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.

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.


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

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.

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.

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.

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

‘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
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
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
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.

Parents’ Guide to Bringing Up a Decent Girl

Picasso’s Blue Period by Reya Ahmed

If your child has a vagina, let the obstetrician declare her gender- a girl she is! Welcome, welcome her as the mascot of your family because girls are believed to bring good luck. Rejoice, for legend has it that if you father a daughter, you’ll never have to go to bed starving. Teach her from the very outset of life that she is the honour of the family- a treasure to be cherished.

Paint her room pink so that she may love her room; girls love this colour, and I’m sure your daughter will not be an exception. Buy her little cute pink fairy dresses. Few months later, don’t forget to buy her a kitchen set, a slender Barbie, a doll house and many other feminine toys which have the capability to subtly inculcate in her the virtues of patience and adjustment so essential for the weaker sex. She will love them, I tell you! And when she sobs you will know that she wants another toy. This expression of her needs will persist in her- she is not a boy that she needs to bottle her emotions up always. She will slowly grow up to the idea that whining for what she wants is the best way to achieve it, because sooner or later in life, tears are the most powerful weapon at the command of a woman.

Right before she starts going to school you need to teach her how to sit properly not just in public, but also when alone (the hours spent in solitude are rehearsals for the public behavior befitting a girl). Advise her to be careful that her skirt does not move an inch here or an inch there from its proper place, lest she should be ridiculed, “SHAME, SHAME!” A few days later you will notice that she returns home to speak gibberish, wear a wig, sari, and her granny’s spectacles to playact the role of a teacher- the job that suits women very well. How lovely you will feel when she behaves during playtime exactly how you behave with your spouse! Your best experience will be watching her mind the dolls she regards to be her children, exactly how you take care of her. It is a sublime experience to watch your little princess subconsciously pick up your actions.

Here comes the most significant part. Teach her about the good touch and bad touch. Imagine her as a potential victim of rape (it is always easier than imagining her or yourself as a perpetrator of misogyny or your son as a potential rapist). Teach her that when strangers try to touch her genitals or make her feel physically uncomfortable, she should run to safer zones. Teach her to wholeheartedly accept as good touch all the cuddles that befall girls’ fortune.

As she enters her adolescence, you owe her the responsibility of imparting the most valuable lesson in a woman’s life. One fine day her uterus will begin to bleed. It will bleed every month for one following week or two. Hold a grand ceremony by inviting all your well-wishers to bless your daughter not because she is going to have to bleed from her genitals for a considerable period in the rest of her life, but because now she is finally a woman- a complete one. She can bear children and ensure the persistence of your lineage. (Legally speaking, she can also be raped henceforth, but that is not the reason you’d celebrate.)

If you are her mother, you should tell her that she needs to keep her periods a secret affair. Men should not know when she is menstruating, unless a man happens to be her sexual partner. She should be careful to not drop her sanitary napkin or tampon in public. She should absolutely never be too vocal about her periods even when hanging around with her female friends. It is indecent to do so. She should make it a point to never stain her pants or sheets. Inculcate in her whatever your mother and grandmother inculcated in you about menstruating. If you are her father, the best lesson you can impart is to avoid discussing this matter with her.

This is how she will grow up to be a woman of values one day. She will not invite lecherous stares through revealing clothes or rape through her actions. She will be the goddess you had always wanted to worship- the honour of your family as well as that of her husband’s. If she gets sexually abused someday, you shall never have your upbringing, but only your ill-luck to be held responsible.

Proud to be a Woman?


When that school friend I grew up pouring my heart out to every now and then, that girl in college whom I often have encountered clicking selfies in the Girls’ Common Room, and that woman born out of countless girls like these, tagged me on Facebook to share a photograph of mine- a photograph that makes me proud to be a woman, all I did was ransack all photo albums I have curated for myself. I started with searching for my pictures as a baby, looked for those as a child, an adolescent, to finally come to my adult self. That I have to call my present self an adult is itself testimony to how much of a conformist I have been. What if I am, despite being eighteen, not yet ready to behave like the definition of an adult as is floated around me every time I give in to juvenile desires? But let’s keep it for another day, lest many an old scar should be dug up in the process.

Coming back to being proud to be a woman, I honestly could not find a photograph that, in the milieu I have been brought up, makes me feel so. Why should I be proud to be a woman? It was not my choice to be a woman. It was the obstetrician, who declared to my family soon after examining my genitals that a girl was born to them, who decided that I be a woman. It was my doting father who called me his princess, my grandmother who throughout my childhood bought me numerous kitchen sets from the annual fair and my mother who insisted that I grew long hair, to decide that I be a woman. It was my teacher in a co-educational Montessori, training only girls to join their thighs like Siamese twins, who decided that I be a woman. The womanhood I wield today, was not my choice. I have had to, like pieces of an unfinished jigsaw puzzle, fit in into the various roles of a woman as demanded of me for the last eighteen years.

I did not want to seem rude to all those women who tagged me. Hence, I replayed the bodily traces of my womanhood like lyrics lost on the way home from a late night party that leaves you too intoxicated to remember every detail. The memories which this drunkenness allowed me were, unfortunately, not recorded in the form of photographs. Nobody snapshot the moment I first masturbated, nor did anyone record when the first drops of blood shocked the senses out of me while, as on any other day, I went to the washroom to urinate. There is no pictorial evidence of the first time a certain friend flirtatiously asked me for a French kiss. These hush-hush moments are not to be photographed, because hey, do you not remember that you are a woman- a breed never been talked about in generic biological theories about the humankind for the longest time in history, let alone in sociological postulations. I thus decided against posting any picture in response to the challenge.

I still am not certain about what I should be proud of- the religion of womanhood that I have unconsciously embraced, or the choice of womanhood I made on solitary afternoons with many a new idea about the same crawling up to my head.