Susheela Raman Vs Old School Mauritius

So I was all excited about going to the Susheela Raman concert, which was going to add to my 27th birthday celebrations, till I came to this post on her official facebook page:

VERRY HAPPY and privileged to be in beautiful Maritius to play but VERY UNHAPPY to be told on arrival that we a 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 give 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 pilgrimmage 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 group 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 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 an 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 bullshit over and over again? Mine is good, mine is sacred, yours is bad, yours is blasphemy and nothing else matters. Do 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…

4 thoughts on “Susheela Raman Vs Old School Mauritius

  1. how many tamil speaking people have changed from traditional to modern,for example some of the songs of Rammani Ammal and others have been fused,so why cannot sushil perform the song of ennapane,it is a pious version.i have so many time been lucky to participate in the cavadee and govinden festival where i have witnessed a lot of usage of mobile phone,surely this is an hypocrisy on the part of the tamoul to deny sushil a chance to exhibit great in any form is an exihibition of feeling.wake up and accept music has changed

  2. Ashwina, youth and revolutionary thinking goes hand in hand and it’s great to read and feel the passion with which you write on subjects which matters to you and the inhabitants of Mauritius. While I am quite a fan of Susheela Raman’s repertoire myself I believe that there’s an element of context which is missing in this story line regarding the recent controversial events surrounding her concert in Mauritius. I cannot speak for how concerts are organized and handled in Mumbai and Pakistan because I haven’t been to one there but I believe I can quite confidently express myself about the ones organized – in similar settings as the one in Mauritius i.e in a concert arena where those who have purchased tickets are customers to the event – in South India since I have been to couple of such events while I was there. What is fundamentally different in concert-goers scenes and with the general local habits between Mauritius and India is that neither the consumption of alcohol in public is customary in India nor its sale at such events. While many around the world will say that India is getting westernized at an unbelievable pace, on a longer-term trend perspective I will say that the story with cultural degradation in India is still one of uncertainty given the size and complexity of the country. It is then quite difficult for one to take a hard line stand and say if this is a case of upwards or downwards trend. Also during the two events which I had attended in Bangalore (which is generally known to be one of the most open and cool cities of South India and even more so than any city in Tamil Nadu if I may say), non-vegetarian is not sold. Now you would most probably be asking yourself as to where am I going with these points. Here they are:

    1. Mauritians of Indian-descent and who have faith in Hinduism as their religious following are “traditionally” Hindus and not “culturally” ones. I specially emphasize the two words in double quotes because there is, I believe, a generally confused understanding of the two. We, Hindus in Mauritius, follow traditions that our ancestors from India had brought along with them while culturally we have had a different evolutionary path because of the less dispersed effect (mainly due to size of the island as compared to the size of India and also of the ethnic constituents of our populations which is also very different from India) of the two main colonies which ruled us since first known civilization on the island. The point is – youngsters in Mauritius do consume alcohol and non-vegetarian in public events – which is perfectly alright because that’s our culture – but does not go hand in hand with a concert with rather high religious affinity to Hinduism like the one of Susheela Raman. I do not know how the Susheela Raman concert in Mauritius was organized and the logistics behind and moreover I have not yet attended a public concert of this magnitude in Mauritius, so maybe I am wrong and kindly request you to enlighten me on the same. In South India especially in Tamil Nadu, be it in either paid-for, closed-space areas where there are almost no religious connotations attached to the location of the event or the event itself or areas with high religious affinity for e.g a temple where Susheela Raman has given musical interpretations in the past the probability that the sale of alcohol and non-vegetarian items at the events almost tends to zero. With time this can all change and how the Indian population will react to that is still not known. This then leads me to the second point.

    2. If the reason for which Susheela Raman was asked not to perform those two controversial songs is purely to do with some hotheads wanting to make sure that their directives are executed for whatever reasons and just for the sake of protecting culture and actually without any sensible cultural reasoning behind the ban then I totally agree with you – and everyone else in support of the case – that this should not go unnoticed and autocratic behaviors whatever be its form should not be left unheard BUT if the ban is related to the points and may be others in line with what I have made above then I believe there is definitely room for debate. The truth is that most people debating about the subject, me included, do not know and most probably will never know the actual terms of negotiations which happened between the cultural authorities, the organizers and Susheela herself. I am sure that you will agree with me that speculations and assumptions are detrimental to a meaningful debate whatever the subject is. Having said this I would appreciate if you can share with me knowledge of the actual behind-the –scenes happenings if ever you are aware of them.

    Keep up the spirit and the high energy through this blog of yours though! Because it’s only by expressing our minds that a society progresses. By the way, I would totally love to see Susheela Raman perform ‘Paal’ and ‘Ennapane’ in the ‘Kaylasson’ temple in Terre-Rouge, which is considered by many a gem for the Tamil-speaking Hindus of Mauritius or any other religious location for that matter. But this should be done with the local cultural dynamics in mind. I am an ardent believer that every single component of culture including religion should evolve to make it relevant to the modern-times as ours but to what degree and in which context is the question.

    Happy Blogging!

  3. Dear Sitti,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment! The concert was held in the MGI hall, it hosts all different kinds of shows. Usually, you are not allowed to eat or drink in the actual hall during the event. Before the concert, of course, there is a small makeshift canteen where you can get a limited range of (non alcoholic) drinks and snacks and stuff such as paninis and sandwiches (usually both veg and non veg). As far as I understand, private companies such as Immedia and Otayo contact artists and arrange for them to come to Mauritius and market the concerts on the radio and on the press, usually with a small ad, the name of the artist usually sells by itself. What I think happened for Susheela Raman is that the tickets were sold out, and not everybody (including myself I have to admit) were very much aware of what the genre was really like. Most of us knew that she was a really famous, world renowned singer, her songs featured in movies such as the Namesake, and we were sold by the ferventness of the actual fans and were keen to finally go to a world class artist’s concert. Not many of us had the slightest notion of the potential repercussions of her carnatic style on the fragile religious environment of Mauritius. I don’t know what really happened, Immedia to date refuses to comment. But she was very unhappy with the ban and posted her feelings on her facebook page. Each of us took a view, and I have to say, the majority was against the dictatorship of a few religious hotheads. Mauritius was called banana republic. It is finally time for us to decide if we want to be a democracy or a religious state because being both, as is the case with the Susheela Raman saga, ends in disaster…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s