Suman Sridhar reprises the 1966 song ‘Evening in Gay Maharashtra‘ in support of the anti-Section 377 movement. (Video is age-restricted and can only be viewed on Youtube here). On an unrelated aside, the Mumbai I grew up in, had a strong influence of the Goan/Mangalorean culture. The song is rife with unabashed sexuality, anglicisation, and references to non-vegetarian food. All of these seem to have been erased in favour of a more rigid, moralistic culture. Mumbai feels more Gujarati than Goan now. The more rigid Hindu Gujarati attitude appears to have pervaded what was a more hedonistic, less religious culture.
Culture is not a distinctly defined thing, with clearly drawn lines. As you travel northwards, you’ll see not just the terrain and fauna change but also food, language, lifestyle, belief systems and rituals. I can speak only for Mumbai (having lived in it for my entire life), and not the whole of Maharashtra. It feels like a cultural battle has been fought and the prize moved hands. I’ve seen my city shift in persona. It is as if, a living person converted religion, moved homes, uprooted and transplanted themselves into an entirely different family. Mumbai has a new culture.
It’s Gujarati in the short range and in the process of being overwhelmed/dominated by the Punjabi/Delhi culture. Few people around me recognise the beats of a song such as this, while Punjabi hip-hop is the go-to rhythm for every party. ‘Chak de phatte’, ‘Ki karaan’, ‘Tu raende’ and the like are bandied around the way I remember sundry Konkani/ Marathi phrases slipping into my conversations in school. Winter food is undhiyo, not Pork Vindaloo. And December is about hot gulab jamuns, not marzipan and guava cheese.
I’ve never thought of myself as a regionalist. How can I be, after all? I was born to a Delhiite mother, and a father who grew up all over Tamil Nadu and has lived in Mumbai. All my life, I’ve felt torn between the two extremes of culture that I saw, in my own family. Winters in Delhi with a heavily Punjabi-influenced family and summers in Chennai with the puritanical Tamilian mindset. Everything else in between passed in a Catholic neighbourhood, then a Gujarati college. I can’t claim that I either support or oppose what I see happening. I’m just another of the millions whose lives are irrevocably changed by the culture that carries us, being carried along with its vagaries.
Suman’s saucy wink, her lascivious grin and unabashed glee when she mouths ‘Gay Maharashtra’ brought back the memory of a culture that seems long gone. It seems to me like the whole Northern attitude is a lot more repressive of sexuality, especially female sexuality (though this could be my own cultural bias speaking). Sexuality seems confined to the machismo of men accompanied by the sex kitten archetype (slut, prostitute, dancer etc) as opposed to the individual expression of every human being. How will such an attitude respond to homosexuality? I imagine that this ethos will have a lot more trouble accepting a man as a sex symbol and the idea of women not needing men to get their highs. I suppose the term ‘baila’ will die out and be replaced by similarly derogatory slurs of Punjabi origin. And in the pockets that embrace sexuality in its every form, the serenades will be in Hindi rather than Konkani.
I realise it is only the attitude that matters, not what language or colour it is expressed in. But I miss the Mumbai of my childhood. I suppose I’ll have to stop calling it ‘amchi Mumbai’ and shift to ‘maari Mumbai’ or ‘saddi Mumbai’ instead.