Bulbul shit

We didn’t have sex education in those days, just the standard sexist education which was no education at all, so far as sex was concerned. I don’t think I have publicly used the word ‘sex’ till well after my graduation – neither in speaking nor in writing (if we sinned, it was only in thought). I still remember the shock that I got when I chanced upon the famous four letter word in my pocket dictionary. Used to go back and peep at the word – which comes between fuchsia and fucus – when nobody was looking.

As an adolescent, one looked for forbidden knowledge in books & films. I discovered early that Bengali literature – for adults – was the equivalent of the self-cooked veggie diet of a pious Bengali widow compared to what they were dishing out in English literature – books in English i.e. There again, the paperbacks were more sinful than the hardcovers and the worst were the paperbacks tinted pink or yellow at the edges, as if the book had been dipped in some kind of a lotion or solution – sideways! – after the printing and the binding had been done. Friend of mine said the lotion was possibly a disinfectant to prevent STD in case the book had pornographic content.

As regards films, let me proffer the late regards of a growing, no, grown-up, what the hell, grown-old boy to his former heroines such as Helen in Gumnaam (1965) and Saira Banu in April Fool (1964). I put Helen before Saira because Gumnaam was the first Adults Only film I ever saw in my life – before I’d reached adulthood, don’t ask me how, ask the Kalika cinema in Kalighat and possibly even they wouldn’t know. Well, Helen Jairag Richardson of the Anglo-Indian-Burmese descent was the first woman I’d seen in a bathing suit – in the film, naturally – and she looked divine, just as divine as Saira Banu in her glitering one-piece swimsuit in April Fool – her blow-up – at times cut-out – was on hoardings all over Kolkata. In the advert, they’d decorated the swimsuit with rows upon rows of round, swinging medals cut out of tinsel, to reproduce the glitter effect. It was the first time a woman in a swimsuit had been publicly hung in Kolkata. Kolkata was stunned.

And then we come to the film songs.

Bullshit is for the vulgar West; we Indians are sensitive and, like a particularly delicate climbing rose, our sensibility has been dunged with generous doses of bulbul shit over the ages. Bulbul, of course, is the Arabic, Urdu and Hindi word for the nightingale, a bird with such a ubiquitous – some say obnoxious presence in the lyric poetry of all the aforesaid languages that Bollywood lyricists caught the infection early on and continued to churn out bulbul shit by the film and by the LP long after Helen and Saira Banu had made the Eastern world take a quantum leap by sporting western swimwear.

But even as Sharmila Tagore was demonstrating how an Indian girl could wear a hipster sari and still be coy in no less depraved a place than Paris (a lot of An Evening in Paris, 1967, was shot on location), Mohammad Rafi was charming our pants off by singing the corresponding film songs – well, let me just repeat what a particularly sacrilegious friend of mine once said: “If God were to sing, He’d be singing like Rafi Saab.” And when Rafi Saab sang, you didn’t listen to the words, thank God.

Because you’d be listening to the worst kind of sentimental, tearjerking tripe that intelligent, goodlooking and hardworking Indian women have ever been subjected to – or made the subject of. There will be the standard references to her ‘soft lips’ and ‘silky hair’; you can ‘drown’ in her eyes, unless they are busy discharging ‘bijli’ (which can mean anything from lightning to electric sparks); the same eyes could also be shooting arrows at your ‘heart’, which shatters so easily, being made out of ‘glass’; ultimately all you want is to rest in the ‘shadow of her eyelashes’.

The hero, in such songs, is always the suffering hero and rarely the conquering hero (unless it’s Shammi!). He is mostly ‘on the road’, whether as a traveller or as a vagabond, is not clear but he is on the lookout for a ‘home’. All these women have been breaking his heart in the past, and the last in line is none other than his ‘murderess’. She is also a temptress whose eyes are like wine glasses and whose looks are like heady wine. Finally, the hero is ‘mad’ with love – hence the heroine, together with the rest of the world, have to suffer his antics on grounds of insanity, not inanity, please note.

That, roughly, is the gist of approximately forty thousand Hindi film songs. The rest of the inanity comes from the fruitless attempt to express such sentiments in English. Don’t worry, English pop songs have had their own quota of banality and inanity since Elvis’ desire to turn into a teddy bear and Cliff Richard’s desire to play with a Living Doll. Sex object in the West, love object in the East and paedophilia East & West – what a deal for women.

Back in the glory days, I was sitting with my then girlfriend in the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, actually named after the Bibilical Garden of Eden, as you can read in the Wikipedia. Well, we were sitting on the grass when I started singing Rafi’s Chhoo Lene Do Nazuk Hothoñ Ko for some reason, not karaoke, really singing. My pretty & very modern/liberated/emancipated girlfriend heard my rather wobbly rendition of Let Me Touch Your Soft Lips and just melted.

I ascribe it to Rafi Saab to this day.

Love & Sex II

In India, boys get too much love and too little sex; in the West, they get too much sex and too little love – or that, at least, has been my impression after spending half my life in India and the other half in Germany.

To begin with, the Indian boy-child grows up packed in the cotton wool of familial affection like a beetle kept in a matchbox – until somebody opens the box and lets him out to face the realities of life, among them, the separation & segregation of the sexes, though things have unwinded and people are less uptight these days, I’m told. I can only vouch for the way things used to be – which was bad.

In a book of mine – unpublished, needless to say – which I, modest as I am, thought of billing as ‘The Catcher in the Rye of a Calcutta Childhood’, I smuggled in the apology: ‘This is a book about boys; that’s why it’s all about girls.’ I grew up in the days of sexual apartheid. They wouldn’t let me in for the annual fair at my sisters’ school – a girls school – years before I developed those proverbial three hairs on the chin. At my mother’s college – the girls college where she used to teach – I was only allowed to go to the office (staffed by elderly males) and send word to my mother that her son (with more than the three hairs on his chin at the last count) was waiting for her outside the college gate. I might as well have gone to a medieval convent for novitiating nuns where they’d have asked me to wait on the drawbridge over the moat while somebody went looking for the abbess.

In my own college – one of the best and a co-ed college at that, a rarity in those days – I’ve seen the girls run 100 metres in saris at the college sports; otherwise the girls used to play badminton (likewise in saris) behind raised tarpaulin screens in winter. Oh, that was not because they were so demure, but because of the wind and to keep the feathers from landing all over the place, you think? I’ll stick to my theory that it was because the girls were so demure – or maybe we boys were so demure, who knows & who cares. Decency was decency, even if we waited for the sari runners to take a toss or got shouted at for taking a peep through the gaps in the tarpaulin at zenana badminton being played with more gusto than was seemly.

Love meant a long courtship commencing in the first year of college and lasting right through B.A and M.A. – at times even through the doctoral & post doctoral phases & stages – until one got a job and was in a position to marry. The sex thing came afterwards, after marriage: you’d sweated and slogged for around nine years by then, first at your ‘studies’ and then at ‘love-making’, in your spare hours. Don’t worry, Bengali love-making used to be as harmless as Johnson’s baby powder – wrong image! It was the kind of love-making that produced bad poetry instead of bonny babies. Friends patted you on the back and called you a lucky dog if a bonny lass so much as smiled at you in the corridor or in the library – the former sunlit, the latter gloomy as the gloaming but both romantic as hell as the setting for your first timorous, amorous encounter.

We were deprived, in other words.

Yes, deprivation was our privation. We learnt English because we didn’t get sex; we did well in Physics because we did not get sex. We were innocents. We did not know that once you get a bit of sex, you’ll have the feeling that you’re not getting enough of it and worse – that feeling will not go away. You’ll be a good, honest, virtuous, dutiful and well-behaved bank officer, say, for the rest of your life, marry and get promotions, go on holidays and raise children – with the secret ambition fermenting in your mind that you’re going to live like Hugh Hefner in his Playboy Mansion till ninety in your next life. Life, not wife, that’s what you’ll ask for the next time; gimme sex and not love – you’ll be telling the powers of darkness.

Now look at your western counterpart. If your problem was deprivation, then his is surfeit. He’s practically been bathing in girls from kindergarten upwards. He is practically never without girls or without women, unless it’s in the men’s locker room or in the gents toilet – where his father took him for the first time on a kind of male pilgrimage cum initiation ceremony when our young Lochinvar was still a babe in arms. Not that it helped, as we shall see.

Take the girls in Lochinvar’s class who seem to have been clamouring for Love from the age of Teletubbies onwards. And now our poor boy, who just happens to be goodlooking but dresses as if he’s borrowed the bedclothes off a rather careless hobo, can’t keep the girls from falling for him like ninepins, do whatever he might to cool them down; they hound him for Romance on the Facebook & clog his mobile with messages. And then the cruellest cut of them all: they crowd the gym & behave like cheerleaders on steroids when he’s taking a few baskets in his shorts – in short, our boy feels that he’s being treated as a love object.

But there’s this short, sweet, bespectacled girl in his class who takes the same tram to school – she’s dared to look at him twice during the whole of the past week and she’ll probably take another month before she finds the courage to say hi, even if she’s from the same class. She’s the only girl in his class the colour of whose underwear is still unknown to our hero – she never having flashed the same – what the hell, he hasn’t even seen her knees and not because he was being inattentive but because that’s the kind of clothes she wears: any grandmother would have found them très chic.

The number 66 has arrived. The girl gets into the tram the way a mouse disappears inside a mousehole. Quick as a cat, our hero dives in after her but where is she? She’s pretending to be invisible, which cannot deter our hero from giving her a smile of the energy-saving kind, as per EU regulations. And she has no choice except to smile back. A world-shattering, world-ending romance is about to begin which will last at least half the term, if not longer. Look, she’s texting about it already to her current Best Friend Forever.

As I was saying, in India, the boys get too much love and too little sex whereas in the West, it’s the other way round. But things are changing, they tell me.