I was all excited about going to the Susheela Raman concert, finally a proven international star comes to Mauritius! Then I came to this post on her official facebook page:
VERRY HAPPY and privileged to be in beautiful Mauritius to play but VERY UNHAPPY to be told on arrival that we cannot play the Murugan-related songs ‘Paal’ or ‘Ennapane’, which are centrepieces of both the album VEL and our live show, because some minority ultra-conservatives within the Tamil minority are upset by them. We have been given a choice, after a 26-hour journey: either agree not play the songs or cancel the show, which has been sold out/much anticipated. Hrrmph.
I was quick to youtube Paal, which is supposed to be a song about a sacred pilgrimage for Lord Muruga. I did not find in this video anything that would sound more “offensive” than any of her other carnatic songs. What I think happened is that some “ultra-conservative” religious groups wanted to make themselves heard and did not even bother to carry out real research on Susheela Raman songs, but just picked the first two most popular ones and with the most references to the words “Vel Muruga” and decided that they were “offensive”. Which in my opinion, totally defeats the purpose, because most of her carnatic songs, which constituted 70% of the concert, contained religious Tamil terms. What is even more astounding is that these songs were freely played (and appreciated) in places such as Mumbai and Pakistan, and (wait for it) in the holy seat of Lord Muruga, Tamil Nadu itself. Would the reaction of these hotheads have been the same had these songs been performed by an old lady in a saree, wearing glasses and playing an harmonium? Or if the songs had been first over-mediatised and glamourised and accepted by Bollywood mainstream?
So does that mean that multi-cultural, key to the Indian Ocean, ex-English and French colony Mauritius is more conservative than India itself? Or does that mean that the society, or in this case, the organisers, feel that they are too vulnerable to the power of the voices of a few religious hotheads?
So what was the point of the ban? And most importantly, how come these voices had to be heeded to? Do we live in a society governed by “ultra-conservative” religious hotheads? Is this the kind of society we want? Is Mauritius a religious state?
I think that the paradox of Mauritius is that we want to be too many things at once. We want to be fervently religious, we want to be westernized, we want to conquer Africa, we don’t want to forget our roots, and we want to be modern at the same time. In this case, we want to bring Susheela Raman to Mauritius because she is a world-renowned artist, but we do not want her to sing Paal and Ennapane fearing that this might offend some easily offended hotheads. Which happen to have the power (and means) to organise potentially violent demonstrations. Why? Because something like religion, which in this case is itself a branch of Hinduism, leads to feelings of sectarianism or the “nou ban” effect and fires up tempers easily. It is human nature to protect one’s “own” with tooth and nail, agreed. But after more than 40 years of independence, is this normal? Or desirable?
Are the whims of religious groups to be tolerated? Is this going to fade away as the current generation retires making place for the new one, that is, for us? Or are some of us being brainwashed by fanatics and groomed to gush out the same old sectarian bull… over and over again? Mine is good, mine is sacred, yours is bad, yours is blasphemy and nothing else matters. Are politicians who use this weakness in the Mauritian society to their own good when it suits them, to blame? Or are we the ones to blame, the passive ones, who sit through a Paal and Ennapane – less Susheela Raman concert, with a nondescript smirk on our faces, knowing full well of the absurdity of the ban, but who wish to remain in our comfort zone of letting it go, just because it is the safer and easier option?
As a side note, I have to say that listening to the album Moksh by Whosane has had the merit of making more than one take the time to sit down and leaf through the Bhagavad Gita. What’s wrong in making old religious texts and mantras accessible to a jaded youth who is so desperately looking for something to believe in?
At least Susheela had the guts to stay true to herself and voice out on the absurdity of the ban and hold a one minute silence in protest. Respect…