How does the modern vocalist negotiate this tricky terrain? Ethnomusicologist Chloe Alaghband-Zadeh, in her PhD thesis, talks of how vocalist Ashwini Bhide Deshpande picks Tum Radhe Bano Shyam as her favourite. It tells Radha to take control (be the man), a theme that helps the singer negotiate two sticking points in thumri – “both the disreputable, sensuous femininity of the courtesan and the disempowered femininity of ṭhumrī’s conventional love-sick heroines, each problematic for different reasons for a modern-day female performer”.

There is more interesting work in the offing: du Perron is working on the elements of “eve teasing” that may have made poetic sense in the days when women were in purdah but are totally out of time with the world they now inhabit.

We have clearly not heard the last on the thumri and the many ways it can be interpreted with the feminist lens.

Malini Nair is a writer and senior editor based in New Delhi. She is a Kalpalata Fellow for Classical Music Writings for 2021.

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