When I fleetingly saw a mention of “Shiv Sena protests Ghulam Ali concert”, followed by “Taslima Nasreen expresses dismay”, you can understand that I thought Twitter and I had jointly travelled back to 1998 when the Sena barged into and stopped another Ghulam Ali concert. But it’s right here, right now that the Shiv Sena arm-twisted organisers into cancelling the concert in memory of Jagjit Singh.
I could imagine Ghulam Ali, looking at the Sena with his famous quizzical expression and quoting his own greatest hits. Maybe “Humko kisike gham ne maara, yeh kahani phir sahi” or “daka toh nahin dala, chori toh nahin ki hai.”
All I’ve got for them is: “Dude, really? You want to trot out your own 1990s formula film in 2015?” Yaniki, it’s official. The Shiv Sena has become the Subhash Ghai of Indian politics. The Sena is also mouthing the same formula-film style logic where ghazals correlate with terrorism. Will stopping ghazals stop terrorism? Helloji, I want to say. By singing for Jagjit Singh, Ghulam Ali would have performed an act of love, not contributed to terror, but maybe, like Sonakshi Sinha, Shiv Sena ko “thappad se nahin, pyar se dar lagta hai sahib.” They must also have some emotional majboori.
I suspect the Shiv Sena really does think it’s the 1990s because they must imagine the Internet does not exist. As I write this, there’s a virtual Ghulam Ali concert going on online. I’ve learned a few new songs. And a whole generation that did not know Ghulam Ali must now have discovered him. Wah.
I’m wondering: has no one from the Shiv Sena ever gone to one of those all-male bars in the country? The ones where men look morosely into their booze, still pining for one girl they loved in 9th standard but never spoke to, shaking their heads to what songs? That’s right “Chupke chupke raat din” and “Hungama hai kyon barpa.” If they don’t know this, can we take the Shiv Sena’s knowledge of India seriously?
If they want to score in a serious way, they would demand in the name of all these lachrymose drinking men that Pakistan hand over Ghulam Ali to India as a rightful Indian cultural treasure. Although, I should not give them ideas in free fund without checking with Ghulam Ali sa’ab if he’s okay with it, but just, you know, saying.
It’s doubly ironic that this petty politics took place just after the Coke Studio video of an 80-year-old Farida Khanum’s singing “Aaj jaane ki zidd na karo” went viral. Without a doubt that hundreds of thousands of Indians contributed to the over million hits the video has received.
The music of the subcontinent are intertwined, a recorded history of our emotions, a catalogue of our cultural memories. I first heard this Farida Khanum ghazal not in her voice, but my father’s. As a young Air Force officer, he was posted in a town near the Pakistani border and each evening, after work, his roommate and he, hefty pegs of rum in hand, would listen to songs on Radio Pakistan. Sometimes, when he recounted stories of his youth to us, he would sing some of these songs.
So, when I first heard a recorded version in my 20s, it felt at once familiar and new. Was this a Pakistani song or an Indian memory? Who cares? Our hearts only know what we feel and music is often the articulation of those feelings.
So, Shiv Sena, sing a new tune, because, you know, humko ab tak ashiqi ka woh zamana yaad hai.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com