I have been watching with increasing despair and sorrow these past few months as India has teetered on the brink of disharmony and violence, hoping against hope that it was just a passing phase. There were moments when I felt things were looking up, for instance, when people of other faiths—not just Muslims—came together at Shaheen Bagh and elsewhere to oppose CAA and NRC. There were times I told myself it was getting better, that India was essentially secular, and that divisive forces would eventually be defeated.
Then the Delhi carnage happened. Many were killed, even more injured. Property was destroyed, people were forced to flee their homes. Curfew was clamped. We mourned. Not just for the dead, but for the way the hydra-headed monster of hatred, bigotry and violence had again reared its head.
I have lived in Delhi for most of my life, and to see the city burning like that—if only virtually, since I now live in Noida and don’t need to go to Delhi often—was heartbreaking. My Twitter and Facebook feeds were flooded with horrifying photos and articles, and I despaired, wondering where humanity had gone.
And then the heartwarming bits of news began trickling in: the gurudwaras which announced that their doors were open to victims of the violence, irrespective of faith; the Hindus who staunchly protected Muslim neighbours; the Muslims who formed a chain around a temple, the Sikh who risked his own life to ferry Muslim neighbours to safety, again and again and again… each piece brought with it new hope. Yes, humanity will triumph, I thought. This too shall pass.
This week’s blog post, I thought, merited a list. A list of songs that call for peace and communal harmony. Songs that remind us that hatred and violence go nowhere, and that religion is supposed to make you a better person, not an evil, angry one.
As always, these songs are all from pre-70s Hindi films that I’ve seen. But this time, there are two exceptions to my usual (self-imposed) rules. For once, I’ve not stuck to my rule of not including two songs from the same film. For another, this time, the songs are (somewhat) in order. Not of my liking them, but of how I I’ve been feeling these past days.
1. Yeh kiska lahu hai kaun mara (Dharmputra, 1961): I actually posted the link to this song on my Twitter feed, because it is so sadly appropriate to what’s been happening in Delhi. The bloodshed, the angry mobs, the burnt houses. Yeh kiska lahu hai kaun mara is a lament for the anguish of Partition, but it’s so relevant even today. And Sahir Ludhianvi, never one to mince words, says it brilliantly: Jis Ram ke naam pe khoon bahe, Us Ram ki ijjat kya hogi; Jis deen ke haathon laaj lute, Us deen ki keemat kya hogi (That Ram on whose name blood is spilled: What honour will be of that Ram? That faith at the hands of which rape is done: what price is that faith?) If there is a Hindi film song that shows communal violence its true, non-religious, face, it is this one. Blunt and brutally honest.
2. Dekh tere sansaar ki haalat (Nastik, 1954): Another song from a film set during the Partition and its aftermath. Another song about the brutality and utter inhumanity that takes over so many when it’s a question of religion. Kavi Pradeep isn’t as hard-hitting as Sahir (and I, personally, do not think ‘lafanga’ is an appropriately harsh word to describe rioters and murderers), but he does, in his own somewhat milder way, condemn the hatred and communal disharmony of the times.
3. Allah tero naam Ishwar tero naam (Hum Dono, 1961): If Sahir could express the helpless fury of a man seeing nothing but strife around him in Yeh kiska lahu hai kaun mara, he could also write this very different song: a poignant plea for peace. Addressed to both Allah and Ishwar (and therefore implying a prayer from both Hindu and Muslim), this is a devotional song which asks not for material wealth or long life or all the other blessings most Hindi film bhajans beg for. Instead, it asks for wisdom and compassion, among those who rule and among those who are ruled. An anti-war song in the context of the film, but an apt song for what we’re going through as a country. Balwaanon ko de de gyaan, indeed.
4. Khuda-e-bartar teri zameen (Taj Mahal, 1963): When I think of Allah tero naam Ishwar tero naam, I am reminded also of a similar song, also addressed to the deities of both India’s major faiths, that wept for the loss of humanity’s humanity: Ishwar Allah tere jahaan mein, from Earth (1999). The sentiment of Ishwar Allah tere jahaan mein, however, is closer to that of yet another song written by Sahir. For Taj Mahal, he wrote Khuda-e-bartar teri zameen, another song that moans for the loss of humanity, the violence that has become not just so every day, but is so glorified.
This song is rather more explicitly against war, but still: it also questions the hatred, the greed, the eagerness for power that drives people to violence.
5. Humne suna thha ek hai Bharat (Didi, 1959): I picked the songs for this list strictly on the basis of lyrics, without even paying a second thought to who had written those lyrics. It was only when I actually began writing up the description for each song that I realized something: a startling majority of these songs were written by Sahir. Songs that spoke up for peace, songs that spoke against communalism and for the unity of all Indians.
Humne suna thha ek hai Bharat is another. Sunil Dutt, as the teacher, finds himself facing the questions of the students of his class, asking why India is called ‘one’ when it’s so diverse, and why there isn’t peace, even though the Quran says the same things that the Veda-Puranas do. The teacher puts the blame on the ‘Divide and Rule’ policy of the British, but one can see how relevant that answer is in today’s day too…
6. Tu Hindu banega na Musalmaan banega (Dhool ka Phool, 1959): Possibly the most popular song about secularism in Hindi cinema, this one reinforces the idea of the previous one: training in tolerance and mutual respect must begin early. Children must be taught the importance of a secular outlook, of not letting religion come in the way of humanity. Manmohan Krishna’s character in Dhool ka Phool, having adopted an abandoned baby, takes it upon himself to teach the child the way to live. Not as a Hindu, not as a Muslim, but as a human being. Humane. Sahir (again!) dwells on how the Almighty created us as human beings; it’s we who have divided ourselves up into different nations, different religions. There is more to it, though: he also derides the distortion of religion, and the corruption of the powers that be (Yeh mahalon mein baithe hue kaafir yeh lutere)—and promises a day when this child will grow up to put an end to the forces that divide.
7. Kaabe mein raho ya Kashi mein (Dharmputra, 1961): When I mentioned, in my introduction to this post, that in this list I wouldn’t stick to my usual rule of including only one song per film, Dharmputra was the film I had in mind. While this excellent story of communal harmony had the anguished Yeh kiska lahu hai kaun mara, it also had this superb qawwali. Picturised on two men, one a Muslim and the other a Hindu, this duet is all about how religion is a very personal thing, and that religion shouldn’t come in the way of love and humanity. Whether you go to Kashi or to Kaaba, whether you go to the temple or the mosque—it doesn’t matter. Chaahe yeh maano chaahe woh maano. If only more people could understand this.
8. Bane ho ek khaaq se (Aarti, 1962): The musical score of Aarti tends to be remembered for its bigger hits: Baar-baar tohe kya samjhaaye, Kabhi toh milegi, and Ab kya misaal doon. But tucked away between those is this gentle, quiet little song which talks of how we are all made of the same clay, how the colour of our blood is the same. True, Majrooh Sultanpuri writes this more specifically to show why the (perceived) gap between rich and poor is baseless, but that core premise—that we, under our skins, are all exactly the same—may well be employed to crush other manmade differences as well. Lagaa lo sabko tum gale, habib kya raqeeb kya (Embrace all, why differentiate between friend and enemy).
9. Pyaar baantte chalo (Hum Sab Ustaad Hain, 1965): And this is the crux of the matter, the way we can work towards a better world. Share the love, pass it on. Don’t think of yourself as different from the other.
Pyaar baantte chalo takes off from a scene which is a good everyday insight into religion-based discrimination: it’s time for a meal in a train, and Kishore Kumar’s character is puzzled to see that a bunch of men aren’t eating anything, though they obviously have food with them. Why, he asks, and the Dalit, seated on the floor of the train, says that he can’t, not with the Brahmin sitting next to him and glaring: only when the Brahmin starts eating can the Dalit dare to. And why isn’t the Brahmin eating? Because he’s got this Muslim sitting next to him, bhrasht-karoing his dharam. As for the Muslim, he’s grouchy about the Christian stuffing his face next to him (it’s not spelled out exactly what the grouse is about, but I’m guessing that’s possibly a ham sandwich). The point is, all these guys (except the Christian) are depriving themselves of food just because of their own prejudices.
I love the simplicity of this message: you can be any faith you want, but remember that we’re all, eventually, one. Ram yeh hai toh Rehman tum ho, Yeh hai Kartar toh John tum ho; Naam kuchh ho magar yeh na bhoolo, sabse pehle insaan tum ho (This is Ram, and you are Rehman. This is Kartar, and you are John. You may have whatever name, but you are, first, human).
10. Woh subaah kabhi toh aayegi (Phir Subaah Hogi, 1958): To end, a song of hope. The darkest of nights must have an end. There will always be a dawn; it may seem like centuries before it comes, and the night may be full of terrors—but dawn is inevitable. Jis subaah ki amrit ki dhun mein hum zehar ke pyaale peete hain (That dawn, in the hope of whose nectar we now drink cups of poison): that dawn will come someday.
And, on those words—of Sahir, again—a little plea: please spread the love. Don’t let yourself be swept away by the bigotry and hate that is prevailing, the lies that are spread everywhere. If you can’t help those who are victims of the violence, at least do what you can to not spread the hate further. Let us not have another Delhi 2020 again.