5 Reasons Why Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya is the Ultimate Love Anthem

“Why be afraid when you are in love?” is what Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya literally translates to. It appears in the iconic film Mughal-e-Azam which was released in 1960 after 14 years of production. Here’s why it might just as well be termed as India’s song of defiance.

1. It defies persistent gender roles

Gender, as Judith Butler (1960) contends, is constructed through a set of repeated performances. The dance by Madhubala’s Anarkali serves the male gaze appropriately- you will find the camera focusing on her many a time during the sequence. However, Anarkali does not shy away from this gaze. She confronts it and this is a major point of departure from what would otherwise be expected out of a woman of her times in India. She liberates herself from the framework of gender that she operates in.

2. A symbol for LGBT rights movement

Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya has now become a slogan for the emergent LGBT (Lesbian, Gay,Bisexual, Transgender) rights movement in India. It is an anthem about the triumph of love across social boundaries. The song surpasses time and space. It has gained significance as a form of protest voiced by more than an Anarkali. Madhubala’s Kathak is today a symbol of love against conservative forces. It is not long before this song can be an effective answer to those who are so worried about love-jihad.

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A line from the song on a poster for Rainbow Walk on Delhi Road. Image Source

 

3. A Drag Queen of sorts?

A drag queen is a man who ostentatiously dresses up in women’s clothes. Going by queer theory, a male drag queen in stylizing normative femininity simultaneously deconstructs it too. Madhubala’s drag queen not only challenges dominant discourses of power contained within a patriarchal nation-state, but she also threatens the discourses on sexualization of the body. She is aware of her class, religion, nationality and gender, yet she chooses to digress from the destiny paved for her.

Like all women who do this, her demise in the tale is also not very surprising. The song is that struggle for the identity of the subaltern which keeps returning to the Bollywood celluloid.

4. Anarkali is a brave subaltern

She is a courtesan. She is Muslim and what’s worse is that she is a woman. In short, she embodies all that you would not like to be in a royal setup comprising men during the Mughal period in India. Salim had, in fact, just before the performance, accused her of being a bujdil laundi (cowardly slave). A play of power recurs through the song-and-dance performance but even that fails to deter the spirit of love in the status of a subaltern that Anarkali finds herself in. She is a woman with little agency dancing across an empire’s patriarch.

5. The sequence reflects India’s tryst with destiny

Anarkali’s performance for the court can be compared to Bollywood’s performance for Jawaharlal Nehru. The movie Mughal-e-Azam opens with a baritone proclaiming, “I am Hindustan”. The then Hindustan was associated with sentiments different from those it now is. The film was made during India’s period of nation-building. Despite being set in the Mughal period, the sequence vividly portrays what was despised by the nationalist elites of post-colonial India- films (they were equated with gambling). What is now called the Golden Age of Indian cinema was then not a cakewalk for the film industry because it used to be regarded more as a perversion or disruption to advancement than as a form of cultural expression. This hurdle is encountered by Anarkali as well.


The song is a breakthrough from several dominant social norms. This does not make it any less appealing to the masses. It enthralls audiences all the same despite being as revolutionary as it is. This is what makes it the ultimate love anthem.

Do share if you find any other reason why this song-and-dance should be called so.

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The Republic of Cowrashtra

Ours is a nation which imagines the mother in the cow and the nation in the mother. I wish to disintegrate through this article the dual concepts of Bharat Maata (Mother India) and Gau Maata in light of the recent events happening across the nation.

Why I don’t have a Bharat Maata

The symbol of a mother is often used to identify a nation. This is in view of the analogy that women can conceive and land can sustain the lives of its denizens. This kind of an analogy essentially leads to a very patriarchal kind of nationalism which necessitates women, the incarnation of the Bharat Maata to be protected. Who are going to protect them? The answer is one that history has time and again implied in various ways- men. Men who are the soldiers and martyrs of the nation are supposed to protect Mother India’s honour from being violated by outsiders.

Implications of the woman-nation analogy

The nationalist and patriarchal agenda converge at this point. Both either implicitly or explicitly suggest that women, the weaker sex, need to be protected by their stronger counterparts (?) men. This takes away considerable amount of autonomy from women who, under these agenda, are seen as potential mothers and caregivers. It seems to be almost natural that women are destined to be mothers. Hence, some feminists have called this a ‘protection racket’.

Moreover, the nationalist agendum of protecting the mother from outsiders who may squander with her assets (honour thought of as the most valuable asset) is loaded with its own exclusionist implications. It views as the other anyone who does not protect cows- a nationalist symbol of motherhood.

Towards a Cowrashtra

Cow protectionism is not new to us. Even when our ancestors were fighting the freedom movement, this issue created quite a communal rift. Little has changed over the centuries. The Rashtriya Swayamshatru (yes, that’s what I prefer calling it) Sangha (RSS) has made sure that everyone who is involved in the consumption or production of beef, is treated as the other. This other includes not just the Muslim who is otherwise the eternal other of India, but also the Dalits whose occupation is to skin dead cows. What can objectively be called brutality has been meted out to these people while an otherwise vocal leader of the nation has chosen silence as golden when it has come to this issue.

There is of course no problem if a particular religion attributes motherhood to an animal. It is, however, problematic when the Hindu identity is conflated as the Indian identity and Indians across other religions are homogenized as Hindus who should not consume beef.

Forced Nationalism

A similar kind of forced nationalism was witnessed when the Supreme Court ruled on November 30, 2016 that everyone needs to rise when the national anthem is played in theatres. This indeed is nationalism and I dare say that it may be jingoism as well. Patriotism cannot be forced. Nationalism does not necessarily culminate into patriotism. If it’s a matter of individual discretion as to whether or not one would watch a movie, it is also a matter of patriotism that one feels towards their country which determines whether they would stand during the national anthem whose lyricist himself dreamt of a time

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls

I have elucidated earlier that modern-day nationalism has started to take the role of a religion per se. This is one contribution that India seems to be successfully making to the rest of the world, especially the United States of America. If Indian nationalism is a religion, it is increasingly being coloured saffron to the exclusion of minorities. It is up to us whether at this crucial moment in history we choose to be just bhakts or Desh bhakts.


Featured Image: “The Saffron Queen”- Janine Shroff’s reinterpretation of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ for Elle India Nov

What I Talk About When I Talk About Murakami

In a world where literature has crossed the boundary of books to be found in lyrics, Nobel Prize or no Nobel Prize, Murakami, for me, is the Bob Dylan of literature.

Imagine a world where cats can talk, fish rain from the sky, where a woman is omnipresent, where the soul is divided and wells are empty. Neither is it a Hogwarts nor a Wonderland; it’s not a dream, nor is it a crude reality. Far from a world of “abnormal things happening to abnormal people” or “normal things happening to normal people”, Murakami creates “stories of abnormal things happening to normal people”.

Such events and the impressions they leave in the minds of people are emotionally resonant, and universally so. I, for one, have this reminder written somewhere on my study table:

As time goes on, you’ll understand. What lasts, lasts; what doesn’t, doesn’t. Time solves most things. And what time can’t solve, you have to solve yourself.

– Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

These are oft-forgotten simple words, almost making it ironic that despite change being the only constant in our seemingly 9-5 lives, we do need to be reminded of change. This Japanese storyteller lacks a concrete plot. The events in his tales unravel in an abstract form which is only reminiscent of life itself.

Does life have a plot? Do the characters that appear in our neatly scheduled calendar-lives each have a specified function to play? If yes, are we clear in our minds about their functions? What about that man you had casual sex with on last Saturday? What about all the sleepless nights spent after a particularly tyrant schoolteacher flashes in your nightmare? That’s when Murakami outlasts the pages and slips into your very being.

 

The world of Murakami’s novels is inhabited by characters with Japanese names. They remind you of Salinger’s Holden. They make you feel Kafkaesque. Yet, for the first time in the literary history, these characters hail from the East of high rise buildings and modern shamans. The West, to them, is the source of jazz which constitutes a recurring theme in the sagas of these “everymen”.

This world is devoid of the homogeneity of the West as has been imposed on the East for the longest period in history. This world is of an erstwhile jazz café owner who, while being based in his native setting, stands out as a universal voice of inspiration without one didactic sentence. It’s as much your world too. It’s in the way he narrates his experience in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running that motivates you in the way your friends’ advice sometimes turns out to be more effective than that of your parents on the same issue.

On lonely nights, I read his works. I read his works on silent afternoons. I sometimes secretly aspire to write in simple language that connects to the hearts of many someday. On other occasions, I read Murakami to seek fulfillment from such sentences that make me feel as though the author was with me while writing them:

Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.

–Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

In a world where literature has crossed the boundary of books to be found in lyrics, Nobel Prize or no Nobel Prize, Murakami, for me, is the Bob Dylan of literature.


If this article makes you want to read more of Murakami, or has introduced you to him, do share. I would recommend A Walk to Kobe on Granta magazine for curious beginners who do not have immediate access to Murakami’s works.

First Married Trans Woman to create platform for LGBTQ+ in Kolkata

“Some of us sing well, some can dance, some can act while others can paint. We face more social handicap than those from mainstream society. I am nobody. We are together Troyee,” Shree told me over phone. She used to be a dancer but had to quit dancing because of personal problems. She won’t let this happen to others from the community.

The LGBTQ+ community is going to get ‘Troyee’, a special platform in Kolkata to showcase their talents, thanks to 23-year-old Shree Ghatak Muhury, the first trans woman in Kolkata to socially marry her partner.

“We are trying to create a work environment for the community- an environment which we were not provided with,” said Shree, who is a thespian.

With the help of Titas Das and Shuchanda Lahiri, Shree aims to motivate LGBTQ+ people to earn a livelihood through exhibitions, theatre, film production and several other lines of work. Besides, Troyee will guide members to seek financial aid to pursue their dreams.

Shree, who has undergone sex reassignment surgery last month, wishes to get legally married in 2017.

I wanted to get this story published in the newspaper while interning with Hindustan Times. My colleagues helped me find Shree’s contact details.

This is a story- not the kind that you read and forget about.This is a revolution- not the kind where one disrupts the quotidian. This revolution does not yell; it silently adorns with stars the path for posterity.

MINGLE (Mission for Indian Gay and Lesbian Empowerment), a Mumbai-based LGBTQ advocacy organization revealed earlier this year that more than half of those surveyed from the community claimed that they were not covered by discrimination policies at workplace. Forty percent of them were often or sometimes subject to sexual harassment at workplace, simply owing to their sexualities.

Troyee will address such issues, as well as rescue those from the community who are compelled to become sex workers or beggars after being rejected by the society.

With some businesses like Bar Stock Exchange in Mumbai and New Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village deciding to debar gay couples last week, this initiative of economic empowerment is expected to not just culturally, but also economically add value to India through the ‘Pink Rupee’ while the nation is still recovering from the adverse effects of demonetisation.

The team will seek government aid if required. It intends to approach for help West Bengal Transgender Welfare Board headed by Sashi Panja, minister of women and child welfare development.

If one follows the recent turn of events, it is not difficult to discern that ours is a society which still largely prefers to shut those like Shree, out of our civilised water-tight compartments. We need more Shree’s so that another Manabi in future would not have to quit what she deserves.

I have noticed even members of the educated elite being unable to discern the difference between a transgender and a transsexual. I shall explain this difference in as less didactic a manner as possible.

Transsexuals are people who transition from one sex to another. While sex has got to do with the body, gender is a social construction which develops in the mind. Transgender, unlike transsexual, is a term for people whose identity, expression, behavior, or general sense of self does not conform to what is usually associated with the sex they were born in the place they were born.

Confessions of Size 32B

Hi! We are a pair of honour(s) from below the brassiere speaking. We are supposed to be a woman but lately (which means since puberty), she has been reduced to a size- 32B. For those of you who don’t know what 32B means: 32 is the girth of our bra band and B is the cup size, going by the lingerie brand we use. This must be a size good enough. We mean, we have no issues with it, but the cat says that it is larger in proportion to the body. The cat, in fact, loves us so much that it makes most of the decisions for us. These decisions are, in order of their  significance, the following dysfunctions of having enlarged (more than necessary) busts.

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Image Source
  1. Honour

You want it or not, we, according to the cat, signify honour, not just of our owner, but of her entire family. The larger we are the deeper is the cleavage between the two of us, and mind you if there’s a little bit of this cleavage exposed! It makes the cat ire; all hell breaks loose. Our owner was once expelled from the college canteen by a staff member because “others are complaining”. We still do not know if we were visually affecting these others or if we make our owner a repulsive human being. Since we represent honour, if someone wants to insult our owner or her family, the way is set- they simply grab one or both of us.

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Image by Aindri Chakraborty
  1. Weaning

Just as if we are assaulted, our owner loses her social honour, she becomes inauspicious if she is infertile. This aspect is precisely what marks our next function- breastfeeding. This very fortunate task we are endowed with can be rendered a dysfunction if somehow a child is weaned in public. We meet gaping mouths and ogling eyes if we feed a baby around strangers. We are not really a set of body parts, but a pair of paradoxes bothering the cat day in and day out, while dangling heavily from the chest to make our presence felt.

  1. Pleasure

This seems to be a function crucial to our existence. The cat seems pretty much interested in it. It appears in the form of nosey neighbours casually suggesting over a pint of wine that we undergo liposuction. It also comes in the form of close friends laughing at the prospect of how lucky the partner of our owner is, owing to our large size. This is how sexual pleasure happens to backfire in the form of inappropriate sexual humour.

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Image Source

Having enlisted the dysfunctions, we would like to point out that brassieres are really uncomfortable. We hope one day the over-sexualisation we are subject to, subsides, that we can go out without wearing them. Until then, let us go to the lingerie store and look for the perfect cup to hide our rather unwanted selves.

Pro tip: if you have ever owned a bra and do not like to wear it, stop to think if you started wearing it by choice or if the cat compelled you to wear it.

Featured Image sourced from Kadak Collective

#ColdplayInIndia: A Head Full of Controversies 

Look at your fingers. You know exactly what I meant by the word “fingers” even though I did not personally go to you and gesticulate at the area near your palm. This is because you and I have mutually agreed upon a certain code which we shall follow to communicate with each other. This code is called language, but you see- it is nothing but a consensus on using symbols.

Now let me tell you about another symbol. Think about a white rectangular piece of cloth. You can use it to wipe sweat off your face, dry utensils or to save your hands from the heat of the container while taking a dish out of your oven. What if I took this piece of cloth, painted green and saffron borders through two respective lengths and drew a blue wheel with twenty-four spokes in the white area? This will never let you do anything but revere that same piece of cloth. That’s how immense the load of the symbols I have imparted to the piece of cloth is.

It’s the same with religion, isn’t it? You regard an object as sacred- so much so that it eventually becomes a totem. You treat it with respect; admonish yourself even at the thought of bringing it down to the profane sphere of existence. Think of a rosary to a Christian, or the Holy Quran to a Muslim. If nationalism was a religion, the national flag would likewise be its most revered totem. I cannot remember a time when I did not know that this flag is sacred. Similarly, I do not remember why it is so.

This brings us to some relevant questions: Is the nation then a religious group? If so, who are its prophets- our political leaders? These questions demand logical answers, but let us keep them for another day because right now we are at a political juncture that claims the solution to a more pertinent dilemma. Who gets to decide which gesture to our flag is disrespectful? We have assigned meanings to symbols and none but we can change them. I do not know how tucking the flag to one’s rear pocket, as Chris Martin did last night at the first ever Coldplay concert in India, is disrespectful, but I’d like to know if by the same rule, draping six yards painted with the tricolor around one’s entire body is not equally disrespectful.

#Coldplay singer #ChrisMartin insults Indian Flag in presence of #BJP &#ShivSena leaders. Hurts sentiments of 120 Cr Indians. @PTI_News

Nawab Malik, Spokesperson, National Congress Party over Twitter

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A still from Hymn for the Weekend

This is not the first time that Coldplay has been accused of slighting the heritage of India. When Hymn for the Weekend was released in January this year, the band was charged with cultural appropriation, implying that it has narrowed India down to yogis, poor children and the colours of Holi among others. A careful look at previous works of Coldplay will suggest how they have always cast their songs in a different setting which goes well with the theme. Their settings have always transcended reality, be it in the elephant reuniting with its band in Paradise or Chris returning to the idyllic past in The Scientist or the chimpanzees partying in the middle of a forest in Adventure of a Lifetime. So is it with Hymn for the Weekend which is a fusion of alternative rock, pop and R&B about having an angelic person in one’s life. It is not a Britpop centred around Holi. It merely seeks to recreate an ambience of psychedelia reminiscent of the hippie culture of the 60’s. This necessitates yogis and a colourful screen. There could be no place better than India to find this setting. That’s all. As a student of sociology, I do not find anything objectionable in the video, barring the cameo by Sonam Kapoor, but that’s my personal bias. Like come on, stop overthinking about issues that do not need attention and spare some of it over the ones that need it.

Ten months ago, Coldplay was blamed of cultural appropriation by the very Indians who went gaga when Chris Martin hummed a popular Bollywood number Channa Mereya at the Global Citizen Festival India last night (because hey, Europeans trying Hindi is so cute OMG but Pranab Mukherjee speaking English in a Bengali accent is hilarious). The Indians who are now blaming Martin of “disrespecting” the flag are not supposed to be amused at homogeneizing a culture, if one is to go by the recent political happenings here. It is almost the rule of the day here to marginalize every identity other than that of the majoritarian Hindu. Why else would a Muslim Najeeb meet such apathy from the bureaucracy? Hence, it sounds hilarious when Indians accuse foreigners of insulting their culture.

The double standards of the Indian audience has been exposed too much through how Coldplay has met with controversies in almost every recent association with the country. It took us many years to give back something to the West after globalization- we are successfully leading the world on the path of anti-globalization and I know not where the journey that has begun with shaking hands with a right-wing bigot will end. The ripples India is sending across the globe reek of jingoism; what scares me is that these ripples are not far from becoming formidable waves.

‘Naarishakti’, the Practised Irony of Durga Puja

The apparent reverence for Naarishakti or the power of women is an implicit weapon wielded by patriarchy.

When the average student of fifth standard in Bengal is asked to write an essay on Durga Puja, she does not forget to mention that besides being the most awaited festival of the year, it is a celebration of the power of womanhood. Saree brands leave no stone unturned to monetize this seemingly feminist stance in their commercials. Radio channels, newspapers and social media platforms are intoxicated in the worship of Maa, who, according to mythology, descends with her four children from her husband Shiva’s abode to her father’s home. The build-up to the festive days echo with repeated statement of the fact that Durga Puja is all about how powerful women are. This takes place every time one is told how the clay from prostitution is used in making idols, every time Mahisashurmardini is chanted and listened to with great fervour, and every time the following practices are observed.


  1. Tarpan
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Photo by Anirban Saha

This is a ritual performed by Hindu men on the occasion of Mahalaya. They take a dip in the holy Ganges and chant mantras in memory of their departed ancestors, praying for their souls to rest in peace. It is considered as a reflective start to the upcoming days of merrymaking that Durga Puja is. Undoubtedly it is an effective way to ward off negative spirit, but this way is only open to men. Talking about how Tarpan is practised, I have, in 19 years of being brought up in Bengal in a Hindu family, never seen or heard of a woman performing this rite. Salvation is difficult to achieve, so much so that you are not even entitled to the privilege of leading someone to it if you are a woman.

  1. The Fast On Sashthi
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This photo and the featured photo by Rajatabha Ray

Hindus have various kinds of fasts on many Sashthis all year round. Now Sashthis constitute an exclusive reserve for mothers. ‘Barren’ women do not get to observe this fast for the well-being of wards. This fast is one of those incentives that patriarchy allows women for being…well, women. This ritual is made to look auspicious, hence, binding for mothers. The observance of this fast is a clear indicator to distinguish between good mothers and not-so-good mothers.

As they say, ‘Motherhood is a biological fact, fatherhood is a sociological fiction.’

-Nivedita Menon, Seeing Like A Feminist

Fathers, however, do not have to fast. While it strengthens the bond between the mother and child(ren), it is a form of socialization that imposes less burdens on the father who has neither borne the child(ren), nor is expected to have as much attachment to the offspring as the mother does. He is the perpetual breadwinner of the family.

  1. Kumari Puja
A Hindu priest adjusts the headgear of a five-year old girl dressed as a Kumari during the religious festival of Durga Puja in Agartala
Image Source

As a symbol of immense reverence for Naarishakti (female power), a girl around 8 years old is worshipped by the priest and other devotees. She is the Kumari Durga– the one with potential qualities of the goddess. She is draped in a saree usually too cumbersome for her age, made to wear elaborate ornaments and a ghomta (veil). This is an implication of her fate- one restricted by clothes which make her immobile and most importantly, the inevitability of becoming a mother, because lack of motherhood is implied futility of a woman’s existence. Out of all features such as matching up to the conventional standards of beauty, being very young, and the like, the most prized possession at the command of the kumari is the fact that she is yet to attain puberty, which brings with it the unholy condition of menstruating. A female is, afterall, pure only as long as she has not experienced menarche. Her purity gets tarnished with the ushering of her womanhood.

  1. Sindur Khela
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Photo by Sourya Chakraborty

When Maa is bade farewell, married women smear sindur (vermilion powder) on the faces of each other with the greeting, “Shubho Bijoya!” after having done the same upon the idol’s faces and hands. This is believed to bring prosperity to their households. No wonder sindur khela has spilled over the boundary of marital status with spinsters observing it for fun. However, this practice perpetuates the glorification of marriage in women’s lives. It automatically makes a distinction between the married and the unmarried, and makes it a “meyeder byapar” (women’s affair). Sugar-coated in the red powder, patriarchy marks the end of Durga Puja too.


Our Durga is fair-skinned, pretty and auspicious. She does not represent the inauspicious, the barren, the celibate. She is, through our practices, very mainstream heterosexual, but Ashchhe Bochhor Abar Hobe (shall recur next year)!

Do comment your additions to the listicle.