystanders break into a slow jig. Their dark faces glistening with sweat, the sturdy bandmasters donning white shirts, lungis and red-chequered scarves roll down the drums – casting a spell.
The Siddis, an ethnic group of African descent, are a class apart when it comes to playing the ‘marfa’. Be it a marriage or an election rally, no celebration is complete without the foot-tapping ‘marfa’ band. But their numbers are on the decline now. The bands playing now could be the last ones. The generation next does not like to continue the ancestral profession.
There is a gradual awakening in the Siddi community concentrated mostly in A.C. Guards. Though illiterate, the elders have decided to educate their children. “My sons are not at all interested in playing the band. They want me also to give up,” says Khalid Bin Abdul Raheem.
Named after the African Cavalry Guards, not many know that residents here were once part of the irregular army of the Nizam. The 6th Nizam, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan, recruited them impressed by their physical strength and horsemanship. The Siddis were earlier believed to be working for the Raja of Wanparthy.
According to one theory, the Siddis, an African tribe, hail from Al-Habsh, the Arabic name for Abyssinia. The CCMB findings only confirm their lineage.
During his rule, the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, gifted them quarters and the place came to be known as Siddi Risala. About 500 ramshackle houses still exist amidst beef shops, St. Mary’s Church and the Jamia Masjid.
The fourth generation of Siddis are now mostly engaged in doing odd jobs. During the day, they work as drivers, painters and mechanics, and after dusk, they belt out pulsating beats. “It is a seasonal job. We have to work till late in the night for a pittance,” says Awad Bin Saidullah, who plays the band at 60 years.
A close-knit community, the Siddis look up to Abbu Pahelwan for everything. A wrestler in his heydays, Abbu is a well known figure in A.C. Guards. Youth of the area practice at the Risala Haboosh ‘akhada’, but there are no organised bouts.
“Where is the time,” says Mohd Mohsin, who runs a two-wheeler parking lot at A.G. Office.
Housing is the main problem the Siddis are facing. With families multiplying, their tiny homes are literally bursting at the seams. They are, however, thankful to the former Chief Minister, Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy, for settling the ex-servicemen housing issue. Today, the Siddis are totally Indianised. The broad nose, curly hair and dark complexion are giving way to regular features as they are getting marked outside their tribe. #KhabarLive