Sunday, March 13, 2016

So, that's what 'modern' is all about?

I never thought that my indiscipline with respect to uploading songs to my iPod would lead me to a thought that I would be unable to shake off for a few weeks.  I have this seemingly bad habit of creating playlists titled “Assorted #” and including all my recently downloaded songs in there.  And, a month ago, en route to work, I happened to listen to two songs that were not just from different eras but they sounded like they were from two different civilizations.

The first one is “Mouname Paarvaiyal,” that exquisite MSV composition from “Kodi Malar.”  I looked up wikipedia to see that it was released in 1966, that is a half a century ago.  It's a scintillating melody with some beautiful lyrics.  No surprises there – it was written by Kannadasan and composed by MSV for a Sridhar film.  But what struck me was the sheer respect shown towards the female character in the song.  The kind of terms - “alli kodiye” and “muthu charame” - that the lyricist uses to address the woman in the song (who I presume is mute, from the lyrics; I have not seen this film) are par for the course for a Tamil song from 50 years ago.  But what makes this song truly special even beyond the beauty of the thamizh is the kind of decency and genteel attitude that a male has towards a woman.  This was the kind of sensibility that an urbane director like Sridhar had at that time that enabled him to work with his music director and lyricist duo to create such a breathtaking expression of tender feelings towards a loved one.

Now, the song that I listened to right after this made me feel like I was not driving a car but a time machine.  That song was “Clubbula Mubbula” by Hip Hop Aadhi.  Trust me, I am not going to launch into a 'pazhaya paadala vs. pudhiya paadala' debate.  Of course, “Mouname...” sounds sweet and “Clubbula...” sounds crude and crass.  Of course, “Clubbula...” has an irresistibly catchy tune and is probably the kind of song that a teenager listens to on his way to college. (Hey, a 34-year old that you know listened to it en route to work!)  What I want to capture here is the germ of a thought and a question that these songs (when played back to back) planted in my mind.  And that is, what does it mean to be truly modern?  It is a question that has kept gnawing at me for some reason.

After much rumination, here's the thought that gave me closure to this nagging question.  What modern is not is an excuse to do something that doesn't look or sound better than the status quo of a previous generation.  For instance, go ahead and get sozzled to your heart's content.  Just don't tell your teetotaler Dad that he is 'old fashioned' and cite globalization and westernization as an excuse. Go ahead and sing songs like “Clubbula Mubbula,” making fun of girls.  Even back it up with arguments like, 'If girls have the freedom to drink in real life, we have the freedom to make fun of that on screen.'  Just stop dismissing old songs because the dance movements look stilted now.  That was the kind of grammar that existed in the 60s.  At the very least, the songs were by and large tasteful in thought and their use of thamizh.  Instead of using 'modern' as a throwaway term, let's really pressure test our notions of modern to see whether we are really a better evolved society, treating our fellow human beings with respect and dignity.

I recently witnessed a series of distasteful comments against women in an online forum.  I tried in vain to offer some unsolicited advice but was admonished by an anonymous commenter for not understanding that this is how the internet is.  Fair enough.  But what was like a blow to the head with a polo mallet* was a comment (in that forum) by a 76-year old who said that the comments brought her unpleasant memories of a train journey from several decades ago when she was trying to discreetly nurse her child and was subject to some nasty comments by perverted onlookers.  That's a real shame.  A disgrace.  When I read that comment, I was just ashamed at the ways in which we use things that are modern (like technology) to do something that makes a person go back four to five decades in time to tap into some dormant, unpleasant memories.

Of course, this is not to say that people in the 60s that listened to MSV's songs were saintly.  And that we in 2016 are disreputable villains.  After all, the train journey that the septuagenarian was talking about was from an earlier generation.  After all, it was in 2015 that people in Tamil Nadu used social media and other means to lend a helping hand to those in need when floods ravaged the state.  Now, that is taking something – technology – that was not available to this extent to a previous generation and using that to spread awareness and generosity of spirit.  These are the kind of things that could entitle this generation to say, 'This is the kind of stuff that we youngsters are all about.'  See the difference between these relief workers and those unsavory online comments that I referenced above?  Something truly modern requires someone working hard to shake the status quo.  Modern is a way of thinking and a way of acting that makes an earlier generation ask questions of themselves, about how they could have done certain things differently at that time.  It is not something that makes us hang our heads in shame in front of a 76-year old.

PS: * - I finally get to use my favorite Woody Allen's patented term in a blog post!


Anonymous said...

Excellent post Ram. Really miss you on BRangan blog. Glad you have started writing more frequently.

ravishanker sunderam said...

Ram Murali : Thought provoking article. Thanks for exploring the deeper issues under the wafer thin surface of old song and new song in the way only you can. Was reminded of a question to Billy Graham on whether religion is really required to which his counter question was "has human nature evidenced improvement lately after all these centuries ?" Going by your plea in this article, apparently it hasnt

Ram Murali said...

Anonymous - thank you so much for reading & commenting. Yes, I hope to write at least an article a week.

Ravishanker - thanks a lot for your usual, prompt response! Billy Graham's response was sharp and unfortunately a question that has a sad answer.

Unknown said...

Good post. It should be consideration for fellow human beings irrespective of gender, age, race, religion, caste etc.

ravishanker sunderam said...

Ram Murali : I never cease to wonder at the eclectic nature of your f interests and the topics you write on. Way to go !

Ram Murali said...

Unknown & Ravishanker - thank you for your kind comments. I humbly accept the compliments.

Rahini David said...

Ram, I believe that the things that happened both in the train journey and the blog is because of the anonymity that perverts used to their advantage.

There are many reasons why people choose anonymity in these blogs. Some remain dignified, some use it as a cloak to fight injustice and few others run amok.

Apparently the 60s trains were no better but the movies were dignified. That of course is an interesting thought. There are reasons that I can think of but I will get back to you again.

Nice to see you active here. Our own blogs give us a freedom that someone elses blog can not give. And it is technology that gave people like you and me outlets to our thoughts. In 60s you had no choice but to write to the editor of dailies. We use our freedom to express ourselves very differently from certain other people. That is the power of technology I guess.

Ram Murali said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ram Murali said...

Thank you, Rahini, for your prompt response. Very interesting thoughts there about the use and abuse of anonymity.

Regarding the power of technology, I always get reminded of the spidey line - "With great power comes great responsibility!"

Yes, I hope to write an article every week so that it keeps my mind active, a bit creative (I hope!) and also gives me a chance to unwind amidst my 60-hour work weeks these days!

Silpa Swarnapuri said...

Such a panoply of emotions on reading this comment, Ram... May I insert a gentle counterpoint (though given the nature of the discussion, it might be oxymoronic in a very existential way to do so...)? Do you think civility and respect, the kind that sometimes people are nostalgic for, is one way of allowing the status quo to remain in place? For instance, it was angry voices that gave women the lib, the right to vote, freedom of choice... it was when that prized civility was discarded by well behaved women who wouldn't raise their voices. I do take your point though, Ram - please put double quotes around a lot of the phrases I am using, because I am aware of the irony. The anger that I am championing is so ugly and abrasive at times that it is hard to see what good can come of it. I believe the lovely lady's point was just that - she was hoping her grand daughters weren't afraid to be strident (...ugly?) in the face of injustice. I think a lot of this comes from impatience. I am not willing to wait for what is due to me, I want it now. Politeness gets in the way.

Silpa Swarnapuri said...

Just as a clarification - my comment was only about civility and decorum, not in support of the distasteful comments by certain individuals.

Ram Murali said...

Silpa - thank you so much for your detailed comment. I understand where you are coming from. It is true that a certain amount of controlled aggression is needed to shake the status quo, for sure. But that is when the means - a certain amount of purposeful anger - is used towards a noble end which is the betterment of society through empowerment of a group of people, be it a certain gender or a certain sub-caste. But what I find extremely disturbing is when civility is discarded in the name of modernism or when it's discarded in the comfort of anonymity (e.g., by those commenters in the other thread where the 76-year-old lady made an eloquent comment).

But yeah, having said that, I do see your point about politeness sometimes getting in the way of progress.

Unknown said...

I think murali is speaking about decorum in the internet space. Here we can put our views without to much sarcasm. Because sarcasm gets more sarcasm and rudeness gets more rudeness. We can identify the rowdy elelments and avoid them altogether. They are simply looking for arguments and attention.

Anonymous said...

newbie again. Nice to see another post! And what a topical topic too :) Civility in reel and real life…in modern vs olden times.

Leaving aside ‘modern vs old times’, can I say something about treatment of women online vs in cinema? For me, these are slightly different issues because cinema is a controlled medium. So they do have it within their control to tackle things such as blatant sexism, misogyny, overt sexualisation, commodification of women etc but they are lazy to do it in the name of ‘what-customer-wants-he-gets’ and just pure profit. Isn’t it ironic that the Indian Censor Board will beep out swear words but will allow pretty much everything I have mentioned above? I am not saying we as consumers are faultless by any stretch but just that the film industry should at least try (like what the new wave directors are currently bringing in to Tamil cinema).

Online harassment however is becoming scarier and scarier by the day because its really a reflection of the real world but with anonymity and no legal regulations/strict laws. Any woman who can vocalise an opinion online has probably experienced something unpleasant (ranging from mild name-calling to extreme violent threats). I can only imagine it will take a while (but not too much) for the society as a whole to process this and come up with solutions to contain it just like in real life.

That said, the freedom, the technology, the changing/open mindset of the modern world has done wonders for people and women in particular no? Its just amazing how life has changed. And I am so hopeful for what the future will bring too (like a robot cook that won’t judge me when I ask for bajji more than once a week or a solution that will magically make hair grow or an image search google where i just need to put up a photo of the bug thats maligning my rose plants in order to bring up suitable advice because its so bloody hard to describe the bug uniquely) :).

(PS: I get Open ID error when I try to use my wordpress ID - which I guess is a wider issue. I have given up trying to solve it - so using Anonymous ID - sorry about that)

ravishanker sunderam said...

Nice posts Silpa, Unknown, Ram Murali

Ram Murali said...

Thank you all for the comments. Really appreciate your perspectives.

newbie - great points there about the film industry and the rules of censorship. Yes, there's no rhyme or reason to what and why they restrict. Reminds me of BR's funny comment in his review that the U rating of "Masss" despite the scene of a family being burned alive was its spookiest achievement!

This post made me laugh out loud -

Absolutely agree on the dangers of online harassment. I mean it's the same internet that enables us to develop pen pals across the globe that lends itself to perverts that abuse anonymity. I guess we just have to be thankful that the latter represents a smaller proportion of the population.

Will write to blogger regarding the wordpress id not working. Thanks for letting me know.

ravishanker sunderam said...

"Isn’t it ironic that the Indian Censor Board will beep out swear words but will allow pretty much everything I have mentioned above?"

Spot on !

Unknown said...

Hi Ram Murali, tonks here :). I have ID issues too, like newbie.
Im not really sure that people these days are more impolite than they used to be, at least in real life. I know many youngsters (partly due to my work which involves college goers) and they are mostly good people. Like Rahini said, in the net, it's the anonymity that brings out peoples' worst sides. Also the net for some funny reason prevents us from using a filter that we use in real life situations. We say things online (anonymous or not) that we wouldn't dream of saying face to face in real life situations.
I'm of the older generation, but Ram Murali, if technology and this age has its dark side (like hatred under the cloak of anonymity), it also has its positives. There are so many things I've learned to love about the modern era. It was magical having access to Google for the first time and to realise that feeding bits and pieces of half-remembered song lyrics to it, would access the entire song (which I had not, in most cases, heard for years and years). It was magical seeing the videos of all those songs on YouTube. It was magical discovering friends ( after decades) from school and college on fb by feeding their names into it's search space. It is (still) magical to be able to have a conversation with those friends (scattered in different time zones in the US, Singapore, Chennai, Bombay etc) as if we were talking during the lunch break in school. During Valentine's day (and otherwise too) how lucky are the kids today (unlike in my time) to have so many portals to express their affection towards their crushes, to privately chat, to sometimes even find life partners. I love having access to so many loved movies, books and music online. I love having so many channels in my TV. I love my smart phone and the various ways it helps me from setting an alarm, using as an emergency torch to accessing things (like a recipe or a document in my Google Keep app). It's great to know that if there's an emergency at home or work, all it takes is one call to let you know, whereever you maybe. I wouldn't want to go back to the era I grew up in, I'm glad to have seen this age.
Dropped in here to say that all things modern (including society) are not bad :) . Also to say that some of us miss you :) , you should consider coming back because the downvotes are gone now and most of the negativity with it. It's gone back to being the civil place it was.

Unknown said...

I searched you out and landed here, only because it seems to me a pity that you and Anu have stopped commenting out there
(tonks again )

Ram Murali said...

Hello tonks! Thank you SO MUCH for commenting here. I am so glad to see your comment.
I agree with many of your points.
You wrote, "Im not really sure that people these days are more impolite than they used to be, at least in real life." --> Sure. I don't think so either. I was just making a point that we must use technology for valuable purposes (such as how the relief workers used them in Nov/Dec of last year in Chennai) or at least for enjoyable things such as connecting with family, friends and learning about things instead of abusing the comforts of anonymity. As I wrote in my summary, something modern should make a previous generation proud of the current one.

"Dropped in here to say that all things modern (including society) are not bad :)"
--> Sure. I do agree with you. My post was a lament of sorts since I see kids of this generation bandy this term a bit too casually for my comfort. And, I was just trying to make a point that being truly modern is something deeper and requires the right attitude.

But yeah, I agree with your points on modern day technology and its benefits.

So kind of you to say that some of you miss me on BR's blog. Honestly, tonks, I feel a little secure having my own blog and in fact I have started writing a new article every weekend so that when someone checks the blog during the week, they'll have new content to read every week. So, feel free to check out my write-ups. I would love for you to comment here whenever your schedule permits you. I really respect your perspectives.
Having said that, I am very happy to hear that BR's blog has gone back to being the civil place it was.
For the time being, I want to use my signing off from there as a chance to revitalize my own writing and write something every week. I honestly am feeling very good about resuming my own writing and doing it frequently.
Thank you so much, once again. I hope to see you more on my blog.

ravishanker sunderam said...

Hi Tonks - Nice to meet up with you here and I like the way you enumerated the way the net and smartphones have changed our lives.

I'm of the older generation too but inspite of everything I still feel the old days were the best because.........uh...they were the old days :)

For instance take the Archie comics. Archie with his wide eyed innocence and sense of wonder which we found so endearing may be out of sync with today’s kids who seem to have an air that life holds no surprises – “Its written here that Google is working on operating Google Glass solely through thought vibrations so that you can click a photo and even post it on facebook !!” This would elicit a half-bored half-annoyed response “You mean its not been invented yet ?” (Aargh – give me break)

R.I.P Carrot Top and the Good Wold Days (Sob - Sob)

Ram Murali said...

Newbie, Tonks and others who may have had trouble signing on with a wordpress id:
Sorry that you had trouble. I had reached out to the blogger help forum. A kind commenter pointed me to this article. Looks like it's a known, unresolved issue but the workaround they suggest is that you use the "Open ID" option in the drop down menu next to "Comment as" and type in
Please let me know if this works for you.

Anonymous said...

newbie here. Just tried the Open ID option - doesn't seem to work unfortunately.
Will keep trying different things till I find something that works for me.

Ram Murali said...

newbie - sorry about that. thank you for commenting despite all these technical glitches. Will keep checking the forums periodically to see if someone cracks this!

Anupama Shivakumar said...

Excellent ram! Thought provoking

Ram Murali said...

Anu - thank you so much for reading & commenting. I really appreciate it.