Thursday, September 14, 2006

On Radha-Krishna

Lagaan is by any reckoning a groundbreaking Bollywood film. But a Bollywood film it is, with its fair share of songs and dances. My favorite song-dance sequence is the one where the villagers, well Gauri and Bhuvaan and their friends, celebrate Krishna’s birthday. In the song, the girl complains that Radha is anxious about Krishna’s philandering ways and the boy replies that Radha should be understanding because there’s no one else in Krishna’s heart but Radha. When the meaning of the song is translated to her, Elizabeth asks Gauri: Is Radha Krishna’s wife?

Oh no, Krishna’s wife is Rukmini! — is the reply.

If you’re not familiar with the story of Radha and Krishna, it’s natural to think that they are a married couple. Of course Radha-Krishna are anything but married — here is what wiki says about them. Imagine the shock the Victorian girl would have got upon realizing that the villagers were celebrating an extra-marital affair in such exuberant manner.

In the popular culture of the West, Krishna is associated with George Harrison and his mates. In the popular culture of Desh, reference to Radha-Krishna and Krishna’s affairs with the Gopis go back many centuries. And they span most part of Desh — Gita Govinda and other Bhakti songs are sung in every modern Desi language.

And they are thriving in one unexpected place, among the Bangladeshi diaspora in Londonistan. These days, many people think that British Muslim youths are all about slaying the infidel. But British Muslims like Kaya and Habib are also pumping out albums like Krishno, with songs that celebrate the union of Radha and Krishna in the Nikunja Temple. Partly influenced by the diaspora bands, Bangladeshi rock bands have looked to folk songs for ideas in recent years.

Lyrics of some these folk songs can be quite scandalous to the prudish ear. And Radha-Krishna is not the only forbidden love they sing about. The story of Yusuf-Zulekha and Chandidas-Rajakini are also popular. Maybe these songs have some deeper meaning about man’s unison with God, maybe they really are about illicit love. Whatever it is, there are more British Bangladeshi kids dancing to this beat than shouting about Jihad.

And that is a good thing. In a different time in a different place, people thought that rock music would change the world. We know better to expect that songs can silence guns. But wouldn’t it be nice if we were wrong?