Sea • समुंदर

Location: Vashi bridge

एक दिन मैं तुम्हें बताऊँगा
समुंदर वहाँ से शुरू होता है
जहाँ से ख़ुश्की नज़र आनी ख़त्म हो जाए
फिर हम जब चाहेंगे
नज़्मों की किताब से
एक वरक़ फाड़ कर कश्ती बना लेंगे
और
दूसरा वरक़ फाड़ कर
समुंदर
.
ख़ुश्की – ज़मीन – Dryland
वरक़ – पन्ना – Page
कश्ती – नाव – Boat
नज़्म – मुक्त छंद कविता – Unrhymed poem
.
(अफ़ज़ल अहमद सय्यद की नज़्म ‘हम किसी से पूछे बग़ैर ज़िंदा रहते हैं‘)

.

Translation:

One day, I’ll tell you,
The ocean begins
where the sight of parched land ends
Then, whenever we please,
From the book of poems
We can tear one page
to make a boat
and
Another page
to draw an ocean..

What do you see from your window?

Do you witness the beautiful dawn that promises hope? Or your window is more fond of sunsets? Do you enjoy the glimpses of the afternoon? Or does your window love to expose you to the merciless wrath of the Sun?

What do you see from your window? Another window? Buildings? Trees? Birds? Nests? Mobile towers? Brazen, barren branches? All of these? Or none of these?

Does your window show you the roads? Do you see the people running like ants, struggling to follow their routine? Or is your window too high off from the ground that you can’t see what goes around the Mother Earth?

Do you see trucks, carrying the basic necessities of our lives? Do you see municipality’s garbage trucks? Do you see the quick rush of adrenaline in people when the RTO contractors inspect the street for vehicles parked in ‘no-parking zone’? Do you see the grin on the faces when they pick someone’s bike or car? Do you see a group of people asking if people can’t even read the signboard? Do you see the other group arguing that there is no space left to park? Do you see a third party of people that look somehow content that they don’t possess any vehicle and convince themselves that a simple life is better because they don’t have any choice anyway?

Do you see the street vendors from your window? Do you turn and take a peek at what they’re selling? Do you see the posh humans coming in their cars to bargain with those street vendors for smallest of the small things? Do you see the rush of street vendors to run away when someone comes with the news that police is coming? Do you see the evil grins of the customers who were buying stuff from them just a minute before they had to run?

Do you see the railway tracks being the permanent residence of countless humans? Do you see their children playing on those tracks for doing which you’d forbid your own children?

Do you see the scavengers entering the potholes which are full of your own shit that you flinch to deal with? Do you see that waste-picker woman who curses you under her breath for not sorting out the waste properly?

Do you see the coal black smoke making rounds in the air you breathe? Do you witness the rare times when flocks of birds decide to take the risk and fly the sky that we spoil daily? Do you see the rats and pigeons crashed under the cars that spoil the sky for birds?

Do you see the street dogs attending a late night conference? Do you see the empty streets that look peaceful the whole night?

Do you see the marches of people asking for humanity? Do you see the mobs whose specific aim is to smash every aspect of humanity?

Do you see the funeral processions rarely passing through the street? Do you see the young couple taking home their newborn, overwhelmed and overjoyed?

Do you see that lone labourer who drinks on the street to forget the day’s endurance? Do you see the rich kids who decide to take a stroll through the road on the empty streets of night on their new bikes? Do you see the nervous woman returning late from work, constantly looking behind and checking every direction? Do you see that corporate employee walking home after recieving a big scolding from his boss, plotting how to punish his family for his bad mood?

What do you see from your window?

Dear patriarchs of the ‘modern’ age..

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..

..and then I laugh

Oh, how I dreamt in school
When heard speeches of Kalam..

Thought I really had wings..

Thought I’ll make us
THE Superpower,
Thought I’ll help make
Development sustainable,
Thought I’ll help people
See through all the bullshit,
Thought I’ll make
Education accessible,
Thought I’ll give everyone
Every opportunity,

To make new discoveries,
To make ideas come true,
To venture the world, the universe,
To find the purpose-the real one,
To choose,
To love,
To dislike,
To befriend,
To never be left behind..

Today I see
Vilest of the vile people
Doing stupidest of the stupid things,
And taking pride, smaller than nothing,

Now when someone plays that
iPhone-made short film,
With Kalam’s voice in the back
And kids repeating after him,
“I am born with wings”,
I cringe and then
I laugh.

© Mudita Sonawane

The ‘Sacred’ Games

sacred
This is more than just a logo!

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 thriller series, curiosity was at is peak. saifFrom 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 KalakandiNawazuddin Dialogues 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 termsafter which the episodes are named-from Mahabharat with respect 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. kantaHis 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.

radhikaOne 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. joshiHis 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. nawazIt 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..!)

The Ultimate Question of Existence

Recently, I watched the newly released movie in theater-Jurassic Park: The fallen kingdom. Overall, it was a good movie, technically and otherwise. The usual plot of any Jurassic Park/world movie is almost the same, someone gets greedy and wants to use genetic technology and the dinosaurs for some purpose. For example, John Hammond wanted to create something very amazing with his money and influence so he built the theme park to astonish the world by having living dinosaurs in it, the next part has his son bringing out the T-rex for selling it to a park, the third part deals with adrenaline junkie kids to visit the island for adventure. Then there is ‘Jurassic world’ series, where the park is rebuilt and we see two parties- 1] park’s founding body who thinks that dinosaurs are just another toy to show in the amusement park & 2] The military who wants to create dinosaur species to hunt given target. In the end, everyone learns his lesson in the end in his own way.Jurassic-World-Fallen-Kingdom-Poster_opt

The latest sequel talks about one more problem-the volcano on Isla Numblar getting more and more active, and having the potential to burn the island completely which would cause the elimination of all the dinosaur species from earth (once again). This starts a conflict, whether to let mother nature rule (let the dinosaurs die) or to meddle in her business (and save them by displacing them to a new island). Immediately there are two groups, those who want to save the dinosaurs and those who don’t want to take any additional actions. There is a third hidden group of the opportunists, who deceive the first group to track the dinosaurs on the island and capture them for experimentation and military purposes.

2018-06-12
The lone diplodocus on Isla Numblar

There is one incident in the movie where, from the island, military men rescue as many dinosaur species as possible and take them on their military ship. The time is critical and the volcano is on the peak of destruction. Everyone reaches on board and suddenly they all hear an excruciating sound, the sad cries of a giant Diplodocus (sort of), who was left behind, standing alone on the deck. As if she was calling them to come back for her, or saying her goodbyes, no one would know. No one could do anything. They didn’t return for her, maybe because she was just a harmless herbivore, who took too much space, and couldn’t be a killer. In seconds the lava erupted and poor dinosaur, who was once the crown jewel of the park and the epic magnanimous creature of the planet, was embraced by the flames. This triggers something in the viewers, that they can describe with no locution.

The senate witnesses a debate between first two groups-whether or not to save isla numblar’s dinosaurs from volcanic eruption? Tough question, because it starts its own list of questions-Who has more right to live than others? Who is the better one? Who has the right to decide that someone is better than others? Who gets the authority to decide everyone’s net worth? Is there any measure, any unit to describe that? How many units is good and how many is bad? What is good and what is bad?

SpecialNeedsThis reminded me of another movie, ‘The Oxford Murders’. In that, the protagonist-Martin, a university student, unravels the mystery of his landlady’s murder, while being fooled by his idol-Arthur Seldom-who is actually, trying to cover the murderer because of some guilt from past. Seldom makes Martin believe that a serial killer is challenging them by giving them a mathematical problem. But his puzzles are used as a cover by a desperate father of a seven year old girl in need of a lung transplant and he murders next few (who are already on the verge of dying). He plans to blow up the school-bus of differently abled kids and use one of their lungs for his daughter’s transplant. He dies in the ordeal, but the curious thing is, why did he think it’s appropriate to take lives of those kids? Because their consciousness was not as developed as ours? Does it make them insignificant? SnowpiercerThe French graphic novel Le Transperceneige (on which the movie Snowpiercer is based) shows the struggle-to live on the same footage, in the ice age caused by a failed global warming experiment, done by humans of course-between the high and low classes of humans-not caring about the whereabouts of other elements of the planet’s biological sector. It, therefore, indirectly shows the narcissistic human nature-how little we care about others, may they be other humans or creatures.

There are many movies and fiction shows that show similar line of existential crisis. It’s funny how the production houses for such movies (which are mostly Hollywood, Marvel or Warner Bros, etc.) keep their own countries at the center of the decision making body in the movie and still make money on an international level. Even in kid’s cartoon, Doraemon shows Japanese earth’s representative in outer space, the Potterverse mentions the magical population from only Europe. This is of course obvious, everyone favors their own troupe. We naturally feel safe in a familiar environment with people we know. This natural instinct-a characteristic feature representing our animalistic lineage-is interpreted by human population as a license to berate the unfamiliar.

In his book Sapiens-A brief history of mankind, Yuval Noah Harari has beautifully given account of the socio-psycho-biological evolution of mankind. There were more than six species under the category of ‘Humans’ (under the genus Homo) one of which are us, Homo sapiens. What made the others decline making us the only human species? Or the question should be, what is so special about sapiens that they are the only lasting members of the said genus? evolutionThe answer is cognitive evolution, which involves more than just communication skills. Many animals and humans (other than sapiens) could say ”Careful! A lion!”-to make others aware and run or to fool them away from food. But a modern human-sapien-can tell her friends that this morning near the bend in the river, she saw a lion tracking a herd of bison. She can then describe the exact location, including different paths leading to the area. With this data, they all can discuss whether they should approach the the river, chase away the lion and hunt the bison.

This cognitive revolution also allows Homo sapiens to acquire the ability to say ”The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.” Only us sapiens can construct and believe in a world based entirely on fiction. This enables us to cooperate on a massive level-using one faith system, we just have to believe in the guardian spirit of lion-even without forming intimate bonding with each other, which is crucial in animals to trust each other. This is our secret behind the dominance over other species.But this comes with a great responsibility, because we live in a world that has a huge number of elements connected by webs intermingled in each other in a complicated fashion. It needs to be intact because we can’t afford any single thread in the web to be broken.

I’d say in accordance with the cognitive revolution theory, our current behavior-showing favoritism towards the familiar/useful ones and thrashing others-is very ‘un-sapien-like’. We are supposed to be cooperating with everyone of us, so that the web is not disturbed. That’s the ultimate purpose of our existence, looking at the history of evolution. If everyone understands this, it’d be easier for us to decide what to do with the dinosaurs in Isla Numblar.

The Curious Case of Woman in Bandish

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. Richa chaddhaTwo 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. 

smita
Mirch Masala

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. 

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Bombardment of sugarcoated posts about woman empowerment

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.classical 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 bandish is mostly 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

  1. Male singers singing all this on behalf of that helpless woman, and
  2. 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. 

Gauhar_Jaan
Gauhar Jaan, apparently the first Indian to have been recorded

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.

rajasthan
Prisoners of culture preserving culture

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.