Clearly, there is something deeply threatening about women and music. It has always been this way. No matter how strenuously we try and camouflage society’s myriad reactions to the current controversy (Pragaash), it is largely true that any overt female demonstration of exuberance and joy is looked at with suspicion if not greeted with outright hostility. Women who dance and sing with abandon are judged and criticised (“ Hussies! Harlots!”) , not just in conservative societies like ours, but even in the so-called liberal West ( Lady Gaga and Madonna, to name just two rock stars, terrify most people).
Why then are we so shocked when happy teenagers belting out innocuous rock numbers at a concert in Srinagar find themselves (and their families) targeted by bigots? And why are members of ‘Ghazal’, a girl band from Teheran, gloating? This is not a contest.
And Ayatollah Khomieni’s revolution in Iran has nothing to do with our mess in J&K. Even is Mufti Bashir-u-Din’s memorable remark (“All bad things happen in Indian society because of music…”) makes you pause and wonder. Forget Kashmir for the moment. I am wondering what would happen if an all-girls band were to perform in say, Allahabad? Or Ghaziabad?
Take it from me, the girls would invite trouble. Big trouble. That’s how it is pretty much all over India – including in our so-called modern metros. Check: Bangalore. As a young girl growing up in Mumbai during the rebellious and magical ‘60’s, it was impossible not to fall in love with Elvis Presley. Elvis the Pelvis rocked my world like no other. His moves became my moves. Jailhouse Rock, my anthem. But did I dare let go in the presence of my father? Nope.
Did I sing ‘Love me tender, love me sweet’, within his earshot? No. Instead, I became a pretty raucous bathroom singer. My father didn’t have to issue an official diktat. His frown was enough.
I just knew my uninhibited adoration of a seriously cute American pop star, was considered totally ‘perverse’ (my father’s favourite adjective). No discussion. No explanation. For several years, I remained a closet singer-dancer, making sure to lock the door of my room before surrendering to those powerful, throbbing beats.
The story has not changed very much. These days, I am terrified of my children’s reactions (mothers are not supposed to sing and dance). There’s no hope for me. Regardless of what happens next to Pragaash, those enthusiastic, young voices will never hit those notes in quite the same way again. The unadulterated joy of full throated singing will be missing.
There will be a great deal of guilt…. even martyrdom, to deal with. Their ostracized parents will work on them and tell the girls to be ‘sensible’. At that age, who needs ‘sensible’? Perhaps, the other elders from the neighbourhood will convince them it’s all for the better.
Who will marry the girls otherwise? ‘Badnaam’ – even the sound of that word is ominous. ‘Badnaam’! It damns families and scars them for life. Worst of all, Those young ones are likely to feel differently about music itself. Equate it with some sort of a crime they committed.
One of life’s most divine gifts has been rudely snatched away from them – how sadistic is that! Music may cease to be their food of love – why should they play on? Music is now feeding hate… sad.
I think of Usha Uthup, and smile. So many years ago she and her sisters (the Sami Sisters) shook us up during ‘Jam sessions’ held in South Mumbai’s lively cafes (remember Bistro, Volga’s, Napoli and Bullock Cart?). As kadka students we’d flock there at noon, bunking lectures, bumming ciggies and sharing lukewarm coffees. Of course, our parents had no idea about any of this.
But oh what a delicious, wicked thrill it was to hit that dance floor and wear out the soles of our fatela Kolhapuri chappals (no money for Blue Suede shoes, alas).Today, as I watch my old friend Usha, still rocking the young crowd, her trademark gajras, bindis and Kanjeevarams creating their own magic, I want to hug her. Usha’s success makes me wonder.
The Sami Sisters – were they just luckier? We are talking another century now. But the same country! I like to think they were specially blessed. They escaped. Pity Pragaash didn’t.