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