Hindi Music Then & Now: Insights from Shikha Jhingann and Gautam Chintamani

I almost bit my tongue for reaching at this public discussion at the time when chairs were being folded and conversations became private over tea. A talk on Hindi music ‘then and now’, four well-informed and passionate individuals came together at Oxford Bookstore to create a discourse on what they termed as a ‘transition period’ of lyrics in Hindi cinema. In whatever little time I had, minus the awkward hesitations, I managed to get few words from the two most interesting and diverging viewpoints – Shikha Jhingann and Gautam Chintamani. 

 

Me: As I see this distinction between ‘then’ and ‘now’, I believe it’s because of the difference in motive behind making music; what was meant to be for engagement before, is made for consumption now. What do you think about that? 

Shikha: I believe music was always made for consumption. It’s hard to imagine commercial production of music without there being a listener for it. 

Me: Let me put this distinction into perspective. By engagement I mean a certain sense of emotional or cognitive relation one develops with the music, while consumption would be a pure non-critical ‘intake’ of music. 

Shikha: That maybe true. But I believe that there’s no need of creating such distinction in the first place. I mean, the sort of music that we have today we had it back then as well, and vice versa. Even today, you have musical pieces with meaningful lyrics being incorporated in the movies. 

Me: Agreed! But don’t you think discussions such as this one require certain sampling? Maybe a little more attention to what is being ‘popularly’ produced these days. 

Shikha: You can do that but I don’t see the need of it. I’m more interested in how music is being used in films rather than what sort of music it is. Earlier, we had musical pieces that existed independent of the main plot of the film and were shown with actors lip-syncing and suddenly breaking into choreographed moves. Now, we see songs getting embedded in the narrative that no longer requires lip syncing and just stoically plays in the background. 

Me: What do you gather from this distinction?

Shikha: I think that has led to further alienation between the listener and the song. We no longer relate to the song or remember the lyrics. Songs are just reduced to a background score. 

Me: But I think I relate more to songs that are consequential to the narrative and are being played alongside the scene. It creates a more holistic and meaningful relationship with not just the song but also the context; taking it back to my point regarding engagement. 

Shikha: Well, some people do relate to the ’embedded’ style of music. But I still feel that the lack of independent space for songs in films affect our connection with not just the lyrics but the song itself. 

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing and text
Shikha Jhingann, Professor

Just after my conversation with Shikha, I managed to take Gautam out of what seemed like a lighthearted private discussion, and had a brief talk with him that centered around similar questions. 

Me: Do you see the distinction as one concerning with ‘engagement’ and ‘consumption’?

Gautam: of course there’s consumption. There’s a process in place that sees music as a product and the listener as a consumer. As attention span of public is getting shorter, producers are making music that can catch the fancy of the listener by the earliest. 

Me: So, do you think there’s  some sense of ‘research’ involved in deciding as to what sort of music would be suitable for commercial interests? For instance, psychological studies, market research, etc. 

Gautam: I don’t think so, no. 

Me: Then what is understood as ‘commercially viable’?

Gautam: One that was a major hit last week. 

Me: Shikha pointed out to me that there’s no need for classifying music as ‘then’ and ‘now’ for there are all sorts of music present even today. Do you agree with her?

Gautam: No, I don’t. I believe such distinction is important merely because it is happening. There’s a cultural shift in the way we produce music today and people should have a knowledge of it. Such distinction and its consequences cannot be made apparent if it is not recognised and discussed thereof in the first place. 

Me: Agreed! But as Shikha pointed out, what is the purpose we are trying to serve by creating such distinction? Is it political, cultural, or anything of value? 

Gautam: It may not be political; it may not be of value. But it is definitely significant for critically evaluating the development in musical practices or identifying the best ones of an era. There’s a big change in how Rahman produced music in the late 90s or early 2000s and the way he produces today; same applies to Gulzar and his music. And nothing of it can be understood without sampling and classifying the ‘transition period’. 

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Gautam Chintamani, Writer

My talk with Gautam was ended abruptly by the arrival of his cab and unfortunately he had to leave without answering my further questions. However, whatever little that we discussed, one can gather some insight into how we critically evaluate musical practices, both in terms of as they exist and in relation to their development. On the other hand, Shikha shed some light on an interesting way of looking at our engagement with music; something that is often ignored by the viewer of a film. Apart from their diverging views, I managed to find a single concurring theme – and that – is our engagement with music. Out of the many things debated, both Shikha and Gautam want us to engage with music critically and emotionally and reflect upon such engagement at levels of varying degrees.  

 

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Semiosis of the Cityscape: Part I

It is striking here that the places people live in are like the presences of diverse absences

– Michel de Certeau 

What is it to see the city stripped off its subjects; of its people and their perils. How would you ‘look’ at the space when all that is there to see is stillness. A still photograph imbued in a thread of many, unlike a movie, moving in time but not in motion. 

As I board my cab for the airport at around 2 am, I become one of such subjects. I look at the city, like the still photographs, passing by but not moving; with every frame, image, capturing a still scene of what may be the city’s identity, or the part thereof. What is this ‘city’ anyway? How and why do I perceive this space to be a ‘city’; that too a city very orderly differentiated and demarcated from the other spaces (maybe, other cities). What is it that propels an understanding within to see this space as a limited and structured display of self which is given to be demarcated from the limited and structured ‘other’; that ‘other’ being either experienced or imagined. Maybe, in that ride to the airport, I take this limited and structured demarcation to be a ‘given’; much like a Gramscian development of an internalised and rationalised hegemonic belief. Or, is it the pure ‘uniqueness’ and the aesthetic of the same, reflected in the stillness of the city-scenes, that lifts my conscience from the profanity of material understanding of meaning to the spiritual escape into the metaphysical. 

Either way, I continue to travel; being driven on the route predestined by an app that maps my movement, my journey from the start to the end, and introduces it to me in a faceless display with an alien voice. But, how much could the market and its technology  assert control over my journey? What is this ‘journey’ anyway? Is it the mere physical movement within the material space, or does it carry possibility of constructing non-physical movement termed as ‘experience’? If the literature of the past and present (and hopefully future) is anything to go by, the journey is more conversational than didactic. It is the development of oneself through an array of meanings, both constructed and understood. Yes, there is materialism, though not always, involved in what we understand as a ‘journey’. But the meanings that we construct are not always constructed upon or within the space orchestrated by such materialism. And, even if we do, let’s say, my journey is foundational and  is well within the voids structured by the materialism; there is no ‘given’ in terms of interpretations I gather off the well-defined material space. Neither, do I, bound myself to the singularity of meaning that the materialism of the space might expect off me. So, dear ‘mobile cab-booking app’, and the hideous display of inhumane manipulation of the space that you create by ‘mapping’ my movement, you can never control my ‘journey’. You might be able to control the fodder that feeds the construction of my meaning, my relationship with the space, but nothing of your volition will ever be able to decipher the understanding I rationalise through this self-driven ‘movement’ called ‘journey’.  

To be continued…

What Is Age But Relative

My concerns do not align with how biology understands my age. Maybe we just somehow decide to develop into what biology expects us to be; like a good ole Indian parent. What fascinates me rather is how I’ve been thinking of my age lately.

When I sit across a bunch of humans from South Delhi in their twenty something, I sense abstraction; not of myself but of others. I understand them to trenches but I don’t wish to. It’s not the understanding of age as a number that propels my understanding. It is the feeling that erupts when a fish meant for deep waters is brought to the surface and is asked to breathe. If age is a hedonistic expression of lightness that makes you feel that you belong to someplace higher than this, that would be me.

Then there are metro rides where all the fascinating instances are staged. When you’re thrown into the transporting vehicle by a dictatorial regime called Rajiv Chowk, you survive. You stretch, extend and reach out to hold onto even a slightest piece of something stationary to keep yourself steady. This is where and when you are put into the strangest of situation where you are so close to a person who appears to be nothing but a body to you; also breathing (oh how unfortunate). And then transporting vehicle halts, in hope of taking more unwilling souls in; so the bodies collide, heavy gasping happens, and sometimes, smiles surface. Everything then is not your head versus my head, your bag versus mine. It is a sense of togetherness emanating from mutual understanding of travails and triumphs of a metro ride that knows no age. 

From being older, to feeling no age at all, there are times I feel much younger than the lot. A popular bar in Aurobindo Market, people walking in, walking out, or, just spread out. There are clothed in the high street; glasses and hairstyles so niche yet so similar. As the lights were dim, I saw the slightest of expressions getting lost in the rising cigarette smoke, of theirs, the frail sounds of platonic conversations dissipating in the winter chill. Where am I in all of this? Where, or what, are my expressions; how does the noise of my triviality sound like? Maybe, a little louder than silence and a lot lesser than meaning. So, there I stand, somewhere in the corner, staring into the voids that do not even exist; only if the faces so unfamiliar could be called one. I feel displaced, distracted and oh so young. 

 

 

The “In Betweens” of Life

So, how do we start sentences when there’s no one left for us to hurt, no one, left for us to please? Maybe, talking about mornings is a good start. After spending good couple of weeks in sinking deep into quilts and reading vintage spy novels ( more of non fictional accounts of a condemned PoW), I was yet again pushed by life to stand somewhere in the middle of the queueing up crowd of Delhi metro. 

It’s so unveiling of capitalism to put such diverse stories that move all over the metro premises into contexts that suit its definitive convenience. So much so, that a broken heart would rather roll with the corporate rush rather than rolling in the deep. 

Standing on escalators as they transport me on and off the concourse, I wonder how would I just end up staring at one place for so long.  How could I zone out to the most insignificant of spaces knowing that I’m still dwelling in a world where I’m in the process of fulfilling a practice. But I do. And I do it to the railway track across the concourse I’m standing on, or sometimes, to the long black handle of the escalators. 
Off the station and on the roads. It’s sad that even though you change your spaces you can’t seem to escape the contextualised rush. Well, not always. I tend to get hit by random shreds of unexpected happiness quite often. While on my way to work, riding on a rickshaw, I met an orange butterfly circling me for good. A few seconds of  beauty that has become so rare in the city life was enough to touch me deep within and force a smile somewhere from the inside that I knew would not be tapped upon anytime soon. 

So, I guess the trick to start a sentence without involving others in it is to make yourself the other you always want to have these moments with. There won’t be any quantifiable analysis of the magnitude of happiness you gain from seeing a butterfly but I’m sure that it’ll be your very own. Since it doesn’t subject itself on someone else, nobody would ever take that away from you. 

Women-Only Liquor Shops: A Feminist Inquiry into Gender Exclusivity

Conversations are circling the national capital about the city’s first ‘women-only’ liquor shop. Established in a shopping mall at Mayur Vihar, the owners are branding it as a ‘space’ for women to buy liquor without becoming privy to verbal slurs directed at them by male buyers at other liquor shops.

The very existence of this idea points towards the existence of concerns and apprehensions that give birth to such ideas. So, when I consider the analysis of this idea important for a feminist inquiry, I cannot ignore the significance of the psychology that breeds such an idea as well as the rationality that would evaluate its consequences in a broader sense.

So, what is women exclusivity and why in the context of liquor? Another extension of this question can be the rationale behind creating such exclusivity at the first place. To answer all these questions we need to understand the concept of women exclusivity from all perspectives and try to understand it from a feminist viewpoint.

Scholars of black studies such as Jessica Mathews talked about the issue of exclusivity within the women community[1]. In her recommendations for extending the scope of ‘representation’ in Literature studies, she wanted to dismantle the exclusivity of discourses that white women have created throughout the years by focusing the subject matter on their perspective and reasoning. In order to tackle this malaise, which she referred to as ‘white woman exclusivity’, she suggested the process which now exclusively centres upon the voices of the coloured women. She believed that this ‘reverse-exclusivity’ approach would tend to keep coloured women at focal point of the study of their literary heritage, but in the longer run, it would positively contribute to the cause of inclusivity in Literature studies. So, according to the concerned scholar, discriminatory exclusivity shall be tackled with rehabilitatory or reformatory exclusivity in order to create an inclusive discipline. 

The idea proposed by Jessica Mathews might sound borderline radical. However, one cannot simply alienate it from the relevance of her cause and concern that reflects the degrees of social depravity she must have observed in her study. This stance is democratically modified by another Black Studies scholar William Ackah who goes on to say that studies about Blacks (Afro communities) must be institutionalised as a separate discipline, although, it must not be reduced to any racial exclusivity. Every person, irrespective of their race or sex, shall be exposed to Black Studies for it will open up possibilities to explore various dimensions of racial depravity and violence through diverse inter-disciplinary scopes such as gender and queer studies.

Glyn Hughes[2] in her essay[3]talks about the importance of including ‘men’ in gender studies classes for not only allowing a diverse perspective in class but also to enable the ‘female’[4]  students to test their understanding from diverse perspectives, practical applicability and possible responses. The exclusivists would challenge this by arguing that the very reason we create such exclusive forums for women to discuss their issues is to provide them a space where they are independent, comfortable and unafraid to share their views about the themes that concern them. However, this argument would again be challenged by Glyn Hughes by the assertion she makes with – ‘Moving from Women to Feminist Spaces’. Under this head she argues that such gender exclusivity would only create more problems because women issues would get more and more isolated and men would never get to acknowledge or reason with the sexism that exists in the society. She believes, that there’s no point of allowing exclusive spaces for women to discuss the themes such as feminism and gendered discrimination because it would remain in the conscious of the set of people who are at the receiving end of societal sexism and would not be able to positively bring out any change in the mentality of those who associate themselves with superior status in term of sex. This anti-exclusivity argument becomes the subject matter of my analysis. However I shall provide other works on the same theme for understanding the procedural or methodological application of this ‘positive change’ that Glyn Hughes had talked about.

Madonne Miner[5], someone I would call an anti-exclusivist, goes on to say that having men in discussions centred on women issues would make them realise how it feels like to be marginalised in discourses. They would be exposed to the depravity women face in public and educational spaces where they are discriminated against or face neglect of their opinions. Miner rationalises that since these discussions would give centre stage to women, men would get to feel the dimensions of sexual bias.

While Gayatri Spivak[6] agrees with the argument line progressed by Miner, she goes a step ahead and points out the cautious attitude we need to develop while challenging women exclusivity. Talking in the context of classrooms for gender studies, she says that minority position in such spaces for men may get aggravated to an extent that they start feeling marginalized which may lead to a kind of ‘reverse discrimination’ that can obstruct the course of affirmative action . Power relations in classrooms are apparent to a teacher but they do not get to the notice of male students for they often find themselves at hegemonic positions. Therefore, in a situation where these power relations are completely reversed, men would proclaim themselves to be ‘victimized’ or ‘hounded’ and would further develop negative sentiments towards gender activists by calling them femenazis. Glyn Hughes solves this problem by suggesting that we need to take away their marginality from them and should replace it with skills set that gradually make them aware of their privileged status.

So, its evident from the works of prominent scholars from disciplines such as Gender Studies and Black Studies that exclusivity is not a way forward for establishing equal power relations in the longer run. As we saw in the case of black studies literature, creating exclusivity would make a whole community aloof of the privileges it enjoys and the discrimination it inflicts. Applying the same principle for the undertaken study of women exclusive liquor shops, I shall argue that such exclusivity falls short of serving the purpose of feminism in the longer run.

Spaces such as these are not an act of reclaiming public spaces that most feminists and gender activists fight for. Such an establishment is just a space within an already existing space designated for women. The impact of ‘women- only’ liquor shops on the larger issue of gender equality is not momentous for it ceases to go beyond the conscience of women community itself. Men would remain aloof from the issue and would continue to occupy public spaces such as liquor shops. Receding presence of women buyers from local liquor shops would further swell the patriarchal perception that prevails in the status quo for it fails to normalise the presence of women in such shops. As we saw in the case of gender studies class, this women exclusivity needs to go for making men systematically aware of their privilege, and in this case, the redundancy of their hegemonic attitudes. It makes them aware of the fact that the power relations they had created in the institution of market and the one they continue to maintain with constant sexist intimidation and stigmatization is no longer affecting the beings on the receiving end of such sexism.

It is true that the inconvenience faced by women in such places cannot be denied or ignored. However, excluding themselves from such situations by finding recourse to exclusive zones is only making situation worse for them. They are getting further isolated from the debate of gender equality and such lures might derail their journey to find spaces for women in public life. Therefore, the choice that stands at the disposal of women is the one that offers a dichotomy between short run incentives and long run structural changes. Which ones’ to choose is entirely at their agency.

 

[1] Women of Colour and the Women’s Movement

[2] From University of California

[3] Revisiting the Men Problem in `

[4] Simon de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

[5] (1994:456)

[6] (Spivak and Rooney 1993: 19)

The Sin of Expectations

I know you said it

You somewhere touched upon my insecurity

And made it clear,

That I expect too much.

And it’s wrong.

I figured that your rationality upon every little thing that I felt and wanted to share

Is far more important

Your “deep understanding “ of my naivety is a right way of judging and repeatedly underplaying

The things I wanted to say

Or feel.

I was there

Going places to understand the mystery  that you appeared  to be and seeking no understanding from your end

Because I’m young.

Probably. You said it.

I wasn’t that young when you wanted me to go down on you

To keep on murmuring things I thought you would remember.

But then, it happened

I expected

Not the moon but just one more glare of love in your eyes

Of just one reply to those bunch of blue ticked texts

Of that one song that you played  the first time we met and under whose influence you dared to kiss me

And I let it happen

Not because I was easy but because I wanted to.

It all felt right. The expectations were turned into dreams

And then you became a dream that I kept on chasing.

I had no problem in coming at your place but my little desire for a coffee at a humble cafe became an expectation

And when I said it

You said I stooped to levels of self boasting?

I was shattered, but I couldn’t erase your reflection from my lobes,

Your smell from my clothes,

Your smile from my eyes.

I kept on pushing my self respect to a fire that you fuelled. And honestly,

I didn’t care.

Because with my head on your lap,

You said

‘Good you realized. I’m glad the drama is over’

And I thought it was a beginning,

But no.

It was a continuance. An upgradation

It was like a victory you always saw coming and a defeat that I found solace into.

A defeat that felt warm and safe. Because you were still there.

I felt happy that I can again mention you in my conversations and wait for your texts.

I’m still a part of you.

Or I believe.

I started accepting the fact that love is way above petty standards that this society has dawned upon us.

It’s above cheesy one liners

Above nicknames

Above conversations

Above texts

Above remembrance

And above knowing if the other person still exists.

I was too scared to go back to that old self. That person

Who was an expectation freak!

For what I thought that if happiness is all about being with you, not actually being with you but to just believe that I am,

Is also happiness.

 

 

Existential Says

Let there be no world that says there’s no home for you

No language that has hailed misinterpretations

over what could have been a melody

No eye that holds a vision of a future,

over what could have been a day more of present

Let there be no love that feels ashamed to face itself

Let there be no love,

that fails to touch the life that wanted

 

 

 

26 Letters

The language of 26 letters

Jitters that have knifed our tongues

Carved our throats

So we let our emotions float

Within the pool of a petite jukebox

How often do we find ourselves

Pushing against the wall

The wall

That gets nearer and nearer

As we move closer to realisation

Sensations of quickening perspirations

How many stories we have traversed

How many moments we have eloped

Succumbing to the whip of 26 letters

We have lost breaths

In portending the uncertain

How much have we spoken

In a language so broken

That cracks in our voices

Became the scars of someone’s heart

All our lives

We have clung to these 26 letters

Like I have clung to you

Picking the words that define me

Or this poetry

But I’ll falter

Much like humans from history to hope

As truth is like heartbeats

So close, so certain, so silent

That its rhythm goes unnoticed

And all we hail

These 26 letters

Opium that yields addiction of simplicity

Undermining the infinity

That language has overlooked

I’m a bad poet

You’re a genial patron

You may have your words

I’ll walk away with freedom