(Warning: The piece contains graphic language)
So Yo Yo Honey Singh is in trouble. And women and men are up in arms against him for writing a song that talks about a certain body part and have accused him of being a misogynist. Anyone who has heard his songs objectively will tell you just that.
If Yo Yo Honey Singh is not a misogynist I don't know who is? But then there are Yo Yo Honey Singhs everywhere. It's just that their language is not as grotesque and direct as Honey Singh's is, but they have equally obscene things to say about women.
Take this song sung by Amar Singh Chamkila (one of the biggest Punjabi singers who was killed by terrorists in the late 1980s) and Amarjot. The lyrics of the song go “chakh lo drivero purje nu”. The Hindi word purza normally refers to any sort of tool. In this context though it refers to a woman. When translated the song means “hey driver taste the woman”. And given that Chamkila was killed in 1988, the song must have been written and sung at least 24 years back. Hence there have always been songs in Punjabi of the kind Yo Yo Honey Singh sings now. So he is not the only one to be blamed.
Before I get accused of Punjabi bashing let me move onto Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where most of the audience for Bhojpuri movies and songs lives. As Avijit Ghosh writes in Cinema Bhojpur “In Pyaar Ka Bandhan, singer Rekha Rao croons to the lyrics of Vinay Bihari, ‘Tani lahe lahe dheere dheere dala kamsin ba dukhala raja ji’ (Put it in slowly, darling, I am very young, it hurts’), while on screen Sambhavna Seth dances to the tune and as she gyrates, a launda (a man dressed as a woman) tries to slip bangles into her arms.” In fact anyone who has heard Bhojpuri music will tell you its loaded with sexual innuendo which goes against women all the time. Sample this song which goes with the lines bahiya main leke dela khacha kach (This is not translatable).
And this has been a tradition in Bhojpuri cinema for sometime now. As Ghosh writes “In the family drama Ganga Se Nata Ba Hamaar (1991) well-known music director Ravindra Jain not only provided the score, but also penned the lyrics for a couple of songs. In one of them he wrote, 'kahin nimbua to kahin be anaar sajni, nimbua bechari kisi ginti main na aaye, yeh zamana hai anaron ka beemar sajni'('There is a lemon at one place and a pomegranate in other. Nobody spares a second thought for the poor lemon, this is the age where everybody is mad about pomegranates'). It is obvious the composer-lyricist is not talking about the different sizes of fruit.”
Tamil film songs also do that and talk about mangoes. Or take this relatively recent song kattipudi kattipudi da which essentially means hug me hug me. Throughout the song there are background sounds which suggest some lovemaking leading to a female orgasm. While I am really not an expert on Tamil cinema I am sure that there are many such songs which essentially demean the sexuality of a woman and her body.
Now that brings me to songs from Hindi cinema. Sample this song from Vijaypath sung by Alisha Chinoi in the early 1990s which never made it past the censor board. “Kal saiyyan ne aisi bowling karri, ek over bhi main khel payi nahi. Chauthe gend main out hui paanchva gend main jhel payi nahi. (yesterday my lover bowled so well that I couldn't even play one over. I got out on the fourth ball, couldn't last long enough to play the fifth one.)”
A line in this song goes “dheere dheere se bowling karo sajna, main sajni hoon teri lugai nahi. (Please bowl a little slower oh my lover, I am not your wife but your lover.)
Then there was David Dhawan's Andaz which had songs like main maal gaadi tu dhakka laga dhakka laga bhai dhakka laga and khada hai khada hai khada hai, dar pe tere aashik khada hai khol khol khol, darwaza khol (again I don't think I can translate this).
The movie Lakshman Rekha based on O Henry's short story After Twenty Years had this song "Kya number hai, kya gaadi hai, kya bumper hai kya body hai, aage se dekho, peeche se dekho, upar se dekho, neeche se dekho, kahin se dekho ji...hai kya baat hai...uff kya baat hai..." If all that wasn't enough Mithun Chakraborthy once sang in one of his movies “Mirchi re mirchi kamal kar gayee, dhoti ko phadke rumaal kar gayee.”
And we are all familiar with Madhuri Dixit asking us “Choli ke peeche kya hai?”in Khalnayak. Once that question was answered we had Vasha Usgaonkar asking us “Choli ke andar kya hai?” in Khalnayika.
Lest you start getting the impression dear reader that such songs only happened twenty years back, sample these lines from the latest hit Fevicol from Dabanng 2 which has Kareena Kapoor singing, “Main to tandoori murgi hoon yaar gatak le saiyyan alcohol se. (I am tandoori chicken you can swallow with alcohol).” Or take the recent hit Rowdy Rathore which had the song “pallu ke neeche daba ke rakha hai utha doon to hungama ho”. (Again I can't translate this)” Both these movies made over a Rs 100 crore.
Let me broaden my argument here and look at a few more things in the Hindi language. One of the more popular forms of blessings was and still is doodho nahao pooto phalo. Literally this means that may you bathe in milk (i.e. become very wealthy) and may you have many sons (who can then take care of you and your wealth).
Let me go a step further. A lot of mantras recited at the time of a Hindu wedding basically ask the woman to be ready to give up anything and everything for the husband. Isn't this misogynistic also?
And let me go even further. There is a saying in Hindi which goes “Dhol, ganwar, shudra, pashu aur naari, sab hain taadan ke adhikari (The music instrument dhol, a stupid man, a person belonging to a low caste, an animal and a woman, are all entitled to a good beating).”
In fact there is a similar saying in English. “A woman, a cocker spaniel and a redwood tree, the more you beat them the better they be.”
So if we ban Honey Singh we can't stop at just banning him. There are a spate of other bans that will have to follow if we take this argument to its logical conclusion. So where will the bans stop? And who will decide what is to be banned and what is not? The government?
Also if listening to Yo Yo Honey Singh leads to men raping women then what is to say that women wearing short skirts doesn't? (I find this argument entirely facetious and have debunked it here). Yo Yo Honey Singh did not become what he has on his own. He has a fan following. There are men (and women) out there who like listening to his songs. His songs are not on the edges where only a small segment of the population follows him. His songs are there everywhere. They can be heard blaring out at celebrations, and on mobile phones, mp3 players and car stereos in Delhi and parts of Northern India. Hence in a way his success is also a reflection of the way we are.
So what is the solution? The solution is that we vote with our wallets. If Yo Yo Honey Singh is so offensive, let's not go to his concerts. Let's not listen to his songs and so on. Let's also not listen to all the double meaning item numbers that films across India churn out and that helps them earn Rs 100 crore or more. Lets not have them as ringtones. Lets also in the years to come treat our sons and daughters equally.
Also if the Hindi film industry and other film industries across India feel strongly about the entire issue as they claim to, they need to start portraying women better, instead of always looking to make a quick buck.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)