The accusations levelled against Honey Singh today were attempted on Eminem once. Even his entry had been banned in countries like Canada and Australia.
Hereon there danced youths and maidens whom all would woo, with their hands on one another’s wrists… sometimes they would dance deftly in a ring with merry twinkling feet… and sometimes they would go all in line with one another. There was a bard also to sing to them and play his lyre…
— The Iliad: Book XVIII: Homer
When I was working in Delhi’s civil supplies department during the Eighties, I was surrounded by Punjabis. As I was from a rigid and conservative south Indian background, I got naturally attracted to the Punjabi language and culture. Those wedding dances and festivals, like Holi, dragged me out of my inherent grim self. I happened to see a photograph at that time, taken by the German director Ulrike Ottinger during his teens, through which I understood the cultural differences between the northern and southern halves of India. A Tamilian and a Sikh were sitting together in the photo. While the Sikh seemed to enjoy by laughing out loud, the Tamilian’s face was dingy.
It appeared to me that the Punjabi language had a musical lilt. It might be due to its nasal tone. It was then that I heard Chamkila and Amarjot, the legendary Punjabi singers, of whom I became a fan at once. Chamkila’s wife Amarjot’s piercing tone was better than Chamkila’s. When this pair sang in Punjab, people thronged to hear them — occupying even the lampposts and terraces. Chamkila and Amarjot, along with the members of their band, were shot and killed by militants when they went to Meumpur, Punjab, on March 8, 1988. Chamkila was 28 then. The reason they were assassinated was that Chamkila’s songs celebrated liquor, love and sex. He sang about extra-marital love, which was intolerable to the extremists. In short, Chamkila was the symbol of the hedonistic lifestyle of the Punjabis.
Dance and music are mingled in Punjabi blood — not as entertainment, but as an identity of their very existence. While the Tamils from the southernmost part of the country relish dance and music on a hyper real plane through Tamil movies, the Punjabis involve in them directly and rejoice.
In this context, I consider Honey Singh, who wreaks havoc amidst the youth of north India through his songs, as an extension of the Punjabiyat, which was idolised by Chamkila and many such singers.
The oppression of dalits, women and the minorities is known. But the clandestine oppression of students by their parents, educational and social institutions is equally cruel. An example would be the statement of the Delhi police commissioner that girl students must go straight home after college. In a few days, a statement that women must not step out of their home is imminent. The youth revolt against the oppression of the “adults” through their celebrations, of which Honey Singh is one, extreme representative.
I became a die-hard fan of Honey Singh as soon as I started hearing his songs. I must have listened to his Brown Rang song a countless times. It’s tough to write down the ecstatic feel of the song Chamkila vs Justin Bieber (written by Honey Singh whose video features Alfaaz), which can make listeners shake a leg. This song is the modern rendition of traditional Punjabi folk music, which again serves as a symbol of Punjabiyat, a symbol of their hedonistic lifestyle.
The youth overcome the suppression of society using their schizophrenic imagination. Be it Eminem or Honey Singh — their howls, body language and songs mock society and should be seen as a metamorphosis of schizoid into art, which is schizoid aesthetics. This observation is tough for the listeners of Indian classical music, and hence we divide music into two — classical music is Apollonian and the Honey Singhs, Gippy Grewals and Alfaazs are categorised as Dionysian (thanks to Nietzsche).
There have been strong protests against Honey Singh’s Main hoon ek balatkari and Ch*** songs. But no one listens to what he says about the songs. “I swear on my music, I’ve neither written nor sung those offensive songs. I’d never dream of singing a song in praise of rape. I completely disown both these obscene numbers. The thought is nauseating to me. I’d rather give up singing than attain popularity in such cheap and cheesy ways,” he said in his defence, and added, “I respect women. What I am going through is another form of rape… I’ve sent notices to YouTube and other websites, which have uploaded the offensive numbers. I’m being targeted for a rape of another kind altogether. What’s being done to me is among the lowest of violation of human dignity.” What else is required to prove his innocence? Our anger at violence against women should not turn towards innocents. It’s very easy to set such a trap for anyone through YouTube. The accusations levelled against Honey Singh today were attempted on Eminem once. Even his entry had been banned in countries such as Canada and Australia.
Indian ethos celebrates sex. It is here, in this land, that temples were built for sex and it is here the formulae for sex were written by our ancestors. The foundation of Indian culture is hedonism. Our culture celebrated and adored sex. The sculptures in our temples stand as timeless witness to that. In the Indian villages, be it the temple festivals or any other festivities, dancing and singing remain the fundamental reflectors of the culture. Indian folklore celebrates sex.
Villages are less inhibitive about sex than cities, though in cities most people are desensitised by their consumerist attitude and consider women a sexual commodity. The pelvic movements and gyrations in our cinema songs can challenge any pornographic film and yet their viewer age spectrum is a baffling three-year toddler to a nonagenarian. We can become more sensible human beings if we move away from this hyper reality to live life in its real scent, colours and emotions.
Art and crime are two different things. Hence it is unfair that an artist like Honey Singh has become an outlet to vent the society’s anger about crimes against women.
Charu Nivedita is a post-modern Tamil writer based in Chennai