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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lullabies in La-la Land

When we went to see the "Life of Pi" movie, the starting credits startled me, in a pleasant way. A female voice soothingly intoned the standard motherese type of lyrics lulling her little one to sleep. It was soporific and generic, even as it surprised me that a Hollywood production should use Tamil lyrics in a very prominent spot in the movie. I realized only much later that it was sung by Bombay Jayashree.

It's over a couple of months later, and now we have Mychael Danna and Bombay Jayashree , nominated for an Oscar for the best song. It's an honor indeed, that this merited this nomination, even if its chances of winning fall considerably in face of competition from the likes of Adele for the Skyfall song (she has already won the Golden Globe for this, and is the strongest contender for the Oscar). "Pi's Lullaby" might be no more than a tuneful also-ran.

Enter the Irayimman Thampy memorial trust (or as close as I recall the name). They, being good Malayalees 'n'all, decided to carp against the Tamil hegemony represented by the nomination for Bombay Jayashree. I assume that the mellifluous cooing at the start of the film landed upon their ears as unpleasant cacophony, since it wasn't in Malayalam. Cue the accusations of plagiarism against Jayashree, who avers that her lyrics were no more than the outpourings of a mother's heart.

A key part of the accusations is the usage of the 'mayil- kuyil' combination, also present in the lyrics of Omana thinkal kidavo by Irayimman Thampy.  The problem with that is that the words naturally lend themselves to use as rhyming words, per usage in Tamil songs as well as  as Malayalam. If  one threw a stone into the river every time any poet famous or not chose to use that combination,  the river would be completely dammed by now.

Given the original import of Irayimman Thampy's lyrics, saying that Jayashree's lyrics are plagiarised from those are rather like pointing to a firefly and calling it a star.

I suspect either a case of rather severe sour-grapes on the part of the Irayimman Thampy trust, or just a cheap attempt to cash in on stirring controversy for no real reason.

The song in question itself is unremarkable, and I doubt that it means anything more than a 'cool' but casual outreach by Bombay Jayashree, whose oeuvre in Carnatic music outshines anything that she has sung for films, whether Indian or Western.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Woman Who Wanted to Live

First, not so long ago, in October 2012, Savita Halappanavar, who died begging for an abortion of a much-wanted pregnancy gone wrong, denied it by the power of a state that decrees that the life of a fetus outweighs that of its mother-vessel.

Next, a sad reversal of the title,  Jacintha Saldanha, who lost her yen for life, committing suicide partly over the scorn directed at her inability to distinguish a fake Brit royal accent  from a real one, which ended up in a much publicized radio hoax over the Duchess of Cambridge's hospitalization for severe morning sickness. New reports suggest that she was already battling depression and had attempted suicide before, but that the prank call was a final instigator to her attempt to leave this life. 

Third, the still unnamed Delhi gang-rape victim, called euphemistically by the Indian media 'Nirbhaya' (fearless or brave heart) , 'Damini' (lightning), 'Amanat' (trust or faith). She continued on bravely, naming her tormentors, and averring that she wanted to live on, not just give up as so many victims had done in their despair at justice denied.
( Is the not-naming giving the mass movement against rape and brutalities against Indian women more power?)

The earlier events prompted India-wide concern over her daughters living and working abroad. There was much editorializing and soul-searching going on, along with a faintly self-congratulatory, moralistic turn- If they had been living in India, rather than going abroad in search of a 'better life', they would still be alive and happy, albeit poorer, went the reasoning in many a comment and letter to the editor.

But the brutal gang-rape of a young medical student in Delhi generated a different nation-wide outpouring of revulsion against the violence and the culture underlying it, and endless compassion for the victim. What, I wondered, caused this sudden movement and demands of marching women to 'take back the night', in city after city,town after town, all over India? Why now, when so many others, thousands and millions of suffering women over the centuries, had been ignored or minimized?
Was this an effect of the new media, or was it just, as my friend Ruchira suggests, the last straw on the camel's back?

I think the answer lies in the events preceding and the world-wide spotlight on the three different Indian women. The first two were the precursor to the uprising sparked by the third event. That explains the unprecedented public outpouring and reaction to the gang rape. The pseudo-superiority of  "Women are revered in India", and the glaring truth that worse can happen in India than abroad, was  revealed . Veneration of women in India has been revealed for the shallow veneer concealing a horrid underlying reality.

Ireland responds to the death of Savita by reviewing its laws, perhaps even moving towards a legal amendment that would provide an exception for abortion to save the life of the mother, even counter to the hardline taken by the Catholic church.

In the case of Jacintha Saldanha, the resolution of a repetition of prank calls would likely be decided in the British courts, with charges brought against invasion of privacy. It will just be too late for Jacintha.

What will India do over the death of She-who-is-not-yet-named ? Will they create a law with worse penalties for such incidents? Such a law's deterrent power will depend not on its formulation and penalties, but on enforcement.  Lax enforcement caused by centuries-old cultural biases will not  change anything for the vast majority of the women.

 Each politician should now be called out on misogyny, whether it be a male or female, as is already happening. Each person indulging in such a crime must be promptly prosecuted and sentenced, not to death (which is likely to only ensure that rape victims become murder victims), but to a painful lifetime in prison.  Each victim must be supported and helped build new lives, not subjected to another rape by a prolonged inquisition by the police and judicial system.

Will all this happen? I don't know, but I'm hopeful, in this new year, that it will eventually come to pass, that there will be less and less Savitas, Jacinthas and 'Anamika's.