Thursday, 25 June 2015

A certain Honey Girl : Madhubala

Bollywood is vulgar, period . For decades young middle class movie buffs in India have been brought up on this truism . Just as they have ben led to believe that there can be no decent romance in languages other than the Queen’s English, or that  the Punjabis get it mostly right in matters of food, mounting of gala weddings and defying parents in matters of heart.
It is therefore, time to go against the tide of public opinion . For starters let us look at the very concept of vulgarity . The term Vulgar you see, comes from the Biblical fold, and it literally means ‘of the people’(hence the term Vulgate’s Bible. So if Mughal e Azam is vulgar, so be it . Why should we blanch from asserting that the romantic musical still remains a form shamefully close to all Indians, across generations. Mughal e Azam, a timeless 50s musical, a romantic veritable Midsummer Night's Dream, took K A Asif a decade to make and has been on every Indian movie lover’s short list ever since, was released in 1960 . If it is vulgar, go on ! give me an excess of it, as the Bard had said .
At the heart of this romantic musical is the haunting and luscious beauty of Madhubala, a young beauty from an impoverished Muslim family, pushed into films by an avaricious father with a Hindu name (like her colleagues Meena Kumari and Dilip Kumar) . A Hindu name, it was felt in the immediate post Partition years, would smudge her Muslim identity for the majority audiences and they would accept her as Madhu Bala, literally the Honey Girl ! In the film the much celebrated role of Akbar was played by Prithvi Raj Kapoor to much approbation . His Akbar today seems more of a cross between a madman and a Khap Panchayat patriarch. Similarly Saleem, his rebellious son  played by Dilip Kumar, seems a bit of a wimp despite his good looks. He remains a resonant and remote son of a bossy father whom he defies weakly mumbling his displeasure .It is the young, mischievous Madhubala as the dancer Anarkali, who truly sparkles as a Rakkasa ( dancer) with her combination of a giggly unself conscious sexuality, and her bold declaration of her love for the Prince as she dances. She all but burns the screen. 
From the 21st century Divas in Bollywood, the audiences demand hot bods. But in case of Madhubala,Her body is an irrelevance.  it is her face that even now can launch a thousand movie battles . Madhubala is Woman, as opposed to other talents like Meena Kumari, who despite better acting talent will remain a woman in Parineeta or Sahib Bibi...and so on. It is Madhubala whose natural beauty the stars and all those modelling for high end international brands of cosmetics, seek to emulate today and fail. Take her bewitching smile and those heavy lidded eyes streaming a fluid sexuality that no mascara can lend, no eyeliner enhance .Post Madhubala Bollywood , in trying to create a clone is only ending up making beauty a commodity that can sell other commodities : toothpastes, red lip gloss, eyeliners and even Maggi noodles. It does not stun us with being only what it is, beauty as God creates to no purpose other than soothing the eyes .
Madhubala was perhaps not an actress the way Meena Kumari was, or Nutan or Waheeda Rehman. She was a presence, whether the scene played out in a regal hall of mirrors or a forlorn auto workshop. Only music seemed to showcase such a presence. And some of her best scenes play out through the haunting music that accompanies her arrival. Her best directors were musically sensitive photographers like K A Asif, who in some strange way understood the unavoidable attraction of her half mischievous, half tragic self containment that rode the wings of songs like Mohey Panghat Pe..or Ik Ladki Bheegee Bhagee si..It is notable that KA Asif's earlier reels of an earlier version of an unfinished Mughal e Azam with a different cast were discarded totally after Madhubala stepped in. Asif did not try to extend the quintessential appeal of Madhubala for his audiences by giving her long wordy dialogues (the kind Akbar or Saleem were to mouth with all the thunderous resonance of popular Parsi theatre style ‘dialogue delivery’). He accepted her wisely for what she was, and almost became the camera panning her face .
Madhubala till the end remained the way she was, somewhat shapeless by today’s standards. Closer looking reveals a dangerous lack of vitality around her eyes, brought on by a congenitally defective heart and caused her to die so young. Legend has it, that before her illness was discovered and shooting for Mughal e Azam began, she and her great love Dilip Kumar came close to marriage . But her father would not let go of his golden goose and forbade matrimony for 'Baby'. 
Madhubala seems to have receded thereafter in some place deep within herself and in Mughal e Azam, she seems to be responding to situations created for her by the script writer with a profound world weariness and a premonition of an early death. This make the tragedy of Anarkali even more touchingly real and haunting . Think of the slow ravishment by just a gently waving peacock feather caressing her face or a bunch of grapes being dangled seductively close to that luscious mouth by Saleem . She seems to be responding to an inner reality, less to her lover. 

Madhubala’s kind of sad interiority soon came under threat by the new breed of actresses that went on to rule the screen in the 70s : the not so good looking but intellectually sparkling triad of Jaya, Shabana and Smita Patil, the earthily buoyant Mumtaz, Zeenat Aman and Smita Patil . The new divas were trained and well read. They projected everything they had towards their screen lovers and villains, leaving nothing in reserve. Madhubala's passive acceptance of the inevitable by women was by now a thing of the past.
Her illness, cruel and lingering though it was, saved Madhubala from being pushed into emulating the others while fighting the ravages of an advancing age. Like MarilynMunro her kind of special beauty and her early death before its decline, have made Madhubala a timeless icon, inimitable and strictly not for sale.   

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Spare A Thought for Gorakhnath

According to the 7th C poet Banabhatt, Shiva, the Original One (Adinath) triggered off several heretic doctrines for uplifting the minds of the large number of those in multi ethnic India, who wilfully  remained outside the pale of the Vedas (वेदबाह्य). These included many of the lower castes, Jains, Buddhists . Shiva gave a philosophical tradition all human beings were born with calling it Sahaj Yog. Almost a dozen new sects grew out of the Sahaj philosophy in time, especially after the disgruntled ones began to accept Islam. The Nath sect was one among them, belived to have been created by one Guru Matseyndra Nath, whose chief disciple Guru Gorakhnath was. His Mutt is located in the eastern UP district of Gorakhpur, a town named after him, but the Guru originally hailed from western India, either from Peshawar or the present day Punjab near Jalandhar.
Gorakhnath’s time ( between 9th and 10th Centuries) was a period of great churning of all major religions in India both related to Vedic learning and outside its pale. This was when a newly insurgent Islam began to enter from across the western Himalayas, while hundreds of querulous branches in Buddhism and Hinduism clashed violently with each other across the north. From Tibet and Nepal also floated in the mists of Tantric black magic and several kinds of dubious practices involving copious use of sex and alcohol that were adopted by many in the name of enlightenment. They entered both the Shaktas and the Pashupat sub sects of Hinduism and gave the whole situation a rather questionable tinge. The Shiva followers then split into 3 different branches Vedic, Tantrik and Mishra(mixed).
Gorakhnath arrived as a great unifying and secularising influence over numerous groups of all heretic sects triggered off by Shiva led non believers. The sizeable ranks of these by now included both the common folk as also disenchanted royals from across the entire north: Bhartrihari and his cousin Pooran Bhagat of Ujjain, Raja Rasalu( to whom the Siddhas and Sansis in Punjab trace their origin), Raja Rasalu( or Risal) who is said to have forged an alliance with Muhammad Kasim in Sindh and Raja Gopichand of Bengal.
Gorakhnath, a learned man, culled the existing Yoga practices and finally reasserted the value of a true Guru that would epitomise pure wisdom, untrammeled by emotive considerations of any kind. He named his variety of Yog, Hatha Yog, a pure wisdom- led path, disciplined and focussed that was a free of all vagaries of sentiment(भावावेग विनिर्मुक्त, शुद्धबुद्धिमूलक ज्ञानमार्ग). He frowned heavily on the sexual excesses and foul language being used by many sects to symbolize of their  rebellion against the Brahminical caste system. He ruled that three things alone should matter to a true Hatha Yogi, control over at least one, Bindu(sex), Vayu(air) or Mann (Mind) can open the doors to self realization. He criticised indiscipline of any sort:
यंद्री का लडबडी भाषा का फ़ूहडा, गोरक्ष कहे ते नर परतक्ख चूहडा,
यंद्री का जती, भाषा का साति, घोरक्ष कहे ते नर सच्चा उतपथी ||
(A real Choohda( pejorative for low caste) is he that can’t control his sexual urges and uses foul language. He that has control over his urges and his tongue, is one who has Risen above)   
He then set about branding the image of a Nath Hath Yogi. He mandated them to tear a hole in the centre of the ear and wear a horn made holy earring (Mudra or Pavitri) in it. Because they tear their ears, Nathpanthi Yogis are also called Kanfatta Yogis. The homeless celebates among them who freely wander all over, are allowed a loin cloth (Lakuli or Langauti), a stick (Dand),a whistle made out of animal horn(Shringi),a Gudri(a patchwork spread), Khappar(begging bowl)and a Mekhala( drawstring crafted out of Jute). But that is only for those who have renounced the world. There are also non celibate householder (Grihastha) Nath Panthis. This paved the way for many more joining the sect, a large number of them women and men from the labouring classes (Kameen) and lowly weavers shepherds, tailors and washermen, many of whom had converted to Islam. Guru Gorakhnath’s trips to Nepal and the Himalayan states created many mutts for Nath Jogis. In Nepal he severed his Guru Matseyndranath’s connection with some female centric Buddhist sub sect and brought him back.
The 1921 Census of India lists the Yogis in India thus :
Jogis Hindu 629978  Male:Female ratio 325:305
Jogis Muslim 31158  male: Female ratio 16:15
Fakirs Hindu 141132  -do-    80:61
Gorkhpnthis have 12 sects and twelve major Peeths and are also called Barahpanthi yogis.


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Go on, once again blame her !

The age old, world wide blame game against women rules, that women be blamed for all the world’s woes, including their own . As though it was not enough to blame them for children’s non performace, the undeniable increase in cases of rape and dowry harassment ( and simultaneous demands that the pro women enabling clauses introduced in older laws be struck down),a BJP woman MLA from Indore asserts that lazy mothers are to be blamed for the phenomenal rise in the sales of quick cooking two minute noodles. The lady who appeared to be extremely well fed, cited her own home maker mother as a positive role model for today’s young mothers who, she said, had served them painstakingly prepared and healthier (?) meals of Paranthas, Kheer and Halwas.  Not only was her claim about the better nutritional value of the above mentioned items highly questionable, given their calorie and cholesterol enhancing ghee content, but the underlying hint that compared to home makers mothers cooking Indian food, young (and harassed and mostly working) mothers today are selfish and uncaring was both incorrect and uncalled for.
It is against this mind set,  that one must examine frequent and pervasive assertions by powerful politicians, that most reported cases of rape by person or persons known to the female victim, are actually acts of consensual sex somehow gone wrong . The charges of forced sex by women may largely be propelled by the revenge motive . So they ask that the new and harsh penalties for rapists must be suspended ( because boys will be boys !) and victims must share if not the entire, at least half the blame for their own violation.
The Indian society still seems to follow the medieval saint poet Tulsidas’s dictum that reserves the harshest penalties for violation of four categories of women : the daughter, the sister, wife of younger brother and the daughter in law. For paid sex workers, girls out on a date with boy friends and wives,  consent for sex is automatically assumed, and it is taken that they are un rapable. Consent is a very important issue when debating rape. It is supposed to be women’s form of control over intercourse, different from, but equal to the customary practice of male making the first move. Man, it is said ( often with a leer), proposes and woman disposes. But can’t they see, this model is all wrong. It presents consent as a free exercise in equal choice for both man and woman, but turns a blind eye to the underlying structure of constraint and disparity that inhibits Indian women across all class, caste and age divisions.  Because male female consensual equality is mostly assumed, instead of being analysed carefully, ambiguous cases of consent are mostly referred to as, ‘half won arguments in the bedroom’. Why not ‘half lost’? because custom and law have both handed the lead to the male, without any guarantee that should the woman choose to exercise her right to refuse him sex, she would still remain in a position to control the situation .

This approach to non consensual sex reflects a belief held widely by Indians that women can not be violated by men they know. Fact is, most rapes occur in homes and the perp is a man the female victim has known. And no, it is not less traumatic to be assaulted by a known man whom the victim has trustingly opened up to, expecting protection not assault.  

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Questions Aruna Shanbaug and Nirbhaya would have asked had they lived

Jurisprudence is a theory of the relation between the lives of citizens and the law of the land. And so the ideal jurisprudence for India’s women would be one that treats our actual lived experiences of violation on par with men’s, while interpreting the laws and deciding culpability. Obviously this is yet to happen . The long vegetative existence of Aruna and Nirbhaya, both victims of most brutal rape, and the trials conducted thereafter, reveal that in the eyes of our civil society and law, the male view on the issue of crimes against women still remains the sole objective standard in police stations and courts of law.
Even after the recent amendments, when deliberating over issues of sexual access to women and their consent, the courts appear to be guided often by accepted family and kinship rules and traditional sexual mores laid down over centuries by men. So even under the law the final articulation of what is deemed a violent encounter and invasion of an unwilling female victim’s body by a man (whether inside or outside the home), will keep women’s epistemy out and confirm the cultural sanctions that make such crimes possible . The violated victim’s life circumstances and her experience of the actual sexual encounter may vary vastly from the male version being debated, but more often than not it will go unrecorded and remain invisible in the case diaries written by policemen sharing their cultural values with the civil society.
In the case of Aruna Shanbaug’s rape by a ward boy (who strangled her with a dog chain before raping her anally and leaving her brain dead) the matter was first deliberated upon internally by males in authority, who were wary of the nature of the crime stigmatizing the institution. It was finally reported to the police as a brutal physical attack and theft of jewellery by the accused and argued in the courts of law along those lines alone. Since according to the then prevalent version of the Rape laws forced anal sex did not qualify as rape, the perp was finally awarded sentences based on the charges of attack and theft filed by the Hospital . Having served the term he was for long untraceable, and we are told will remain free because he can not be tried twice for the same crime, and besides, as one of Marlowe’s characters said, the wench is dead .  Aruna, abandoned by her family and fiancé, spent the remaining 42 years of her life in a hospital room in deep coma . Pinky Virani, a feisty journalist who  recorded her sordid story and meaningless vegetative life in detail, petitioned the court for allowing her painful life to be terminated on compassionate grounds. The request was turned down. Nirbhaya was supported by her family but died shortly after being assaulted and the jury is still out on a juvenile rapist from the gang that assaulted her.
It is true no law gives a right to males to rape females. No law gives the right to males to rape their wives or daughters or daughters in law either. But gang rapes and incest happen and despite a noticeable increase in all such cases , the state has yet to have a law that can systematically intervene or spell out clear terms for barring a proven perpetrators’ authority and access to females. One can say there is no law to silence the victims. It is not necessary, since attackers have already taken care to silence them physically or by repeated verbal threats. Even after a few women and girls survive to tell the tale, many are first silenced their own families, fearful of a bad name. At the Thanas where the local police will first blame the victim taking her as one with a questionable character, they are again deprived of the right to assert their version as being the true one. And if they cross this hurdle, many can be rendered speechless in courts that push her to use an unspeakable vocabulary and describe what was done to her while the audiences titter again and again.
After such repeated humiliations how can a woman assert her right to be heard on par with the rapist ?
You get the picture.
The family remains the first and the biggest bulwark against an impartial hearing of crimes against women .  And home is where most sexual crimes are committed by men who are mostly known to the victims. Even after the family chooses to support the victim and seeks out help, sexist quips from political and religious leaders begin to be hurled at her . They stigmatize and question the victims’s character and life style without ever having met her, and imply that it is not the men but young women’s increased social visibility and mobility and their promiscuous lives that are to be blamed. Taken together in the context of other laws pertaining to sexual misconduct, (including the obscenity and the abortion laws) these retrograde views blaming the victims of rape, sex trafficking and domestic violence, one realizes how little about sexual crimes against women is defined and adjudicated, using the victims’ own experience and her rights as a human being.

It is time those endless debates, beloved of prime time TV shows between conservatives and liberals, artists and philistines, virgins and whores, forces of oppression and liberation, rage and tolerance, are superseded once and for all, by a political abolistionist debate : are women equal as human beings or not ? It is only then that one can expect work to begin on the crafting of a feminist theory of state .