One of the many defects of cable television is that it offers so many options that many a time, it becomes difficult for fidgety people like me to settle on a single channel. As per habit, I was aimlessly surfing the television a few days ago and I suddenly broke my shins against three young girls playing Azma Luck Azma on a popular English news channel. Pretty, petite, fair and fresh like only the women from the Valley look, these three were more than just that.
The very next moment, though, it all came crashing down. The news channel broke into headlines, “Mufti issues Fatwa against the all girl Kashmiri rock band, Pragaash, Calls it an un-Islamic act.” And then over the next thirty minutes, musicians, professors, Muftis, social workers, women’s rights activists, politicians and almost all the people who could possibly be called “experts” discussed everything, from Burqas to Bands. Honestly speaking, I was disappointed but not surprised. I, of all the people, understand the nuances of a female rock musician in this country and all that comes with it as the baggage of the appreciation. I am one of the very few female musicians in the state of Odisha who has experienced the whole gamble of being the part of a rock band and western music in a small town. And although I have not experienced even a speck of what these Kashmiri girls have had to endure, I have had a fair share of things. Believe it or not, I am, by the grand weave of things, attached by an invisible string to Pragaash.
I am lucky to have parents who support me in all my pursuits. But I wonder if my parents would continue doing so if tomorrow people threaten to rape me if I continue singing rock. Let alone my parents, will I be able to continue with the same conviction if someone intimidates me? I have a serious doubt. When I talk about “my fair share of things” I do say it because I have been looked down upon. I have been victimized to all those lewd remarks, to the numerous insults that echo from behind all that limelight and applause most of the time I perform and all this from an educated, posh and contemporary audience. I have managed to ignore them. Guess that is what women are meant to do. We are supposed to ignore everything and simply quit. We are expected to either swim with the current or be strangled by it. We are expected to be “cultured” and “bounded.” We are expected to sacrifice our passion because it doesn’t come under the “being social” list. We are living in extreme environments of arts. To make a career in the performing arts, we women must stick to doing not what we want to do but to do what everybody else wants us to do. And I think that is the reason, I don’t see women playing guitars, drums and keyboards or singing AC/DC and Evanescence much often. I don’t find it only in a particular community or religion. It is all over the country, especially in state like mine where we are nothing more than a bunch of wolves in sheep’s skin.
If Pragaash ever reads this article, I would like to apologize to them, for I do not know whether I support them or I don’t. I am an amateur to comment on whether three Muslim Kashmiri girls playing rock music is right or wrong. And that is simply because I do not understand the reasons. I do not understand religion. I do not understand taboos. I do not understand sanctions. What I do understand is feminity and also that no amount of deviation can rob you and me of the very essence of it. There’s a strong sense of roots and recognition in us, for if there is a pair of jeans and a t-shirt covering your body, there is also that Hijaab wrapped on your head as a solitary testimony to your integrity. As for me, albeit, I sing rock songs and headbang on stage, yet I come back home everyday and sing Raaga Bhairavi and listen to Farida Khanum’s ghazals.
Times are changing. There are thousands of people out there who are encouraging women to give up conventions and forge into various genres. There is a whole different world out there that accepts women in the subcontinent singing and playing western music. Coming to Odisha, I know women who want to shun bollywood and bhajan and try a hand at western music. I know women who have posters of Monica Dogra, Sona Mohapatra and Tripti Kharnbangar on their bedroom doors. I know women who aspire of having a band and playing rock, blues, jazz and pop. But again, the sun is just on the horizon. I am waiting for the day it’ll light up the lives of many aspiring young female rock musicians here like me. I am hopeful. I have learnt to be.
– Pratikshya Priyadarshini
Pratikshya is a vocalist for the Cuttack based rock act Sweet Poison.
Being one of the very few contemporary female musicians of this state, she feels strongly about whatever happened to Pragaash and supports them with her heart.