Women as ‘Wounded Healers’

I have heard this song countless times, and each time I listen to it, I hear it differently. In this song (Film, Shagoon, 1964), a beautiful woman whilst playing a piano watches a man drinking at a bar. The lyrics of the song are undoubtedly beautiful. The singer tells the man through her music to “give me your pain”. She asks him to give her whatever hurt and anger he is experiencing, and she will take responsibility for his care. She adds that she will see how the world hurts him once she takes him into her wings. She asks him to let her support him through his loneliness and whatever defeat he has experienced in life. Although my heart has often softened at the ‘selfless’ lyrics, today I am associating it with the concept of the ‘wounded healer’.

Healing Our Wounds Through Attending To Others 

In reality, we all experience defeat in life. For every one success, we will experience multiple disappointments. But what makes one person more likely than another to extend their hand of support to those who are in pain? The wounded healer is often used to describe those who enter the caring profession, those who do charity work or those who somehow dedicate their lives to others (e.g doctors, nurses, missionaries, NGO workers). These professions require public service, personal sacrifice and a focus on the needs of others over oneself. So what drives someone to put aside their own hurt? The ‘wounded healer’ (Carl Jung) supports others  because they themselves have experienced despair and can bear the pain of another.  However altruistic it may appear, there is a personal benefit for the healer, which is that their pain also eases through healing others.

Women As Healers 

But what interests me is why there are more women in the helping profession than men. Are women more compassionate by nature or are women taught by society to be ‘selfless’? This song often reminds me of the way a mother speaks to her child. The nurturing approach of taking care of the man, taking away his sadness, shielding him from the worries of the world….women are often socially conditioned to be ‘selfless’ and conditioned to consider the needs of others over themselves. First as daughters, (particularly in certain communities), women are taught to obey social norms in order to keep the ‘honour’ of their families. As wives, women are taught to be the ‘sanctuary’ of the husband, and as mothers, women are given social messages that the welfare of children lie in a mothers’ capacity to make personal sacrifices and put the needs of her children over her own.

Capacity for Altruistic Love 

Someone very wisely once said to me that I sing with the sombreness of carrying out a post mortem examination! Today, I think I have dissected this song enough, so I will just let you enjoy listening to it. All analysis aside, it’s simply beautiful and I love it. Maybe that’s what love is really about. It’s the capacity to love something or someone unconditionally and without effort, irrespective of whether this love is for ones beloved, parent, spouse or child. Real love may be natural, and naturally loving another may mean not requiring anything in return from them. Maybe women have a greater capacity to love altruistically. Or perhaps there is no true altruistic love at all, except between a mother and her child. Perhaps we will never understand, but this song’s selflessness will soften even the hardened of hearts.

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The Real ‘Umrao Jaan’

The Real ‘Umrao Jaan’: An Experimental Performance on Shame & Sexual Exploitation

My brief experimental performance for charity using several images of sex workers in the Indian sub-continent. Based on a Hindi song from the film Umrao Jaan (1981), this performance highlights issues of shame experienced by girls/women who are sold to brothels, and the discrimination that they face when attempting to re-integrate back into mainstream society. This was performed on 24.2.17 at Hope n Mic, Kazi Nazrul Centre, Brick Lane, London.

Love & Transgender Identities

The song I am sharing today is from the film Daayraa (1997) which translates to ‘The Square Circle’.  The themes in this Indian film include women’s status in Indian villages, cross dressing and rape. The film begins with a young woman, who is misktaken for someone else and kidnapped from her village. When the kidnappers realise that she is not who they thought, they dump her in an unfamiliar place where a group of men assault her. Shocked and bewildered, the young woman finds comfort in a transgendered woman who advises her to denounce her femininity in order to survive as  lone woman. On this advice, this young woman cuts off her hair, wears mens clothing and passes for a young man.

Meanwhile, the transgendered individual longs to be a woman and attempts to do so through dressing as a female and denouncing any male attributes. During their friendship, the young woman falls in love with her transgendered friend and at one point asks her to sacrifice her identity as a woman for her. An interesting film which left me thinking about the complexities of certain types of love.

The ‘Handicapped Smile’ and Us

This evening, I remembered a seminar I attended more than 10 years ago on patients with learning disabilities. I recall hearing the words ‘handicapped smile’, and thinking how frequently my learning disability patients smiled in an odd manner, which I experienced as out of context or inappropriate. I had wondered at the time whether this smiling was intentional, or simply due to involuntary muscle movement with no awareness of its social purpose.

What is the ‘handicapped smile’?

The ‘handicapped smile’ (Valerie Sinason, 1992)  is essentially referring to the tendency of people with learning disabilities to smile however distortedly, in order to present a false or more positive self to the external world. People with learning disabilities are more likely to have experienced bullying, physical/sexual abuse, neglect and trauma. The handicapped smile may be a way of protecting themselves from the pain of this by creating a false self which is more acceptable and anticipated to result in more favourable social responses.

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Smiling to compensate for underlying feelings of deficiencies

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How does this relate to us?

The concept of the handicapped smile may equally apply to all of us. Although our smiles may be more ‘appropriate’ (i.e looking presentable during group photos at a party), the act of smiling for us may serve a similar function to the handicapped smile. The need to create a ‘favourable’ self may compensate for underlying feelings of sadness, anger, insecurity and dissatisfaction. It is worth noting that people who lack confidence and feel insecure about themselves can spend a great deal of time on personal grooming in order to present a polished and flawless social image.

A Song about Social Smiling 

I have heard this song perhaps a thousand times over the last 20 years. However, it is only today I began to link it with the concept of the handicapped smile. Sung by Jagjit Singh, this Hindi song asks ‘why are your lips smiling whilst your eyes hide such sorrow?’. The song goes onto adding ‘Those tears that you are constantly drinking will turn into poison’ which is referring to a process of internalisation. The more we suppress our unacceptable and unwanted feelings, the more these become displaced and can become emotionally destructive. Tears that are ignored, unattended or quickly hidden turn to psychic pain. Forced smiles or ‘false selves’ trying to create the illusion of happiness can lead to a profound sense of loneliness, detachment from the world and an overall lack of fulfilment.

Each time I hear this song, I am filled with the same emotions. What I find most endearing about it is how the singer is noticing the ‘real’ person beneath the smile as opposed to the false self and how he is intuitively picking up on the hidden pain of the person he is addressing.

I hope you experience a connection with at least one person in your lifetime who has the capacity to see YOU and not just your smile. Enjoy the song!

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.