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.