A Multi-Devotional Song for Peace

The Role of Music in War

Music is often used as a way of motivating soldiers at war, keeping up morale of nations and sometimes creating a moral superiority over opponents. The frequent singing of national anthems is an example of a way in which music unifies a nation during war, increases patriotism and supports political ideology.

Splitting as a Coping Strategy 

As human beings, we create defences to guard ourselves from the pain of seeing the death toll of war. This is helped by the use of music and media to justify war and create war heroes. Narratives describing heroes or creating an ‘us’ and ‘them’ approach helps to justify our moral position in war. This splitting humanity into ‘good’ and ‘evil’ may be a way our minds can justify war for perpetrators and cope with the guilt, trauma and loss  associated with violent conflicts.

A Devotional Song for Peace

The song that I am sharing today is beautiful because of its simplicity. It appeals to God by different names, Allah, Ishwar and Bhagwan. Allah Tero Nam, from the Bollywood film Hum Duno (1961) is a prayer for God to bless everyone, irrespective of faith.

The singer is asking for God to ensure that her (and others’) sindoor (mark to symbolise marriage on forehead) is not destroyed, in other words that she is not widowed.  Similarly, she is requesting that the hopes of mothers and sisters are not shattered (‘Ma behono ko aas na tutteh’). 

It is interesting to note that this song does not differentiate who is ‘good’ and who is ‘evil’ but instead illustrates the similarity in how the wives and sisters would be affected by deaths. The singer also requests that souls should not be left wandering the earth, suggesting that bodies left dead without a burial/creation will be a meaningless death. This contrasts with narratives of the dead as heroes fighting for their nation, and their deaths being a symbol of courage and patriotism.

I enjoy this song because of its simple message. Grief knows no religion nor cultural difference, but is experienced the same by all who lose a loved one in war or otherwise. This song highlights that we are all creations of God, and war serves the function of destroying our humanity.

‘Choti Si Umar’: Child Marriage as Institutionalised Abuse

Choti Si Umar: a Rajasthani Folk Song

Child marriage, predominantly involving girls, has been practiced for centuries as an accepted form of social control. Although usually associated with poverty, political gain and social acceptance, there are underlying unconscious processes driving communities throughout history to collectively condone practices which prevent girls from reaching emotional, financial and political maturity.

Although a female child is seen in many parts of the world as an additional economic burden, there may also be moral insecurity around raising girls which contributes to abusive practices such as child marriage. The fear of female independence, autonomy and control may lead to a collectively formed organisational defence in patriarchal communities. This can lead to morally justified or culturally accepted forms of abuse including child marriage, female genital mutilation and infanticide.

The fear of female independence may not only reside in men, but also in women who are invested in perpetuating a cycle of abuse. A young bride who has experienced her ‘share’ of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, may wish to enjoy the ‘social privileges’ which come in older age when she herself is in the position to exert control over another young woman’s life i.e a young daughter in law. This ‘acting out’ i.e. behaving in a  way towards others that replicates an individuals own previous experiences, is a common human behaviour, unconsciously driven and highly difficult to shift or change.

Today, I am sharing a Rajasthani folk song which has captivated me. In the first few seconds of hearing the familiar voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, my mind wandered to twenty years ago, when I first heard this song in the film Bandit Queen.

This film, based on the true story of Poolam Devi (1963-2001), depicted an 11-year-old girl being married against her will to a 25 year old man. The film itself was both powerful and controversial for its graphic depiction of the abuse experienced by Devi. Although the film has also been criticised for being exploitative, over-sensationalised and factually inaccurate, the child marriage itself was an undisputed fact.

A Little Girl’s Plea to her Father: A Rajasthani Song

In this haunting song, a young girl asks her father why she is getting married at such a young age. In a simple Rajasthani dialect, the girl says: ‘At such a young age, dear Father, you have decided to marry me off…what was my fault?’

She goes onto expressing that she is too overwhelmed to verbally say anymore and that her tears are speaking for her, reflecting the emotions in her heart. However, there is also a subdued acceptance in the song (‘…so send me to another house if you wish Father’) as she compares herself to an innocent bird in her father’s tree who will ‘…calmly fly away’ if her father wishes.

I am drawn to the imagery of the little girl describing her oblivion as she ‘…happily played in your (father’s) house’ and resting momentarily like a bird on her father’s tree (i.e. property). This awareness of her limited access to shelter creates a sense of transience and a lack of belonging. There is affection in these words as there is hurt, rejection and a sense of abandonement.

There is a  stage during this song when the little girl realises that her father is also her owner who can dispense of her to an unfamiliar world (ie. another house). This realisation leads to maturity in her words (‘if I have to go, then at least allow me to come and visit to see you all’) which is indicative of a girl robbed of her childhood, her innocence and her sense of belonging.

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Music as a Language for Humanity 

  • This song is not intended to distress, but to raise awareness.
  • We all feel compassion for children but we also have a collective responsibility to act against any form of child abuse, whether as isolated incidents or systemic abuse, embedded within cultures or institutions.
  • Child marriage remains an epidemic problem with devastated consequences in terms of physical, sexual and emotionally abuse of girls around the world.
  • I hope this song is a reminder that music is not merely for entertainment purposes, but a medium which appeals to our humanity and touches our hearts irrespective of our countless social and cultural differences.

 

Krishnokoli: My Dark Flower

Krishnokoli Ami Tareh Boli

Bangladeshi music often centres around the theme of love and beauty, which is not surprising. What is interesting however is the frequency with which poets have made positive references to the darkness of their beloved’s eyes, hair or skin. One song for example (Dagor dagor chokeh keno kajol dileh?) is asking why the beloved has put black eye liner on her large eyes which are blacker than the eye liner itself! Similarly, another song (Megh Kalo Adhar Kalo) refers to the clouds and night being dark, but not nearly as dark as the bride’s black hair.

Similarly, the colour of a woman and man’s skin has been referenced by many including Radha Ramon (Sham Kalia Shona Bondhureh), Nazrul Islam (Amar Kalo Meye Rag koreche) and Rabindranath Tagore (Krishnokoli Ami Tareh Boli). Some songs simply note the beauty of a beloved’s skin and the darkness being part of the overall attraction. However, other songs make reference to negative social attitudes and perceptions of dark complexion.

In the following song, Tagore writes about his Krishnokoli (dark flower). Here, he describes a dark, beautiful young woman in a village field, who momentarily loses her inhibition when she glances at him. He says ‘The villagers call her dark, Ah! let that be, her black deer-like eyes I have seen’. The deer like eyes may be referring to her darting, anxious bewilderment as she observes  a stranger’s awe of her. In addition, the poet dismisses the opinions of the villagers, who describe her as ‘dark’. Dark in this context refers to her lack of beauty.  After all, black has historically been associated with more negative connotations than white. For example, black has been associated with dirt, death, evil, sorrow and melancholy whilst white has been associated with cleanliness and purity (Dalal, 2002).

This song is one of my favourites. The unspoken connection between the young woman and the stranger, both intrigued, both lost in their own thoughts is an example of a Bangladeshi poet’s ability to capture the innocence of young love, untainted by social prejudice. It highlights internalised racism through the villagers’ description of her as black and thereby unattractive. Internalised racism occurs when an individual or community accept their own racial inferiority (against white) and judge themselves and others accordingly. 

More recently, there have been enormous shifts in attitudes to beauty, particularly in the last two or three decades. Bollywood for  example have seen a rise in producing some hugely successful actors and actresses with dark skin tone (e.g. Priyanka Chopra, Shah Rukh Khan). However, it is interesting to note that Bangladeshi poets challenged internalised racism a very long time before the term ‘black is beautiful’ became a popular expression in the Western world as well as in South Asia. Despite this, it is unclear how much internalised racism remains embedded unconsciously within our psyches and in communities where access to education and critical thinking may be lacking.

It is important to emphasise that poets such as Rabindranath Tagore and Nazrul Islam were not just poets, but social reformers and intellectuals who left us with not only beautiful songs but a great deal to consider in our understanding and appraisal of ourselves and each other.

Please do send your comments, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this. Meanwhile, enjoy the song!

 

Reference:

Dalal, F (2002) Race, Colour and the Process of Racialization. New Perspectives from Group Analysis, Psychoanalysis and Sociology: Brunner-Routledge

‘Umrao Jaan’: Women, Stigma & Shame

Yeh Kya Jagein Hein Dosto

On International Women’s Day, I am finding myself drawn to a song that I first heard as a child. At the time, I recall being curious as I watched the video (in an Indian film). I wondered why this beautiful woman in bright colours, adorned with jewellery, sang with such sadness, danced halfheartedly whilst searching  around her to re-experience the innocence of her childhood.

Many years later, I still marvel at the lyrics of this song, Asha Bhosle’s voice and Rekha’s ability to capture the pain and longing of a woman who has been robbed of self-respect, dignity and social justice.

This song (‘Yeh Kya Jagein Hein Dostoh’) is from the film ‘Umrao Jaan’, a story about a young girl who is kidnapped from her rural village and forced into prostitution. Years later, she returns to her village. Here, she is rejected by her family and experiences the shame, stigma and ostracisation of a woman who is perceived to be tainted.

In this song, Umrao Jaan says: ‘What place is this friends? Wherever I turn I see clouds’. The clouds here may refer to the heaviness in her heart which compels her to see the world through colourless lenses. In addition, she describes this place where she feels intense pain yet is simultaneously unable to contain her joy (‘Na bas khushi hein yaha na gham pe ikhtiyar hein’). Here, she is referring not only to a physical location, but also an emotional place in her own mind, a place filled with longing for a mother’s love and a need to return to the innocence of her childhood.

This song highlights the pain of women who through poverty or violence are forced into the sex industry. It illustrates the social injustice, loneliness, stigma and discrimination of women who wish to rejoin their communities. Despite all the progress we have made for women’s rights, social disapproval and stigma towards these women discourages them from leaving the sex industry to reclaim their lives and live with self respect and dignity.

On International Women’s Day, I pay respect to girls and women around the world who are in these positions and hope for them one day to assert their own identity and be able to celebrate their resilience and strength.

 

Lalon’s Critique of Child Abuse

Ar Amareh Marish Ne Ma

Today, on Mother’s Day, I am compelled to post a song that has both baffled and intrigued me for a while.

This song was written by Lalon Shah (at a later stage, I will post more about his biography) from the perspective of a child. I believe this child to be none other than Krishna, the Hindu God. In this song, Krishna is holding his mother’s feet and begging her not to beat him anymore. (‘Boli ma tor choron dhoreh…Ar amareh marish na ma!’). He promises never to steal and eat curd again without her knowing. The narrative of Krishna being mischievous is well documented. Hindu texts describe him as stealing curd, teasing girls and being tied up as punishment by his mother.

Lalon Shah wrote from the perspective of a child about the cruelty of a mother beating her child, a practice that at the time (and continues in some contexts) to be an accepted form of disciplining.  The child in this song however says (‘poreh mareh porer cheleh’) that a child may be beaten by others (metaphorically meaning that the child will experience cruelty from the outside world) but who will understand the child’s pain if the mother herself is heartless and unapproachable? (‘Ma jononi nishtoor holeh ke bhojibo shishur bedona?’)

This heartbreaking song highlights the capacity for the mother to be punishing (‘Just for some curd, you tied me up and beat me Mother’). However, I am unclear about the context and experiences which led Lalon Shah to write about this theme.

  • Did Lalon frequently witness child abuse?
  • How was his own experience of being parented? 
  • Was he referring generally to the cycle of violence in families?

I would be interested to know more about the context in which Lalon wrote this and whether it means something different to others. Please feel free to post your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

Fire as Representation of Pain

Agun Joleh Reh
This song roughly translated is describing the emotional turmoil of a woman who has spent her entire life building a home which has broken down. She describes ‘agun joleh reh nibhanor mannush nai’ which literally translated means ‘there is a fire burning in me which no one is here to put out’.

Metaphorically, she is referring to the pain and distress which she is expressing in a term called ‘somatisation’. In South Asian women, there is a high rate of somatisation, namely a physical description of pain located in the body. South Asian women often describe a burning in their chest or a pain in their liver which psychologists believe to be a culturally normalised way of expressing emotional and psychic pain.

This song means different things to different people. For me, it reminds me of a journey I made countless times many years ago. At the time, whilst singing this song I neither understood nor appreciated its meanings. Now, I appreciate this song and that journey a whole lot more. I hope you enjoy it.

Songs, Music & Mental Health

Singing has been an age old tradition in communities which increases cohesiveness and helps individuals and societies to process emotions. Whether at weddings, funerals or religious occasions, the act of singing works on many levels to increase physical and emotional well being.

This blog is dedicated to increasing awareness around the therapeutic benefits of music & singing generally, but also to develop an understanding about South Asian music and its connection with emotional well being.

As a Clinical Psychologist I am particularly interested in the imagery, memories and emotions evoked by music and the way in which music allows us to process these emotions.

I will be posting regular extracts, sharing my thoughts on specific music pieces and exploring particularly the work of specific Bangladeshi poets and spiritualists who have made significant contributions  in Bangladeshi literature and Arts.

Please feel free to share your thoughts or comments.