It has been a tragic 2022 for Indian music and my neighbourhood in Kolkata displays it. A large billboard pays tribute to Bengali singer Sandhya Mukherjee with a line from one among her well-known songs—Kichhukhon aaro nahoy rohitey kaachhe (If solely you may have stayed a bit longer). The site visitors sign has plaintively switched from Lata Mangeshkar songs to Sandhya Mukherjee ones however the posters for Lata Mangeshkar are nonetheless up close to the market, telling us life might need ended however the music lives on. This week itself there was a night of Lata Mangeshkar and Sandhya Mukherjee songs on the native park. However I see no billboards for the late Bappi Lahiri.
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A few of it might need to do with politics, though West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee had given him the Banga Bibhushan, the state’s highest civilian award. Bappi-da was a Bharatiya Janata Celebration (BJP) candidate, albeit unsuccessful, in Trinamool Congress territory in 2014. Prime Minister Narendra Modi mourned Lahiri’s loss of life, hailing his “all encompassing music, fantastically expressing various feelings”. Weeks earlier than her loss of life, Sandhya Mukherjee made information by rightfully rejecting the Padma Shri, an award that was too little too late for a singer of her stature. However regardless of his lengthy profession and his outsized affect over Indian in style tradition, Bappi Lahiri remained Padma-less. In actual fact, in 2012, Congress member of Parliament Kamal Kishore complained that his letterhead had been cast to suggest a Padma Bhushan for Bappi Lahiri.
We might have all danced to his tunes however at some stage we simply thought the Disco King was too tacky, too infra-dig, extra copycat than cool cat. And we’ve all been taught to be a bit suspicious of popular culture, particularly if it comes festooned in shiny gold chains.
But when the pandemic has taught me one factor, it’s to not sneer at something that provides us pleasure, regardless of how cheesy it may appear to others. It could possibly be Boney M or Bappi Lahiri or Bigg Boss. Or Ravinder Singh romance novels. “Don’t really feel unhealthy about turning off CNN and turning on When Harry Met Sally,” wrote actor and podcast host Danny Pellegrino about responsible pleasures. “Self-care is critical to get by means of this difficult time…. The one factor you’ll be responsible of is caring for your psychological well being.”
It has taken me a very long time to be taught this lesson. Rising up in Kolkata, like many Bengalis, I learnt to be snooty about Hindi movies. We dutifully went to see The Sound Of Music and Satyajit Ray’s Felu-da movies a number of instances however Hindi movies had been dismissed as a waste of time. Even Sholay, regardless of all its many jubilees, was not one thing we had been inspired to look at. I really found Bollywood after transferring to the US. Indian spices had been exhausting to come back by in our tiny city within the American Midwest however we managed to supply grainy pirated movies of Bollywood movies. It was not simply allaying homesickness. It was a strategy to admit to ourselves that our feelings didn’t need to be saved discreetly tucked away.
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Years later, in additional cosmopolitan California, I took my American associate, G., to see Sholay, which was screening on the native Indian theatre. We had gone to the Birju Maharaj and Ravi Shankar concert events and Satyajit Ray movies however Sholay was completely different. Additionally, we watched it with out subtitles, which meant I needed to conduct a kind of whispered working commentary, a lot to the annoyance of the Indian households round us. Sooner or later I used to be afraid G.’s endurance would give approach. However love’s labour was not misplaced. I bear in mind glancing nervously at G. as Amitabh Bachchan’s Jai lay dying and Jaya Bhaduri’s Radha snuffed out her lamp, and, with it, her romantic hopes. I couldn’t have been extra relieved. G. was sniffling too. Sholay had reached throughout the nice cultural divide even with out subtitles.
At the moment I considered it as some sort of cultural litmus take a look at for interracial relationships for the likes of G. However I realise now it was simply as a lot a popping out for me, to confess to myself that Sholay might transfer me simply as Pather Panchali might and there was no cultural dissonance there. In our relentless pursuit of what’s cool, we generally cauterise the issues that really heat our hearts. Even the phrase “responsible pleasure” carries a touch of apology about it. And it’s all the time about in style tradition. Beethoven and Truffaut are by no means responsible pleasures. Neither is cricket.
It’s price interrogating how we determine one thing is a “responsible” pleasure and what it’s responsible of. When Shrayana Bhattacharya used Shah Rukh Khan fandom as a approach of mapping womanhood and the economic system in India in her e-book, Desperately Looking for Shah Rukh, she mentioned in an interview on Categorical Audio that she was not seeking to make any explicit touch upon the social roots of considering that sort of fandom was foolish, one thing to outgrow. However looking back she understood her e-book was partly a touch upon that concept. “I realised that our society is so oppressive relating to so many ladies that truly the foolishness is a type of indulgence and it’s a type of self-love, it’s a type of self-care, ” she mentioned.
Cultural commentator Paromita Vohra expressed it finest in a paean to one of many final responsible pleasures of our time—the nightie. She wrote that she was as soon as given a printed cotton nightie as a joke present from Kolkata. She cherished it. “I discover it humorous that folks discover it humorous that I like nighties, a lot as in youth folks had been shocked that I cherished Hindi movie songs, then thought of maha uncool,” wrote Vohra in Mid-Day. For her, nighties had been the “final don’t-care energy put on”. It’s the “don’t care” that’s pivotal right here. It’s the one strategy to escape the tyranny of what’s deemed maha cool.
Additionally learn: The songs will stay however so will the vacancy
When literary festivals first began inviting authors deemed industrial writers, many purists had been aghast and went, “there goes the neighbourhood.” Author Anuja Chauhan as soon as informed me in an interview that she all the time felt folks thought she would “deliver down the mental tone of a panel” as a result of she wrote commercially in style books. “It’s the one place the place being in style is unhealthy,” she mentioned. “Like I used to be in style at school and that was good. There’s an entire physique of books devoted to how you can be in style. I can’t perceive why the literary institution has quarrels with it.”
When Mamata Banerjee first got here to energy in West Bengal, the intellectuals sneered at her embrace of Tollywood stars and Bengali cleaning soap operas. The bhadralok complained that election rallies had became song-and-dance merchandise numbers. It was seen as Banerjee desperately searching for tradition. Her Communist predecessor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, wanted no such measures. He watched subtitled movies and translated the memoirs of Russian futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovski. However Banerjee understood the ability of in style tradition in a approach her opponents didn’t.
The Communists had stood aloof disdainfully when mega star Uttam Kumar died however Banerjee walked all the way in which to the crematorium with the funeral cortege of each Sandhya Mukherjee and Soumitra Chatterjee, a person who had by no means been a fantastic fan of hers. On the similar time, she despatched movie stars finest ide
ntified for being muscle boys and glamour queens to the Lok Sabha. Some noticed it as lack of discrimination. However there was one thing liberating as nicely in how she embraced every part, excessive, low and in-between, with out judgement. There was no guilt in her pleasure. She was glad to sing Rabindrasangeet and provide her ideas on Bengali cleaning soap opera plot-lines.
And it yielded wealthy political dividends as a result of within the 2021 election, the one factor the BJP couldn’t accuse her of faking was her Bengali-ness. But it surely solely labored as a result of her cultural appreciation was not a political ploy. It was a supply of real pleasure.
It’s time for the remainder of us to additionally take the guilt out of it.
Cult Friction is a fortnightly column on points we preserve rubbing up in opposition to. Sandip Roy is a author, journalist and radio host.
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