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Seeing saffron in a song - The Indian Express

Nirupama Dutt ()
October 27, 1998

Title: Seeing saffron in a song
Author: Nirupama Dutt
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: October 27, 1998

Tow friends, one man and another a woman, both liberals of Hindu-
Muslim parentage, called me up the other day with a query. They
wanted to know the message of a Daler Mehndi song, the video
clip of which was shown all too on the television. The number
sang of knives being aimed at the heart and the refrain of Sanu
kattea (we were chopped off).

"What's all this about stabbing and chopping?" they wanted to
know. Before I could launch off on a lecture on love and
linguistics- they said, "It is a part of the BJP-sponsored
propaganda against the Muslims."

How's that? I asked perplexed. They pointed out that in the
refrain of the song the singer shook his hands downward with an
emphasis on the chopping. This they said is. a direct pointer
toward circumcision and forced conversion. Now this was a bit
much. After all Daler Mehndi is a simple straight guy singing on
matters of the heart. How come his singing would travel so low?
I offered my justification. Stabbing, chopping, churning and
even killing are very much a part of the macho love-lingo of
Punjab.

But my friends could see nothing but saffron. I let them talk on
for it is difficult to argue from the standpoint of a member of
the majority accepted in the liberal fold even though not
supported by inter-religious parentage or marriage. Love affairs
are no authentication. They went on to tell me that after all
gestures are coloured by the times and so Daler Mehndi was
giving out this message even without realizing it.

Some years ago another set of liberals had got me all excited by
saying Gulzar's title song to the Hindi version of Kipling's
Jungle Book was a satire on the Bharatiya Janata Party for the
song had the line chaddi pehan ke phool khila hai (a flower
blossoms wearing undies). And I was swayed into asking Gulzar
about it. Now it was a sad thing really for Gulzar, of Maachis
fame, is a romantic island for many a middle-aged woman,
including yours truly, One would rather talk to him of the moon
or the night, And certainly not of chaddi of the RSS brand. And
Gulzar was so shocked by this interpretation that he took some
time to deny it with a big NO.

This time, made wiser by experience, I decided not to take the
query to the singer. But my friends insisted that Daler and the
media hype that made him coincided with the saffron brotherhood
of which the Akalis, representatives of the Sikhs, are a part.
The great Sikh-Muslim animosity, which had mellowed down in the
days of Punjab terrorism, is back to square one. One may recall
that Akali Dal (Badal) sent a delegation in the masjid girao
morcha of the Shiv Sena. The camp where the Shiv Sainiks lived
was very tellingly named Guru Gobind Singh Nagar. More recently
there was the public display of the RSS wing of the Sikhs in the
Capital. The Sikhs are a minority too but a privileged one. Poor
Daler! Fame and crores came to him when the predominant colour
in the body politic happens to be saffron.

I wish I could file away what my friends have to say under the
famous ersecution complex label. But although a member of
the majority, I have experienced life as the second sex. I
recall what it was to be teased, pushed and pinched in the bus
every day on the way to college. Tired of the humiliation, I
decided I would teach the next man who troubled me a good
lesson. One day I felt a hand crawl up my back beneath the
shawl. As it reached my shoulder, I caught it. Then I turned
around to confront the offender. To my surprise the hand
belonged to a poor woman labourer. She was carrying a child in
one arm and seeking support with the other. So there is
something common in seeing red in a poor woman's hand or saffron
in a rich man's song.


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