BJP and the Twilight of the Idols

In the early thirteenth century, says Richard Eaton, one Mr Ikhtiyar bin Bakhtiyar Khiljee overran Bengal with merely forty horsemen. Lakhhan Sen, the then ruler of Bengal was having his dinner and upon hearing the marauding Afghans, quietly fled without his footwear. Hence started, one of Islam’s most successful territorial saga in Eastern Bengal, from where it spread successfully to the southeast and even travelled up to southern China. A possible reason why Islam did so well in Bengal, according to Eaton was that people here never really had a structured religion and Islam was a structured discourse. According to me, Bengal was very familiar with Arab culture and because much of Arab pagan beliefs and rituals were part of Islam, the religion could establish itself well. Islam as a religion and the Muslim as a rule however had little parallels, because the Muslim rulers were hardly Islamised. However, they established their powers through crass street violence when Hindus at random and Muslim musclemen clashed repeatedly as and when they met in public spaces. Later, Vaishnavs too used street violence to get their way through and the kirtan was nothing but the blaring music which lumpens play on trucks and tempos as they show themselves off publicly. Violence is thus not new to Bengal and its politics. Why this is so is a matter of sociological investigation though.

When the BJP broke Vidyasagar’s bust, I thought of the Taliban and the Bamiyan Buddha, I thought of Kalapahar and I of course thought of Ikhitiyar Khilee. Hindutva is a Semitisation of the Hindu religion and aims exactly what Semitic religions did, namely, to attain a borderless kingdom of morality. Unfortunately, for all religions of such kinds, violence has underlain the call for morality. Nothwithstanding the philosophy and the grand metaphysics that these religions have emerged into, Semitic religions, at the level of their DNA are licenses for barbarians to attack civilizations. The promise of a dictator, the promise of endless territory or Lebenstraum as in Nazi Germany, the rule of morality as opposed to law, the utopia which is far removed from anything possible on earth are instruments of the barbarians overcoming civilizations. Christianity was a great thing for the barbarians when they tore down the defences of Rome against the rest of Europe, Islam was brilliant when it raised and consolidated armies from the nomadic Turks and vestigious Mongols on the Ulan Bator plateau. BJP’s idol breaking is its instrument to power; it was very important cue communicated to the barbarians that here is my whistle, go and take Bengal.

Whatever is there to modern India is basically an extension of Bengal. It will not be very wrong to say that the modern Indian civilization is a Bengali civilization. Apart from the National Anthem and the National Song and Saratchandraization of National Sentiments, Bengali ethos of metro sexuality, its abilities to attain high notes in political discourses and the ease with which high culture naturally comes to a Bengali has been a point of envy for rest of India. Mano ya na mano! When politics is around the ideologies of the State, left, right or centre, issues of caste, development and unemployment can become rallying points. But when the point is the barbarian claiming an entire civilization as in case of the BJP, idols must be broken. Here comes in Neitzsche with his Twilight of the Idols, where the philosopher carries a hammer to break down all that symbolizes civilization. The iconoclasm of the BJP in Bengal must be understood in this light.

For almost a decade now, hate for Bengal among the non-Bengalis in the state has been rising rapidly. The Bihari drivers are misbehaved, and this is perhaps a reason for the popularity of the Ola and the Uber. The hate speech of the black and yellow taxi drivers are sheer invective; they claim in one way or the other to have a right to rape Bengal. I am glad that I don’t own a car in Kolkata, otherwise this side of the secret history would have been unknown to me. The Gujaratis and the Marwaris are as bad too. The cream of the troublemakers list is of course the Bengalis themselves. Mamata Banerjee has always got a bad press; she is not good looking, does not look to men for sex, independent, unmarried, with no male chaperon, and very homely. This is all the wrong type for a woman to be, or shall we call her a girl? Despite everything on the ground and most visibly so, Bengalis have often, in a manner of self-destruction that both Tagore and Nirad Chaudhuri have commented ad nauseum, oozed out self-hate and embarrassment at being ruled by an unmarried kanya at home! How I think of Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Taara. This is the same girl who the family could not marry off, and now she has done so well for herself, what greater shame can she be for her family? It is this psychology that braces Bengal today most sickeningly and which is why Bengal should fall to the barbarians.

Day in and day out, out of our guilt we have devalued and discredited this brave girl, who has tried to revive the Renascent culture of the doyens, build bridges between rural Bengal and its cosmopolitan city, Kolkata, tried to create harmony among communities, languages and migrants, and raised administration to a level we have not had in years since the late 1960’s. Yet it is because of her simplicity, her accent, her address that we want to heap lies upon her, discredit her and debilitate her. And why would Vidyasagar not be attacked, when the very girl child he wanted to create is here as our CM, why would Tagore not be erased when the numerous little girls of the Golpoguchho have coalesced into this girl whose punishment is to catch your ears and do sit ups as a Didi to the naughty brothers? Why would Saratchandra not be humilaited when Bordidi is demeaned?

I look forward to Amit Shah ruling Bengal, for that will be the right lesson for the Bengalis. I think let us all stamp on the Lotus.

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Vinci Da

This is quite a joke among our girls Ghalib gang that we the single women on the wrong side of the 50’s is increasingly finding ourselves marginalized even if we have a room of our own. Ghalib becomes our reference point because he lived and wrote during a time which was materially and hence logically not suited to give him the sustenance that a poet of his stature needed. In times when the means of livelihood are against your craft, art, skill or even proficiency, what does the endowed do? Maybe s/he seeks revenge. This is the revenge of art turned into a graceful art of revenge in Srijit Mukherjee’s recent film, Vinci Da.

The system has relinquished the need for art and for that matter anything that needs the creativity of the brain as human innovation is highly dispensable in a system which merely produces more of the same thing. The system has also little flexibility to accommodate brilliant minds who run it and hence we have the self-trained lawyer who fails to get a formal professional degree. These two occupy the two ends of what constitutes the middle-class intelligentsia, created and yet crushed by the capitalist system. And they seek revenge on the order; though the capitalist class can defend its position through power and violence, it is the intellectual who really knows the ways of how the world goes who can undo the sceptre of capital. The two categories of intellectuals, namely the artist and the lawyer seek to avenge the system that marginalises them. But then the two clash.

The lawyer personifies instrumental logic, universalistic ethics without caring for how the generalizations are going to harm the subjects of the objective law. The artist is empathetic, his ethics are compassionate and not rule based. The lawyer turns hegemonistic and oppressive while the artist turns to a selfless compassion; the holder of the universal justice is unforgiving; the compassionate artist is humanistic. Who wins? That is the drama of the film.

The artist’s temptation is an opportunity for work, the lawyer’s temptation is the scope for control. The former is about creativity, the latter is about seeking to order. The question is whether art will lend itself to be used for purposes of the ordering of the world? Art is shocked at the absence of empathy; law that seeks order has none of art’s compassions. Art is self-absorbed and self-fulfilling; law is other directed and external to those which it orders. Art’s reward is spiritual, law’s success depends on what it attains in terms of material gains.

One must watch VinciDa in order to understand what a competent singer Noble is. He debuts as a play back singer in the film. Noble sings in the backdrop of the artist emerging from a mood of determined revenge, to a doubt and then towards a moral tremor. Soon the artist transcends his basal instincts, the limitations of his ego and reaches for the superego where his revenge has dissolved into forbearance; and clemency and not reprisal redeems him. Anupam’s song moves in when the artist is finally free, in a tone that has found an uncompromised freedom, perhaps an escape from all the demands of the system on him, beyond the reach of all kinds of ordering principles of the world on the individual. This is why, all of Anupam’s songs are various versions of the one single song that says Amake Amar Moto Thaakte Dao..

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Sorrow in Spring a.k.a Basanta Bilap

Aniruddha Rakshit posted Late Chinmoy Roy’s photo with the caption Basanta Bilap. This caption is the inspiration for this modest post. Chinmoy Roy was the star in my spring; interestingly he had also a strange appeal for our more girly moods. He was as thin as a reed, dark, medium height, crooked teeth and could look downright ugly, chugged about in body hugging clothes and wore his hair long. He looked less of a being from the film screen and more of a wasted guy from the streets. He was a breathless Godardian.

As a stereotype he had the typical look of the young men of Kolkata, politically charged with the dreams of revolution only if that was out of hormonal energy left unchanneled due to the chronic unemployment for the uneducated. Instead of seeking comedy through the characters contained within the film, Chinmoy’s comedy seemed to target the very youth of the Bengali society; it was as if the cinema was satirising the angry youth of its times. As a comedian he rose to the stature of a hero in Noni Gopaler Biye where he also had a double role in the form of his successful twin brother. Indeed, his striking presence on screen came in the form of Basanta Bilap, a multi-starrer in which he had to stand as a side hero to the doyen, Soumitro Chatterjee. He shone through that galaxy of Anup Kumar, Robi Ghosh, Tarun Kumar, Bankim Ghosh and others. Among his last was the character of Tenida, once again a social satire of an age just before the one that Chinmoy had so long addressed and laughed at.

Chinmoy died long before his death; the cause of his virtual death was the death of comedy of the Bengali cinema, in its literature and of laughter in the Bengali life in general. An inwardly competitive society that thrives on envy and jealousy instead of focussing on its strength, a society that produced more parasites than entrepreneurs and made progressively more and more inward looking and wallowing in self-pity and excuses, is not exactly one that can laugh at itself.

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Bollywood vs Bangla Rock

Much to the disappointment of hundreds and thousands of his fans, Mainul Ahsan Nobel, or just Nobel did not get his usual Golden Guitar in the rendition of R D Burman’s song, Tumi Je Koto Dure. He sang it technically right, he sang it mellifluously and sang it powerfully but then there was something that did not quite connect him and his listeners. I can vouch for this because I have gone through the various versions of this song by many singers and must have heard Nobel sing the song at least twenty-five times. Every time I felt that there was something going against Nobel in the song.

Nobel is an aspiring singer from Bangladesh who follows closely legends like the Late Ayub Bachchu and James. He turned twenty-one during the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa show in 2018. Largely self-taught and self-cultivated, Nobel expectedly ruined his parents dreams of a career in the usual professions of the middle class and entered into the high-risk zone of music, where only a few can ever reach the top while for the many other aspirants it is the oblivion. What guides Nobel’s spirit is thus largely a maladjustment with his family, the mutual pulling apart of a need to make his parents happy and a need to pursue his dreams. No wonder then the rendition of the Bollywood song, Papa Kehte Hain sounded much better than the original sang by Udit Narain. This was acknowledged by both Udit Narain and Jatin, the composer of the song. Unfortunately, in case of R D Burman, Nobel could not connect with the spirit of the undying soul of RD.

The genre of the rock music has its defined style because it starts from a base, hits on the centre and then gathering momentum zooms past the core to scatter into an openness. The Bollywood song is just the opposite. It surrounds a chaotic material and like the spider spinning the web, weaves closer towards a centre and ends by rounding off the song material. The movement of the rock and the Bollywood song are thus contrary to each other. Rock is the music of loss, Bollywood is of gain, of accumulation. Rock can end in death and dissolution, Bollywood asserts life through regeneration and rejuvenation. Therefore, despite the lyrics of the song Tumi Je pronouncing a loss, the tune finally turns in to reconnect with the hope of life, literally of resurrection. The female voice, Asha Bhonsle in the original version and now the female chorus, performs the task of wrapping up the song from its outward journey towards its centre as a reassertion of life. Looked at carefully the song is a duet though it sounds like a solo number for it is only through the female voice the song gets complemented and completed. Typical rock music is never a whole, it revels in its incompletion and sense of loss.

For Nobel whose voice is one of despair, of annihilation, of shooting out beyond limits into a point of no return, metaphor of both the genre of the rock as well as of his life so far, can hardly be expected to sit right for a Bollywood song, especially of R D so absorbing of life, so much soaking in the regenerative force of youth. I guess something similar happened in Nobel’s duet with Snigdhajit in the song Dil Chahta Hai for here too, Nobel sounded out of sorts with the Bollywood genre. However, for Papa Kehte Hain, he could extract the tears in the song and present it in his own way into a point of a no return and thus drew the song into his own genre of rock.

Nobel’s star performance is undoubtedly his rendition of Khwaja Mere Khwaja, the devotional song from Jodha Akbar. When Rahman, the composer and the original singer of the song sings it, it feels as though an Emperor is in a meditative mood, asking the Divine for peace of mind and guidance. Here both entities of the King and God are intact despite the intimate communion with each other. When Nobel sings it, it becomes the despair of one who has lost all, surrenders completely to the Divine beseeching the Great One to absorb him in his unconditional devotion of Him. Nobel dissolves the song material and the song like the rock genre loses its centre and shoots right up to what the judges of the show say, the Divine connect.

His rendition of Pathe Ebar Namo Saathi, the immortal IPTA number by Salil Chowdhury is perhaps historically the ever best. There was self-annihilation and martyrdom in the rendition; as a Bangladeshi he takes upon himself to express the nation, that final limit that defines the politics of the modern person. Hemanta Mukherjee sang it as a song of the spirit and the IPTA as an ideology; the spirit that guided these songs were sectarian and partial and fell short of Nobel’s reach at the outermost limits of his existence.

Nobel sang Amaro Porano Jaha Chay also as never before. I have searched long enough in the YouTube to be able to say this with some certainty. This song too has a climax at its moment of giving up with the lines those imply a final parting of ways. Once again, the song offers a possibility of self-dissolution and Nobel laps up the opportunity to make perhaps the finest ever rendition.

I have observed that Nobel lays a lot of stress on the lyrics of the song. This may be an important thing to do in case of rock music in which the lyrics generate, accumulate and eventually push forth the music. Unfortunately for other kinds of songs, the music merely rides on the lyrics; understanding the web of notes become important and not the poetry. I think that this is what the judges said to Nobel when they said that the way he sung the number of R D Burman missed out on the play of the tunes.

The Bollywood genre is a difficult genre because it must return to the regenerative centre no matter how nihilistically it starts off. The rock is nihilism itself, cynical of an order whose structure seems oppressive. Bollywood is of the home, rock is of the world. Bollywood is media circulated but enjoyed individually, rock is presented individually but consumed as a member of the collective. Rock gets created in the ears of the listener as it rolls out. It cannot be a finished product that can be poured out in a new bottle, the newness of the renditioner being its newness. Therefore rock singers must choose Bollywood songs with care and vice versa.

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Koffee With A Bad Taste

Hardik Pandya and K.L.Rahul are out of the Indian cricket team for the time being because they are facing charges for inappropriate conversations in the recently aired television talk show, Koffee with Karan. This is not the first time that people have got into trouble through the show but this time, because it concerns members of the Indian cricket team, that the play has gone bad. Karan Johar eggs on his guests to reveal their worst side; he creates a strange competitive atmosphere in which the participants fall into the trap to gossip about their peers and make socially inappropriate conversations. Karan has carefully crafted an image of himself as the gatekeeper into an elite society where he poses as the judge of who gets to go into the inner circle of celebrityhood and who remain the pariahs. Young people with some measure of success often get drawn into a competitive game playing atmosphere and drop their social defenses and sometimes even play stupid in their eagerness to get included in the haloed portals of celebrityhood, a space which Karan pretends that he manages. Controversy is Karan Johar’s way of keeping people under his control.

In his characteristic manner, Karan Johar called upon Hardik Pandya and K.L.Rahul, two young cricketers of the Indian team and veered them over the ledge of socially appropriate behavior. He played upon their recently won successes and lured them entry into a world of entitlements and privileges, of the upper stall of the society. Inebriated by Karan’s acceptance of them as his inner circle, these men were eager to fall in line with what they imagined would be the culture of the more entitled. And in this they said what they said. Hardik Pandya spoke about his irreverence towards women as if success grants him the liberty to do so. Rahul too showed off profligacy as a measure of his success as he bragged about partying through the night. These comments do not merely reek in misogyny, but these shows how misogyny is intricately related to a feeling of power and how success in India has come to mean the liberty to disrespect and disregard all social norms and morals rather than hard work.

The punishment meted out to the two young men is the harshest of the available options. The BCCI is clear that it has taken these casual remarks in dead seriousness. Virat Kohli has issued a public statement distancing the cricket team from the offenders, Harbhajan Singh, a senior cricketer has gone as far as to say that he will never bring his wife and daughter in the company of these two men and the Mumbai Police has hailed the punishment as exemplary for such attitudes towards women. The probe headed by the retired captain of the Indian woman’s team, Diana Eduljee has called for a lifetime ban. Advertisers have moved away from the two brand prospects. In every which way, Hardik and Rahul suffer the death sentence, metaphorically being hanged by the neck until dead.

Hate for women seems to have emerged as a measure of masculine wellbeing. Recalling the episode of Nirbhaya murder, the offenders were in a state of feeling high after some good money came their way with which they had good food and celebratory alcohol, took out the bus on an unscheduled trip in order to “hunt” girls. Girl hunting becomes game hunting, a leisure sport, a mark of economic, social and cultural surplus. This too happens because of the way the society construes success. In India especially, success is looked upon as a product rather than as a process in which the individual becomes freer not of her immediate and material needs but of those social rules that bind her. This may be a fall out of the caste system in which rules of social behavior are tied to the hierarchy; you obey rules because you are supposed to be of a certain rank. Expectedly then emancipation means anomie and the Indian society has not been able to develop adequate rules of appropriate social behavior. We dirty our streets, we have pathetic sanitary habits, we hardly know how to behave in crowded spaces including the public transport and we have little manners when dealing with outsiders. In short, India does not have a well defined and comely public behavior. Misogyny is part of the lack of civic awareness and public behavior.

Why is it that when men feel powerful, they want to insult women? For this we must understand how the feeling of power works at the level of the body, social structure, economic power and even in the mind. Misogyny is an outcome of the combination of all the above. At the level of the body, the male who feels powerful wants to feel a sense of command over female bodies, at the level of money power he feels that he can “obtain” women by offering them fine dining and other fineries. At the level of the mind, he feels that he can do without women, he can be emotionally free of them. The sense of power brings in a sense of hierarchy in which women are constructed as the lesser and the dispensable entity of existence. To be nice to women, to need them and to seek their companionship is looked down upon as weakness. The moment the male achieves, he projects himself as one who can disregard women. Such thoughts are ubiquitous across the human society though not so openly profligate elsewhere with a higher level of civic culture than in India. In other words, misogyny is almost a social instinct of the human society. High culture often can mask this instinct and the fact that Hardik and Rahul did not mask theirs it clearly shows their station in the relatively lower echelons of the society.

Media was once reserved for people who were genuinely exceptional but today its proliferation as technology has led to a hunger for content. The content famine has created spaces for prejudices and ignorance to fill in the place for genuine inspiration. Misogyny, among others gets a new legitimacy as content of the media. The episode of the cricketers is not an isolated event but is a general trend of the media which seeks excitement through digging into privately held superstitions and biases and setting them forth as public discourses. Such is also the symptom of an ever-growing fascist trend of the society when all that which lie concealed within humans suppressed by discourses of reason and tolerance, universality and common good bursts forth with vengeance to establish the personal over the public. This is perhaps why misogyny is so closely associated with fascism. The rise of the personal over the public, the particular over the universal, identity politics over liberal public sphere within which lie embedded biases like misogyny.

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Sa Re Ga Ma Pa… 2018, Some Tips For Understanding Music

The present Sa Re Ga Ma of 2018 is indeed a delight and one of the very few television programme that Madhusree and I really look forward to. Santanu Moitra and Srikanta Acharya along with Monali Thakur are judges of this show. These are the things that I have learnt about music by listening to the comments by the judges.

  1. The difference between high brow classical music and pop music is that the former is sung by the singer to herself and pop music is “told” to an audience. Interesting because the domestic help in our homes, our only interaction with the non-elite segments of our society would always say “please tell a song” as if the song is a conversation or a story to be narrated. This is a part of that discourse which also refers to the cinema as a “book”, meaning the text.
  2. I also learnt that a song is sung using its lyrics; if a singer does not understand the song as poetry first, s/he is likely to fail in the music.
  3. The third thing is that the song is more important than the singer; it is the song which must be presented and not the singer.
  4. If lyrics contain the Indian alphabet, aa, the tune must be extended and rolled out and not reigned in.
  5. The relationship of the singer to the song is very important in the accurate rendition of the song. Sometimes, the singer scans the song in his/her head. This is not such a good idea; both the singer and the song should unfold together.
  6. Snigdhajit sang Ladki hai jaadu from DDLJ ad he got a Golden Guitar. But I was not happy with the song. He does not have to sing it like Udit Narayan I know, and no one expects him to do so either but there was something that Snigdhajit could not achieve and which is that the song is essentially sung at a woman, it was a catcall to a woman, devised to attract her attention. Snigdhajit sang it within himself, in admiration for the woman, and it was not important for her to know of it. In short, the song was for himself and not for her; there was self-absorption this time and no wonder that he stunned both the original singer of the song as well as its composer. I realized that there was no song around eve teasing in Bengali. No wonder then that Jatin found the atmosphere of the Bengali Sa Re Ga Ma to resemble a temple. There is worship and it is because of the self absorption rather than conversation that flavours Bengali singing both with a classical flavour as well as a kind of a sacred sublimity.
  7. As I listen to Mainul Nobel sing Pathe Ebar Namo Saathi I realize that no one can sing like him. The IPTA sang it like an assertion, in Independent India, social movements had become sectarian. Hemanta sang it like a song, the Bengali flavour of self-absorption. But Nobel sang it like as if he was immersing himself in his nation; songs of movement become the national movement in Bangladesh and since there is no category higher than that of the nation in secularism, he raised the bar of the song to its limits.
  8. No one could sing Amaro Parano Jaha Chay like Nobel. He moves towards martyrdom in dissolving himself in the great sublime of the nation. He dissolved himself in the sublimity of the song into that zone where nothing mattered except the song, the song itself having dissolved into the absolute boundaries of human cognition into that which we call the Divine.
  9. No one can sing like Suman. I have never heard the song Aage Ki Sundor Din Kataitam the way he sang it. This is because he sings without the inhibition of the song. He has so much command over his voice that he can easily overcome the pressures of having to excel in putting his voice into the notes of the music. His command over the song makes him free, he sings with this freedom.
  10. Sampa Biswas’s songs are sung with gusto, as catharsis of the pains she undergoes each day in the form of bad memories of her past. No one can sing Indubala the way she did. She has a way with notes; she sings each note of a song diligently, takes every breath, uses every pause with elegance, negotiates strongly each trough and peak and drives through the song with absolute control over the metre.
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Ghosts Are Descending..

In the misty and dreary evenings of Autumn, the universal categories of cognition of the human mind think of ghosts. There is something about the closing in of the season, when winter is about to set in and the sun goes weak in the sky, tilting towards the horizon more and more, the humans have felt vulnerable and without protection for let us not forget the Sun has been the prime God for many societies across the world. The Biharis rush to salute the setting sun as if in a dirge, immersing themselves in waters to imbibe the literal immersion of the sun in the sky. This is the chhat puja. The Halloween is the American Indians’ management of fear of ghosts and the Bengalis celebrate the choddo shaak, translated as fourteen kinds of leaves. They also light fourteen lamps, fourteen being the double of seven and seven being a number to describe limits, as in the seven heavens, seven generations and so on. Kali Pujo, which coincides with the dark moon of autumn is basically a worship of the not quite humans. The blood thirsty Goddess is associated with cremation grounds, dead bodies, killed lives and blood flows. The lamps are lit to scare the ghosts away and so are the noisy firecrackers. Light and noise are both intrinsic to Diwali and to Kali Pujo for both are instruments of driving out those who we do not want or fear harm from.

In the above context, Diwali seems to be a step ahead; here life gets celebrated. Great food, new clothes, new account books and ostentation seem to be in line of the Protestant Ethics; celebrate more of that which is threatened. I think that not Kali Pujo but Diwali is the anomaly with its overdoing of the life bit. The Goddess of Prosperity is worshipped and not the Goddess of Death notwithstanding that it is the dark moon of the autumn when the ghosts are the most powerful and considering that the season of the burning off of the stubble and waiting for yet another crop cycle to begin with the break out at the next spring whenever that comes.


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