Purist’s Lament

In this day and age, it would be unwise not to include a disclaimer- the work below represents solely my own observations, thoughts and opinions and is meant in no way to harm or offend the sensibilities or copy or demean the intellectual property of any entity, corporation, or person in any way, shape or form. It’s a free country.

On the way back from work recently I found myself in somewhat of a meditative (critical) mood in response to the stimulus of the cabbie’s choice of music. The FM station blared the hits of the day/week/month all through, which does not in any way aid a journey that takes well over an hour at the best of times. One particular part of the (for lack of a better word) lyrics caught my attention:

Tu jaave je, mennu chhad ke || Maut da intezaar karaan”

It will not come as a huge shock to learn that the above words belong to one of the more popular Bollywood songs of the past few months. What is surprising to me personally, however, is that millions of the young and restless across the nation nod/hum/mumble along to this abomination of a combination of words, meant ostensibly to declare one’s undying love (read: thoroughly mortal plea of lustful obsession).

Dear reader, I am far from a hopeless romantic bemoaning the lack of the purity of love that my generation supposedly possesses; nor am I going to venture into the very musical quality or merit of the song in question — that, certainly, would entail a thesis rather than an article. I wish to discuss what I perceive to be the sheer ludicrousness of the words in question. As a subscriber to the multiverse theory, I ask simply, in which universe does unrequited or spurned love translate into suicidal tendencies? How is including such writing in a medium designed, and sure, to reach over 1.2 billion people in the nation that gave us Tagore, Naidu, Ghalib and Gulzar, deemed acceptable, and, more alarmingly, canon?

We must pause. To mirror one of my favourite Indianisms, that innate ability to take colloquialisms to the next level that few do as well as us, “digression is happening”. Now, the less patient among us would have already stopped reading, dismissing this opinion with the justification that what the masses want transgresses such base inconveniences as quality checks and purism. Hence, now that we are among an audience that is relatively more tolerant towards the boisterous rants of 20-somethings, whatever vestiges remained here of political correctness may safely be hurled into the nearest wall with a wet splotch (and a slight slithering sound as it slides slowly to the floor). Here goes.

Any creative expression has the potential to be art. Not in the eyes of all, perhaps, but certifiably in those of some. That’s all art needs: an appreciative audience, however small. Music, and lyricism, hand in hand, constitute for me the only part of art I can pretend to know even an iota of. When, though, such creative expression is taken down to the subatomic level and analysed to yield to the salesman-with-hands-sweaty-with-glee, which notes, which words, which instruments and which sounds appear to resonate most with the target audience, only blasphemous examples such as the above and below are born in hellfire and thrust, kicking and screaming, into our ears (which kick and scream with equal vociferousness in protest):

Mera naam Mary hai, Mary sau takka teri hai”
 “What do you mean…when you nod your head yes, but you wanna say no, what do you mean?”
 “My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun”.

The grammatical and syntax errors that would have any middle school English/Hindi teacher come over faint notwithstanding, lyrics of popular music today have devolved into scarcely more than gross sexualisation or innuendo, the description of stimulant-fueled frivolities that yield more ex post facto embarrassment than fond memory, declarations of love supposedly cryptic and brooding but in sad fact, confused and meandering, and the ever-present stereotyping of gender and/or race. Since that, in the words of two of the inspirations for this article, is but a marketing team, cashing in on puberty and low self-esteem (Bo Burnham- “Repeat Stuff”, 2014), delivering said news to the present-day equivalent of a grinning war-lord wearing a necklace of human finger-bones (Frankie Boyle, Mock the Week, BBC).

Songs used to have a way of expression that seemed to be something entirely from another dimension, whereas the device of sarcasm and satire is now reserved to a few stand-up comics as perhaps 100 people honestly listen to them at any given time, from:

Now, watch what you say, or they’d be calling you a radical
 Liberal, fanatical, criminal
 Oh won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re acceptable
 Respectable, presentable, a vegetable.”
— Roger Hodgson, “The Logical Song”, 1979

Right down to, as put by the latter songwriter, “love songs that they almost wrote”:

Taare, maujein, rut aur jam
 Nagme, paimane, but aur phul
 Sab teri raahon ki khaak
 Sab tere kadmon ki dhul
 Tere jaisa koi, kahin dekha na suna hai
 Mehbooba, teri tasveer kis tarah main banaun?
 Teri zulfon ki dastan, kis tarah main sunaun?”
Anand Bakshi, “Mehbooba Teri Tasveer”, 1970

Wond’ring aloud
 Will the years treat us well?
 As she floats in the kitchen
 I’m tasting the smell, yeah…
 Of toast as the butter runs
 Then she comes, spilling crumbs on the bed
 And I shake my head…“
— Ian Anderson, “Wond’ring Aloud”, 1971

None of the above songs, when heard, can be, in an unbiased manner, classified as “complex” — they were, in fact, quite popular at the peak of their respective composer’s power, and yet today, something that requires one to remotely reach into the recesses of one’s mind is met with responses of “too boring” or “too slow” or “dude it’s 4 in the morning can you stop with the lecture”. This equivalence between what is too complicated to bother about and what is not as easily accessible and instantly entertaining as most of the surface content wafting across our smartphone screens extends at best to several other areas as well, if not slowly leading to a dumbing-down of practically every sphere of life, as if the nomination of “selfie” as the Word of the Year in 2013 by no less than the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY wasn’t quite enough.

In the hopes of staving off quite a needlessly grisly interpretation, I firmly do not believe the general populace is “dumber” now as compared to what it was earlier. However, we do seem to be as fickle as we have ever been, ready and willing at a moment’s notice to believe what we are told as gospel truth, refusing to think beyond face value, not questioning the why, how, or what of what’s in front of us. Perhaps time is at a greater premium than ever before, but truly believing so would be tantamount to an insult to the most complex piece of machinery that has yet been discovered in the known universe, i.e., the human brain. Many would be surprised at how long a way just a little thought and foresight goes (he mutters darkly to himself, as a motorist nearby grudgingly reverses from the incorrect side of the road and clears out a half-hour logjam).

I do not claim to be an expert in anything, far from it: I have barely scratched the surface of the things I know most about. Yet that remains the source of that childlike curiosity and subsequent glee, of finding in something path-breaking the thrill of discovery akin to finding a new toy, or re-encountering one you thought was lost. And undoubtedly, people who are experts in their fields are pushing boundaries in unprecedented fashions worldwide. The only appeal, therefore, remains to you and I, those of us not quite qualified enough to be counted in the aforementioned elite, and begs clarity in thought and discernment in opinion, so that perhaps my neighbourhood will cease to blare Punjabi autotuned cacophony high into the still air and long into the dark night.