“No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Many of my friends and acquaintances, mostly well educated Bengalis, have been vocally criticising a series of unexpected, and to many absolutely unacceptable, events. From what I have gathered, there are three events in sequence:
A) A person called Roddur Roy, who is pretty well known in social media for very questionable reasons, made a video of himself, singing a song by the revered poet Rabindranath Tagore, replacing and adding numerous expletive words, thereby making it a ‘parody’. Now, Roddur Roy has been doing this for quite sometime and many of his videos, usually similar in content, have gone viral and have split the audience. While many laugh and share his parodies, the larger audience usually crucifies him for his ‘lack of culture’ and obscenity.
B) In the prestigious Rabindra Bharati University, which was founded to honour the same Rabindranath Tagore, some students (boys and girls) painted obscene words on their bodies and also sang the same song, originally a Rabindra Sangeet, but the Roddur Roy version. These photos and video went viral on social media and drew severe castigation from numerous people.
C) Students from a school in Maldah, a district in West Bengal, also recorded a parody, of similar nature and equally expletive laden, probably influenced by the earlier two incidents.
Most educated Bengalis, including many people I personally know, have been highly critical of all this and some of them are calling for these students to be expelled, Roddur Roy to be publicly thrashed, and everyone is lamenting the erosion of culture in their ‘culturally astute’ Bengal. Some are even bringing a political angle to it, and blaming the Communists and the Soft liners, who have aided this decline and erosion of culture, rather than preserving it with a strong iron hand, by punishing those who deviate from cultural traditions.
I am personally in a massive dilemma. As a Bengali, I have always seen Tagore as a ‘holy’ and ‘larger than life’ personality. So yes, his songs being made into expletive laden parodies, does make me cringe to some extent.
But then again, I look back at my own academic life that spanned for over 19 years, and I realise that during my student days, especially at college and university levels, I have clapped at many such parodies myself, which were equally full of obscene words. During our Engineering College days, which probably generated the most creativity in many of us, we had an anthem which started with the words ‘Probhato Kaale…’ and was sung in the tune of a popular folk song. Almost everyone knew the song and had sung it at some point, more often out of our own will and often in chorus.
There were many other songs, from ‘Chol Shyamoli’ to the greatest ever parody made by humans, the ‘Mahayan’, which was an obscene spoof made by combining characters from Mahabharata and Ramayana, the two holy epics from India! Now that I am a cultured and respected gentleman, I won’t be able to share these parodies; I have a reputation to protect!
Strangely, many of the vocal protestors who want these students and the parody king Mr. Roy to be given exemplary punishment, had enjoyed similar parodies during their own student life. Some, I know for sure, even tried their hand at creating parodies, and almost all others hailed the talent and imagination of the successful creators of such parodies. Many still do it in smaller circles of closed WhatsApp groups.
So what is the main difference between the students then and the ones now? What exactly has changed?
For one, I think because these students made the mistake of being identified with their respective institutions (Rabindra Bharati University and Maldah School). I agree this is naivety and makes them vulnerable to punishment from their respective institutions.
Secondly, I believe Social Media is what makes their stunt reach to a far wider audience, compared to what earlier generations could have even imagined. But we choose to see what we wish to see, so if a content is disagreeable to me and my cultural pullback, I do have a choice of staying away from it.
Thirdly, I believe most of us (objecting to it) have become old and bitter, and have been unable to accept the fact, that the world has moved on. The times belong to the young, and they shape the destiny of culture in their own way. This was true when we were in our twenties, and will continue to be true when these students, now in their prime youth, will reach their forties, and a new generation will enter their youth. Those who are pushed out of their youth and prime, will become bitter and continue to complain about the cultural erosion of their succeeding generation. Our parents’ generation did so, we are doing so, and our future generations will also do so!
But I am also appalled by the amount of venom spewed at these young students, by the self proclaimed ‘protectors of culture’. Some are abusing them with chosen slurs while some are calling for them to be flogged in public. We forget that ‘culture’ also applies to what we say and do, even it is in the guise of saving culture itself.
Considering all this, I have now made my own stand clear to myself. I don’t encourage what these young students have done. I think it’s misplaced, unnecessary and stupid, to a large extent. But I don’t see it as such a grievous offence that deserves the kind of response, that many of us are calling for. These students did something frivolous, even mischievous, based on their poor judgment that might be attributed to their tender age, but I don’t think they were doing it to compete for an award in literature or music. And I definitely don’t believe, that this indicates, in anyway whatsoever, that we are headed towards a ‘cultural apocalypse’!
The Culture Bus doesn’t belong to anyone, or to any generation. It merely pauses for us to hop in for a while, enjoy the amazing ride, and then disembark when we are done, so the next passenger can step in, and enjoy theirs. There is no point in clinging to your seats when your turn is over. It will only make you bitter and toxic.
The world will move on, with or without you!!