मेरे पुरखों की विरासत का भरम रहने दे तू हवेली को खुला देख के अंदर मत जा . A verse from the Ghazal by Qaisar-Ul Zafri (Book: Agar Darya Mila Hota). Read the whole ghazal here. . Translation:
Let the legacy of ancestors stay in illusions at least, Don’t invade their mansion seeing the open doors .
This verse is apt for the relationship between humans and other creatures. Nature does not discriminate against any species, whatever it has, is there for everyone. Yet, humans have exploited and hoarded Nature since the very beginning..
I interpret this verse as following –
Nature and all of its inter-dependent elements are dying fast; their legacy is now almost as good as an illusion because of us Humans. So the poet says ‘पुरखों की विरासत का भरम रहने दे’ – let it exist in illusions at least.
Just because nature is there for all, just because nature’s doors are always open to all, ‘तू हवेली को खुला देख के अंदर मत जा’ – don’t take it as an open invitation to exploit it.
It’s the birth anniversary of honourable Jotirao Phule. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, and it strongly reminds us of the time when his wife and a great social reformer Savitribai Phule selflessly helped people during 1897’s plague epidemic and later succumbed to it. That was true sacrifice, many say, and I agree. But he was long gone before that plague pandemic.
I am not here to count Savitribai and Jotiba Phule’s social contributions or achievements; people have been doing that quite efficiently. I am just a nobody who wonders how and why they were what they were. How they could function the way they did, while in today’s era I am yet to find an example with even an ounce of similarity. I do think about this a lot, because the very fact that I am sitting in front of my laptop, writing, that too in English, is because these two rebeled against centuries of oppression of women and the marginalized and gave them the torch of education.
Crazy, is one word I can think of, when I think of them and countless other humans who were way ahead of their respective times. May it be Siddhartha who went on exile to prevent his family’s exclusion from Saakya clan because of his anti-war stance, or may it be Yuang Chwang’s (Xuanzang) 4 years of deadly venture through the desserts to communicate Indian Buddhism with that of Chinese, or may it be Maharshi Karve’s Periodical “Samaaj Swasthya” to create awareness about sexual health or Dr. Ambedkar’s firm stances on every issue concerning humanity (including his resignation in support of Hindu code Bill that was supposed to be women’s legal liberator, or his support for LGBTQ rights and the case he fought for Karve’s Samaaj Swasthya)..
Can you, dear men, wrap your head around the fact that Savitribai lit Jotiba’s pyre in 1890 when most of you still don’t allow women to even visit the cremation in 2020..? Can you understand how ahead of their time they were when Jotiba asked the Brahmins if Brahma menstruated through his mouth (along with other three parts from where other castes originated) since they so enthusiastically claim that they’re high because they originated from his mouth?
Can you dare to ask these questions even today? Can you even think of these queries today in 2020? Do you even acknowledge them fully? Can you sleep after limiting them to their specific castes/religions and pretending that they don’t bother you? How does it feel to look them in the eyes-though in photographs-while garlanding them on their birth/death anniversaries? So many of you sing praises of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s bravery and welfare state, how many of you know that Jotiba Phule had found his tomb and initiated celebration of his birth anniversary? How many of you can claim with evidence that you follow them to the fullest? How many of you know that his name was Jotiba/Jotirao and not Jyotiba/Jyotirao (“Joti” meaning plough, a peasant/labouring caste metaphor) ? Today’s elite Marathi women remember Raja Rammohan Roy, Agarkar, Tilak, etc when it comes to male social reformers; do they remember that Jotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule must have helped the past widows in their families who were victims of abuse? Do they remember that Tilak was opposed to the idea of women’s education and ridiculed the work of Jotiba and Savitribai?
Can you imagine yourself sharing every resources and opportunities you got with your wives like Jotiba Phule did? Can you tolerate your wife having her individual existence like Jotiba Phule promoted his wife to have, so that she could help rise countless other women and the future generations? Can you imagine sharing your dreams, your interpretation of the world with your wife to have a common existence to uphold the society?
Can you notice the stark contrast that Jotiba and Savitribai founded Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha (infant/child-murder Prohibition Home) for pregnant rape victims to help deliver and save their children, while we still have to impose ban in 2020 on sex determination of foetuses to prevent female foeticide AND the politicians still win elections by promising suspension of this ban? (The authorities have found a new excuse of the pandemic and suspended the ban for two months at least, without taking the possible misuse of it into account. Funny, isn’t it?) Can we pause for a minute and think how brave of them it was to question the British power back then; while we, in 2020, mutely accept that our leaders continue enduring all the bullying by the so called superpowers?
You, who impose that women should cover their body in front of male ‘family members’; you, who still wrap menstrual hygiene products in a paper and insist that women should smuggle it from room to room as if it’s heroin or cocaine; you, who simply glorify women’s suffering instead of making the society equal for all; you, who deliberately overlook the statistics of the overall oppression and exploitation of women while repeatedly disbelieving their complaints; you, who resort to illogical whataboutary and violence when anyone questions or threatens the irrational existence of your authority, you can never ask these questions.
A friend of mine said once that love for a person and love for the society cannot be mingled. He strongly believes that once you fail/are denied love from a person, then you go on a ‘spiritual mode’ and start believing in the love for the society and help the society. I DON’T agree. Look at Jotirao and Savitribai; Jotirao unlearned all the norms and stereotypes enforced by the society and shared his dreams and passions with Savitribai. Savitribai took it further, and together, they made a beautiful world-no matter how surreal it seems even today-that keeps motivating those who seek it. It’s impossible to study their social and personal existence separately. If they could do it, we have no excuse..
When Shalini finally came to know that her daughter Leila is alive and safe, she shared her joy with her friend. Friend? Or co-worker? Is there a word such as ‘co-sufferer’? Because that’s what they all were. As close to ‘friends’ as they could be. This ‘friend’, on the day Shalini was going to meet Leila, said to Shalini, “Leila ko mere baare mein batana haan..! (Do tell Leila about me!)” with so much enthusiasm, as if she was going to get the Nobel prize. We never saw her again, we don’t know what her fate was, also because it’s a fictional character.
But the important thing was that she wanted to be remembered. She didn’t know Shalini, she hadn’t even seen Leila, but by considering the little time she might’ve spent with Shalini, she thought she could be remembered by them. As a friend, as a co-worker, as a ‘co-sufferer’, as enemy, or in whatever way they’d seem fit.
Don’t we all want to leave something behind? Depending on which point we are on the scale of privilege and merit, the genre of the legacy that we want to leave would differ. Some would try to buy a cottage for their children, some would spend their life to send signals to aliens. Quite a variety of aspirations, really! But the aspiration to leave a legacy is common. This aspiration gives one something to live for. It gives one a big list of unfulfilled demands for the lifetime. To some, it gives hope. For some, it sucks out their presence in the present. Those who don’t have it, berate those who do. Those who have it, pity those who don’t. Deep inside, everyone knows that it is always there, in some or the other form. It ends only when we actually start living in the present.
But that’s difficult, isn’t it? How easily we procastinate something as simple as a blood test, or disregard years of research done on environmental crisis or reject the concept of something so obvious as ‘end’. The very first reflex is ignorance, because we don’t like to accept vulnerability, because we don’t like to acknowledge limitations or weakness. Instead, we start mocking those who do. We patronize them, belittle them and hope that everyone just forgets them.
The aspiration to leave a legacy comes from the same place. I wonder what we actually achieve by doing that. One day, I am sure I’ll find the answer.
Till then, we sing, ‘Achcha chalte hain, Duaon mein yaad rakhna…!’ (Okay I am leaving for now, but remember me in your prayers)
मैं हूँ रघू, फिलहाल किसी शहर की छोटी सी झोपडी में रह रहा हूँ| बाप मजदूर है, पर अब उस के पास कोई काम नहीं है| उस के साथ काम करने वाले बाकी साथी भी हमारी बस्ती में ही रहते हैं| जब कोई काम मिलता है तब हमें एक जगह से दूसरी जगह जाना पडता है| फिर घर, दोस्त स्कूल सब पीछे छूट जाता है| इसलिए मैं ज्यादा लोगों से बात नहीं करता| हाँ कुछ दिन स्कूल गया था, वहाँ कुछ दोस्त भी बनाए थे, लेकिन वहाँ से निकलने के बाद फिर मुलाकात नहीं हुई|
इस बस्ती में आ कर ज्यादा देर नहीं हुई है, लेकिन इमारत के काम में अफसरों ने कुछ घोटाला किया था, इसलिए सरकार ने काम रोक दिया| मैं ने सोचा, जब तक बाप को अगला काम नहीं मिलता, तब तक मैं ही कुछ काम कर लेता हूँ| तो अब मैं आस पास गाडियों की सफाई करता हूँ| वैसे अच्छे पैसे मिल जाते हैं, लेकिन मैं वो माँ के पास देता हूँ, छिपा कर रखने के लिए| वरना सारे बाप के शराब-सुट्टे में ही खर्च हो जाते हैं| बस्ती में मेरे जैसे और भी लडके हैं, ये देखिये ये चिंटू है, और वो राखा| लडकियाँ भी हैं, पर बेचारी माँओं के साथ चूल्हे की राख में खाँसती रहती हैं, तो उन से ज्यादा बात नहीं हो पाती|
राखा की माँ कल मर गई, बीमार थी बेचारी| लेकिन उस का बाप अब तक घर नहीं आया| तो सोचा, तीनों मिल कर आज के खाने का इंतज़ाम करें, मछली पकड कर| मैं ने और चिंटू ने राखा को दाँव बनाना तो सिखाया, पर उसे लग रहा है कि हम ने गलत सिखाया| उसकी भी गलती नहीं, आज पता नहीं क्यों, सिर्फ पलास्टिक की थैलियाँ और फूलों के हार ही निकल रहे हैं|
वो सूंड वाले भगवान कब आने वाले हैं? मेरे खयाल से दो महीनों बाद.. उन के पिछले साल के मंडपों से बहुत सारे हार इस तालाब में मिल रहे हैं| मुझे तो लगता है कुछ दिनों बाद यह पानी का नहीं, फूलों का तालाब बन जाएगा! “सडे हुए फूल और कूडे का तालाब” को आप की अंग्रेजी में क्या कहते है? जवाब ढूँढ कर मुझे ज़रूर बताना..
फिलहाल तो मुझे मछली पकडनी है, उम्मीद है, रात होने तक कुछ न कुछ तो ज़रूर मिलेगा..
We often hear old people saying, once this-some task-is done, I am free to die, or sometimes if everything is done they are happy to die. At such times there is always at least one person who says, why do you say such things? You are going to live long, don’t fuss. This particular person, or many a times this big group of people is many times present in everyone’s family. They are always cheerful about life and fearful about death though it’s someone else’s. They always poke those who talk about death, or dying people. They are those who don’t like to hear ‘he/she died‘, they jab and ask us to say ‘he/she passed away‘. They criticize bitching about someone who is dead, and teach us to ‘have some respect for the dead’ (even if the dead one had scammed the property worth millions, or betrayed his wife!) Basically, they are just not death-friendly (!).
But almost everyone does that, right? Many people try to postpone a medical test or skip it; they don’t want to know much, they like to stay in sweetened myth of a healthy life. It’s another thing that this attitude, many times leads them to a more advanced stage of their illness, may it be diabetes, heart disease or cancer, number of patients of which, are evolving in our country. There are many, who hide or don’t keep track of their ages. They’d dye their hair, use anti-aging products for skin, hide wrinkles and thus, their insecurities are utilized efficiently by various beauty product brands. Then there is a special category of those who call themselves ‘young at heart’, and try to sound cool to the younger generation by sometimes participating adventurous activities and come up with the one-liners such as ‘Age is just a number’ or ‘Age is a case of mind over matter’ etc. They are so overenthusiastic about everything that it makes us wonder, what exactly in goodness are they so excited about?
All this reminds me a distant relative’s 99th birthday party. The sons of the person had arranged that extravagant celebration, for this achievement (of reaching 99, which is rare these days!). My 6 year old nephew was stunned by the idea of elders celebrating extravagant birthday, he used to think that it was only for the younger ones. After a deep analysis, maybe he got an interesting conclusion. He said, ‘Okay, now I get it. It’s his 99th birthday, so when he’ll be 100 it’s finished! Right?’ One tight slap was the only response that he got. It’s funny how numbers play with our minds, the shopkeepers and brands play with us all the time by writing price as 499 or 999 instead of 500 and 1000. We say it’s a psychological tendency to feel that we saved so much more by buying the product worth 999 than by that worth 1000, though it’s just a rupee. Same was the case with this kid, who thought 100 is a complete number. He was a very thoughtful kid with vivid imagination, but all his skills got constricted by this incident; just because he predicted the person’s death, indirectly (surprisingly, the birthday-boy died before reaching 100! But let’s get serious..)
There are so many theories regarding death, afterlife. The entire ‘religious market’ is based on such theories only. Theory would be a very bad terminology, but the people following them take them very seriously. Every religion (except a few) tells only one thing, follow our terms and you’ll be placed in a world of infinite happiness after death. If you don’t, then the world of infinite suffering is ready for you. The entire life is then spent in worrying about the life after death, but that’s a different story. If, such a thing really exists and a majority of population follows it, then why is there such a hush-hush about death? Why fear death? And why ignore its nearing? Why ignore the aging? Or even if those worlds of happiness and suffering after death don’t exist, what is the point of this ignorance?
I wonder if it is because people have a tendency-not sure if it is natural-to shed big responsibilities. People always seem to struggle for power and authority, but it’s an illusion. They may like to rule a company, or a political party, or even just a small scale organization; they may like to have called upon stage to get awards or felicitation or even just a bouquet. But they don’t really like to accept the maturity that comes with age. When you convince yourself to be young at heart, when you cover your age, you deny the wisdom and knowledge of life that comes with it. In Tuesdays with Morrie, Prof. Morrie says,
”As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”
All this philosophy sounds nice. But we always observe people saying I wish I were young again. For that, they create an illusion of this wish fulfilled. ‘Fulfilling’ this wish, varies from person to person, some like to ‘look’ young, some like to ‘feel’ young, some behave like youngsters, some take part in the mischiefs and spoil their grandkids-despite the defiance by kid’s parents-in order to be considered as a member of the kids’ gang. We never hear once, ‘I wish I was seventy.’ If aging is so valuable, why don’t we embrace it?
Because this ignorance reflects unsatisfied lives, unfulfilled lives. Lives that haven’t found meaning. Because if you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward. You want to see more, do more. You can’t wait until sixty-five. So all younger people should know this-if you always battle against getting older, you always suffer, because it will happen anyway. And the truest fact of life is that eventually, you ARE going to die. The only thing you can make sure is that the death doesn’t start early and stay for long time before actually dying. Morrie answers to the query if he is envious of the young,
”Oh, I guess I do. I envy them being able to go to the health club, or go for a swim. Or dance. Mostly for dancing. But envy comes to me, I feel it, and then I let it go. Let it go. Tell yourself, That’s envy, I’m going to separate from it now, And walk away. Of course, it is impossible for the old not to envy the young. But the issue is to accept who you are and revel in that. This is your time to be in your thirties. I had my time to be in my thirties, and now is my time to be seventy-eight. You have to find what’s good and true and beautiful in your life as it is now. Looking back makes you competitive. And, age is not a competitive issue.”
The truth about the old ones is, part of them is every age. They are three-year-old, they are five-year-old, they are thirty-seven-year-old, they are fifty-year-old. They’ve been through all of them, and they know what it’s like. We should delight in being a child when it’s appropriate to be a child. We should delight in being a wise old man when it’s required to be a wise old man. Think of all we can be! We are every age, up to our own. So how can we be envious of where the young are, when we have already been there!
There is a huge excitement among Indian audience of Netflix in the first week of this month. After the Netflix India’s two original movies Love per Square foot and Lust stories, the first ever Netflix original Indian web series released on 6th July: Sacred Games, directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane and adapted by Varun Grover, Smita Singh and Vasant Nath from Vikram Chandra’s thriller novel having the same name.
The significance of this series had already started building up from the trailer. Firstly because of the cast-Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Saif Ali Khan, Radhika Apte, along with the toppings of Neeraj Kabi and Marathi big shots Jitendra Joshi, Girish Kulkarni all together in the same place!-and secondly, because it is the first Indian Netflix original thrillerseries, curiosity was at is peak. From the trailer (I haven’t read the novel), the plot looked simple-same old story of a gangster’s rise and fall; a rather monotonous one, dealt quite a lot with in Bollywood. But while/after watching it, one can’t resist to get attached to it and want more of it. Its influence thrives per episode, and in the end of the season we are left with dumbstruck awe. It breaks a lot of stereotypes, which makes it a unique creation.
The season is entirely based in Mumbai. Saif Ali Khan, as the protagonist police inspector Sartaaj Singh who is honest but not very successful in investigations, is presented in an entirely different role which stands out from his usual carrier surface, apart from his notable contributions in movies such as Rangoon and Kalakandi. The so-called antagonist, Ganesh Gaitonde is portayed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who has not only done an extraordinary job of acting, but also has owned the series in the way he says-”Kabhi kabhi lagta hai apun hi bhagwan hai”!. He tells us (actually, Sartaaj) his story in the entire season. He gives Sartaaj a big mystery to solve, which has a long list of sub questions-what is their connection? What’s going to happen in the next 25 days? Why and how was he betrayed? Was he scared? Where was he in the last 15-20 years? Why his third Baap is so important? and so on.. The episodes solve some of these and add a few new mysteries thereby making the viewers stick to their screens. It becomes interesting and thrilling because of his death in the very first episode. In each of the episodes we get introduced to different mythological terms–after which the episodes are named-from Mahabharat withrespect to the characters in this story, which is a good change from the bombardment of foreign mythological series.
Four women play an important role in Ganesh’s life choices. First, his mother (Vibhawari Deshpande)-though for a very short duration-has a significant impact leading him to the first ever crime he committed. His infatuation with Kukoo (Kubra Sait) despite her secrets, leads him to the rivalry with Sulaiman Isa and his gang. His wife Subhadra (Rajshri Deshpande) has a small but major part in his life, her death makes him murder 80 random innocent people, which fuels the riots in 1992 and leads him to suffer in jail. Kantabaai was Ganesh’s strong acquaintance and a sort of guide in Mumbai (portrayed by Shalini Vatsa). All these women rise bright and strong, and even dominate over Gaitonde’s being. Whereas Sartaaj Singh is initially isolated and distorted by his divorce. He eventually evolves as a person bold enough to even risk his job by diving deep into Gaitonde’s case. Saif Ali Khan has done his homework well for this character so it doesn’t, at any point, look forced.
One of the appealing features of this season was supposed to be Anjali Mathur (Radhika Apte)-the RAW agent-who is shown continuously fighting the demons of patriarchy in the line of work and the tragic closure of the case of her missing father. Looking at the strong female characters Radhika has portrayed earlier, we might develop some expectations from Anjali, her being a female RAW agent. She is ‘shown’ to have been complaining that female agents, despite their abilities, are forced to do desk work rather than field work. At the same time, she is portrayed to be quite inadequate for her job-not vigilant enough-making her death look dumb. Whether it is the requirement of the character or not is another matter; but RAW certainly trains the agents well, so it’s not convincing enough. Same with Constable-and a friendly colleague of Sartaaj-Katekar’s (Jitendra Joshi) death, it looks slightly out-of-place (not so smart); but along with his family, he makes a significant presence in the season. His journey from the cop who is unenthusiastic about the missing Muslim boy to the cop who tells his wife, ”आज खूप दिवसांनी खऱ्या पोलिसासारखं वागलो (Today, I acted as a true policeman after a long time)” with satisfaction, is overwhelming.
Sartaaj and Ganesh Gaitonde, both are not originally from Mumbai, but still want to cherish it in their own ways. Ganesh’s character might remind us of the Joker from Batman, but later we realise that he is more than just a villain or anti-hero. They have done a nice job in showing the time evolution of Ganesh’s spirit, thought process and ambitions; but apart from that, we don’t get much visual input about what he is and does (i.e., details about his work and contribution to the world around him and his rivalries-which were important because he is a gangster). He talks big things through the narratives but looks idle except for the sex and killing scenes. Also, his contribution in maintaining the spirit of his gang crews is left up to viewers’ imagination. But in a way it helps in highlighting the psychology behind his choices and their consequences-the thing that’s worked out brilliantly through the narratives by Nawazuddin-without idolizing the antagonist. We also get a look at the history (of four decades) from his point of view. It is quite challenging to construct a fictional character taking part in actual history without molding it and constantly switching from flashbacks to present, but the directors and writers are successful in making it look natural.
The interesting fact is, Ganesh Gaitonde is a Brahmin by birth (with a pundit father having low self-esteem who does nothing but begs and a mother with extra marital affair-family background that is never shown for a Brahmin character in Indian fiction) and knows exactly how to meddle with and manipulate people’s religious sentiments, or if not, he doesn’t take additional efforts to sort the mess he made.
Whether the actual villain on a greater scale is Khanna Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi) or Malcom Murad (Luke Kenny) is an intelligent question. Guruji resembles the string of (Hindu) manipulators who trap people in the vicious mesh of religion. Malcom is a cold blooded and impassive assasin. Their connection with each other and with Gaitonde and his network is yet to be presented in details (their desription in season 1 is vague). So it is going to be a thrilling experience to see how these two characters evolve and use Gaitonde as a pawn leading him to his own-and possibly, the city’s too-destruction (all this will be decided only when the next season arrives!). The series would bloom if they elaborate the ‘sacred’ games between these parties. They released all the 8 episodes at the same time, so the viewers can do nothing but wonder about the next season till it comes; because the end of season 1 has put up a new list of questions!
Neeraj Kabi-DCP Parulkar-has efficiently portrayed a selfish and partial character. Girish Kulkarni, as usual, does a fantastic job even in the small duration of his role, to show the journey from a local bootlicking political aspirant to a gluttonous Home Minister. One more big difference is, the characters are not talking in Hindi forcibly-they talk in their respective languages (Punjabi/Marathi) among their respective peeps. This, along with the frank swearing helps in enriching the series’ authenticity and grip. After the epics like Masaan and Gangs of Wasseypur, watching Sacred Games is exhilarating. Those who berate it for containing inappropriate language and scenes, are possibly not evolved enough as sapiens to understand that these are the least important among all other positive elements of the series.
The overall experience is wonderful and such experiments are needed to be done more often. I’d say, everyone-who is bored to watch Indian serial drama and who is bored with foreign crime drama with hero-antihero crisis (Sherlock-Moriarty, Hannibal-Graham, Batman-Joker etc..)-should watch a good work of fiction like this.
PS: The translation into English, and the subtitles in Hindi are in-depth..! (In Hindi, they are very elaborate in letting us know when there is ‘कबूतरों की गुटरगूँ’, ‘रहस्यमय संगीत’, ‘रोमांचकारी संगीत’ or ‘रहस्यमय संगीत जारी है’; and in English the cursing seems as natural as it was in Hindi..!)
We always hear complains about the absurd lyrics that many film songs have. It would be considered alright if it’s just for comic entertainment, but if they (and they do) have a significant influence on half of the population-men-and make it harass the other half, then it’s a problematic situation. Two videos from AIB- The Bollywood Diva Song and Harassment Through the Ages-correctly point it out that Bollywood songs (and movies) are not helping in uplifting the dignity and honor of women. While we have movies like Kahani, Pink, Queen, Margarita with a Straw, Highway, Mirch Masala, depicting independent strong women, we also have embarrassing songs with lyrics like Saree ke fall sa, Achchi baatein kar li bahot…Ab karunga tere saath gandi baat, Hai tujhpe right mera, or hontho pe na dil me han hoinga, and many more.
Film music/songs are listened by almost everyone on phones or radio. Anyone can be seen dancing on them in a party. It is often stated that the products of Indian film Industry are responsible for the objectification of women and are causing men to have a sense of false male ego. It can be easily seen in the portrayal of a female protagonist in almost any movie-it’s either as Abla Naari or a slut-there is no in between.
It is not an exaggeration, one can refer to the detailed discussion on this in the famous Indian show Satyamev Jayate. In 2015, Sandesh Baliga, an Indian man residing in Australia was accused of stalking, harassing two women through disturbing messages, and self declaring himself as their boyfriend. In defense, his lawyer stated that Baliga’s behaviour is heavily influenced by the Bollywood movies according to which, it’s quite normal, and is a part of his culture. Tasmania court declared him ‘not guilty’.
It’s no secret that women’s value as a human being is still a big question-mark in India despite the bombardment of ‘salute to Indian women from ISRO’ messages, or posts showing women ‘progressing’ in various fields. Still, it’s a great shame that Indian culture still has the potential to be used in defending harassing women even on an international level.
Recently, Thomas Reuters Foundation carried a survey concluding that India is the most unsafe country for women. Government of India, on the other hand, declined the reliability of this-on the same page of the newspaper where another news of a Canadian tourist getting raped in Delhi was given in a small column, irony! Actually, in a country where the celebs are worshipped as deities (no matter how corrupt they are) and where people can go on the rampage and burn school-buses just because they don’t like the content of a movie, the film industry should be more careful about what it shows about women. Maybe it’s too busy in the fight for freedom of speech, to care about women’s upliftment(!).
One from an older generation would like to argue that our youth is badly influenced by western music and films. They would simply state, ‘The films and songs were so meaningful. The audience were elites and had a taste, so the songs were based on classical music,’ or sometimes argue, ‘the youngsters are ignoring the treasures of Swadesi Classical music, which is the root cause of poor level of film songs’. These ‘elites’ are one of the reasons behind making classical music non relatable to today’s youth. They divide and discriminate between ‘classical’ music and music, where actually art should have no boundaries-there can be genres, but none is better than others. But then someone occasionally makes movies like Balgandharva, Katyar Kaaljat ghusli etc, and the elites become happily satisfied, the main issue remaining unaddressed. Now, how is this relevant to the topic of film song lyrics that was being addressed? If we have a look at the current setup of a classical mehfil (concert), it’ll get cleared.
Considering Hindustani classical music, the vital element of any Hindustani classical program is a Bandish, or cheez, a song having 4-6 lines divided into Sthayi and Antara. The singer beautifully elaborates the words inside the boundaries of a particular raaga, and at the same time, describes the raaga in the boundaries of the words. If usually the classical singer is singing the same lines for at least an hour or two, then it is really important to do some analysis on a typical bandish. There seems to be a traditional set of such bandish which were written at least 800 years ago, considering the era defining the revolutionary progression of Hindustani classical music-around 11th or 12th century or even earlier. Initially Indian classical music had more mechanical structure-Dhrupad–which contained purely deity-based verses, and music was just a means of worship. Afterwards, the north side of the country got under the influence of Muslim rulers-Sultans, Nawabs, Mughals, Nizam, etc. thereby influencing the art and culture. Indian artists embraced this because it allowed the artists to, for the first time, express themselves through the Khyal (literally meaning ‘thought’) gaayki -this sounds similar to the inspiration behind the famous painting ‘Monalisa’. The bandish were now sung in the khyal and were structured accordingly. We absorbed more elements like Thumri, Dadra, etc. which, in spite of being of only semi-classical form, are now a relentless and inexorable piece of the Hindustani classical concert.
Currently, very few bandish are based on some common theme relatable to everyone, like nature, etc. Hindustani classical bandishismostly based on either Radha & Krishna or the love of some unknown woman who is desperate to seek attention of her intended. One such example is a famous bandish in raaga Hameer:
Sthayi- Langarawaa kaise ghar jaaon, Sun paave mori saas nanadiya, Chhad de mohe dheeth | (How can I go home now? My in-laws will admonish me if they hear about this-‘this’, is explained in the antara)
Antara- Hoon jo chali panaghatava thaado, Kaun bahaane pyaare balama, Cheen lai mori sees gagariya, Barajori tihaare (sundaravaa) || (I had gone to fill water near the river, and my beloved, being naughty, snatched the pot from my head and was aggressing me-barajori could mean harassment, but it sounds welcome since it’s by husband)
One more famous bandish in a similar mood, which is quite famous, is from the raaga Puriya Dhanashree,
Sthayi- Paayaliya jhanakaar more, Jhanana jhanana baaje jhanakaar | (my anklets are so noisy, they make sound -jhanana jhanana)
Antara- Piya samajhaaun samajhat naahin, Saas nanad mori degi gaari || (My beloved is not being patient no matter how much I explain that if I move out of the house, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law (saas-nanad) will listen and they will curse me.)
Both of these lyrics portray a woman who is immensely frightened of her in-laws. And there is an overeager or over demanding husband who likes to keep her in trouble. This woman can’t even go anywhere without getting scolded. Many bandish from many ragas have the same words with little bit of rearrangement. Many bandish lyrics show poor sense of poetry. There are a number of bandish where the woman is facing atrocities like in this bandish in raaga Todi:
Sthayi-Langar kaankariyaa ji naa maaro, mora angavaa laagi jaaye| (Please don’t throw stones-kankariya-at me, I’ll get hurt)
Antara- Sun paave mori saas nanadiyaa, daure daure ghar aave (if my in-laws hear about this, I’ll have to run from here to go home)
Also, some bandish also portray a woman who has extremely low self esteem, for example, in raaga Malkans:
Sthayi-Main piya sang lad pachtaayi re, bhayi akal ki kaani re| (I heavily regret arguing with my beloved. Oh I was such a brainless fool!-‘Akal ki Kaani’)
Antara- Tadap tadap ke giri se zuke, jaise meen bin paani re|| (I am suffering badly, like a fish without water.)-Arguments happen all the time, why does this lady feel terrible enough to curse her intelligence? It might be because it was against the rules meant for women to speak their mind and have a different opinion.
A similar bandish says,
Sthayi- Maan le mori baat saiyyan, beet gayi jug, naa maane saiyyan|(Here, the man is somehow unhappy and gone away, it’s been ages)
Antara- Begi begi aao levo daras, Tarasat jiya mora|(she is desperately convincing him to come again, and her soul is suffering without seeing him.)
She is portrayed to be having nothing else sensible enough to do. And it is not very surprising in India that woman is not supposed to do anything other than pleasing the man in her life and always depend on a man in the first place. So in almost all the bandish lyrics, a woman is depicted as someone desperate to please her man. The man, however, is highly notorious and is extremely ignorant of this woman. She has nothing interesting to do. Looking at the ratio of male and female classical singers (males being dominant), it is highly ironic to see
Male singers singing all this on behalf of that helpless woman, and
Female singers singing these lyrics, not caring about the hidden insult in them.
We live in the twenty-first century and sing a bandish written a thousand years back. In the theory of classical music, Khyal is defined as the thoughts (of the singer) described by the singer. So if it is supposed to be the singer’s own Khyal, looking at these bandish lyrics,is it really his/her own thought? It’s a tragedy to have an entire regime of art, based on fake assumptions. Also, they have huge influence of a single community and their deities, so it’s not really relatable to every group of people in the country (apart from it not being relatable to half of the population-women).
The kingdom of Thumri, has slightly more frank depiction of so-called human emotions-mainly love. It takes all the freedom to break the boundaries of raaga and explore further, just like the courtesans-Tawaifs-who left the boundaries (as well as their right to be honored-whether they left those boundaries, or they were made to leave them, is a question yet to be answered). It is superficially stated that the rulers of the medieval period encouraged thumri and took it to the mainstream art-both dance and music. Earlier, thumri was being performed by the courtesans-who were kathak dancers as well-along with dance (bol-baant). It evolved mostly in Lucknow in the court of Nawab Waajid Ali Shah.
Soon, the sophisticated elites of classical music realised the elegance of this genre, and a new version of thumri arose and evolved in Varanasi in the late 19th century, which was independent of dance, and much more slow-paced (bol-banav). Thumri got honorary place in the Hindustani classical music, at the cost of the decline in the grace of tawaifs-who actually originated the art-causing their fall into consequences as bad as prostitution. Curious species would notice that in the old era, women dominated in thumri, but classical music was dominated by men. And women performing thumri didn’t have much honorary life-as we’ll get to see in the upcoming biopic of Gauhar Jaan-and women weren’t encouraged in the genre of classical music (one could conclude from this that women performing any kind of music were looked down upon anyway). Now the picture has changed with time. Now we have both male and female thumri singers in almost same ratio. Some examples of the thumri that is sung today:
Raag Sindhura: Baalam tere jhagde mein rain gayi (oh dearest, you have wasted the entire night in the fight(argument)). Sometimes it is only a single line.
And the famous one in raag Tilak Kamod,
Sthayi- Neer bharan kaise jaoon sakhi ab, Dagar chalat mo seh karat raar mein (O my friend, how do I go to fill water? On the way he (Krishna) teases me).
Antara- Eiso chanchal chapal hat nat khat maan, Tana kahu ki baat, Vinati karat mein gayi re haar ab (He is clever naughty, dramatic and very stubborn, doesn’t listen to anybody. I am tired of requesting him not to tease me).
And so on.. So basically, all the thumris have the same essence-woman stays in trouble. It is a wonder how singers don’t have any problem while singing this, while expressing the khyal-emotions and thoughts-which completely cut all the hopes for the upliftment of women. Yet we blame Bollywood for writing offensive lyrics, while even the original, ‘classical’ art doesn’t allow a woman to grow out of her old under-confident, suppressed form. It is often stated that the skeleton of Indian film music is classical music. Everyone who wants to be associated with Indian film music, is advised to learn the basics of classical music, which of course includes the same bandish, though in its basic form. It would not be absurd to say that along with the basic skeleton, the practice of humiliating women through lyrics has also passed on from classical to film music.
All this clearly indicates that an update of some kind is extremely important in this sphere of art. One would come with an argument that these bandish’ preserve the old tradition and culture. But we already have a rich kingdom of folk arts for the preservation of culture and tradition. Folk artists from different caste and crews have already been assigned this task by the customs, and they are struggling to keep up with it while wondering about staying alive (but thanks to the bits of support and encouragement from AIR, reality TV shows and Cultural Ministry). Some make a (reasonably valid) point that in classical music, the notes (sur) and vocals (gaayki) are dominant over lyrics. Sure, words are not as dominant here as they are in gazal-where poetry is at its peak. This would have made ‘Tarana’s more popular. But khyal-gaayki is still intact, so we still need proper words to elaborate the raga-so it can be vaguely said that words in classical music are like salt in food, their presence doesn’t count but absence makes it tasteless.
Classical music should be regularly assessed, scrutinized, improvised and updated. It should embrace a systematic ‘research and development’ culture. Those who look at music just for entertaining audience and earning money, or those who make excuses like, ‘Music is a language in itself, once the singer enters the raaga he forgets everything, even words! Then does it really matter?’ cannot make a change. Public often considers artists to be crazy or self centered and many times they actually are, and show irresponsible behavior towards the society. Artists are an important part of a civilization, they hold the capacity to start great revolution just through their art. Any form of art they perform or present, should have a conscience and they should continuously improvise their art to encourage the progression of the society to a better condition.