I am ready to talk now. It’s been exactly one month since the horrific incident of a brutal gang-rape in Delhi evoked feminists in all of us – men, women, children, bystanders, politicians…We took it personally. We raged a war against the government, against politicians, against the judiciary, against the transport union, against Bollywood and even against Honey Singh. In my honour, the country’s swish set and aam admi have marched to pillars of power and agitated – in the peak of winter, braved the water cannon, lathi-charge and more molestation. Meanwhile as much anger as was evoked against the perpetrators of misogyny, more misogynists came out and spoke out against me.
Now, as the public recedes from the frontline and candle light marches to concentrate on more pressing wars involving the possibility of nukes, I have gone back into the shadows. I will battle my own nukes – of existence and making peace with all that goes on around. After all, I am the muse. Who am I? I am the heroine, the nude model, the vice – I am the Punjabi girl who has been goading T-Series and MH1 bred singers across the extended state of Punjab to in verse degrade and promote me, dishonour and cloak me, goad and restrain me, go yo yo and haw haw on me…
I live in a glass ceiling of my making. After all, singers from the times of the worshipping ardour of the Bhakti movement of the 17th century to the virile stripping of the 21st century – have made me their objects of affection and lust. I am that commodity that makes men across Punjab trade their farm-rich, tax-free cash for big guns, bigger rides and a branded wardrobe. To appease me is to love me, chain me, disrobe me. I am the raison d’etre for their wars, their agitation, their passion. I am the girl who will never be free.
They have always sung songs for me. I must be about 300 years old. My mothers, sisters, daughters have been canonized as saints when I fought the Mughals and aided the Gurus towards laying down the foundations of Sikhism. I did seva in the first langars of the first Gurudwaras. Bulle Shah sang in my praise and the Gurus wrote sermons on me in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs. My femininity was a womb of reaching the higher power through Kundalini Yoga. I was the mother.
I even fought wars. I commanded a regiment in Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s army. During a siege in 1705, as Mai Bhago, I rallied 40 deserters and led them into battle with a sword in hand. I became the Guru’s bodyguard and no one questioned my male attire at the time. I was a warrior.
I was a freedom fighter as Maharani Jind Kaur and fought to unite the great state of Punjab with my husband, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. They sang about me, in my honour, in my respect, in my fear. They loved me.
But beneath the veneer of reverence, lay the carnal desire to overpower me. With freedom and prosperity came the need to mock me and hide me in a purdah to shield me from the evil outside. I stoked many passions and that became my crime. Writers like Waris Shah, Mirza Ghalib would immortalise my charm, my sacrifice and my endearing image as a woman clad in a Phulkari sitting and waiting for my man to come home as I longed for him while churning milk into lassi. The stereotype of the housewife became predominant even in passionate star-crossed lover romances like “Heer Ranjha,” “Sohni Mahiwal” and “Sassi Punnun.”
Throughout the 20th century, folk and Punjabi pop singers have pinned for me and sung in my praise. Centuries old debauchery and violence levied against me got to a tipping point and singers lamented on the changing times. Everyone from Gurdaas Maan to Hans Raj Hans sang alongwith on the khet and khailyan, how I was finally breaking free. I didn’t wait for a man in the Phulkari to get home a laung (nosepin), a challa (ring) or even ganna (sugarcane). That’s when things went awry.
I found Chandigarh, the capital city of Punjab, where I learnt to drive, wore jeans with bum-bearing tops till now forbidden by my father in the village who won’t even allow me to wear a churidaar for it gave away the shape of my legs. I had let go of the purdah. The Nineties saw emergence of singers like Surjit Bindrakhiya, Jazzy B, Jasbir Jassi, Harbhajan Mann who dedicated songs to my beauty, my free ways, my walk, my shoes, my hair, parts of my anatomy to even the phone code of my city. (There’s a song called 0172, the telephone code of Chandigarh by Sarabjit Cheema) Virility was on full display that only turned violent when Babbu Mann, Gippy Grewal, Amrinder Gill, Jaswinder Singh Dhami, Diljit Dosanjh collaborated with the controversial Yo Yo Honey Singh to air their hyperactive misogynist views. And they raped me, taught me lessons in the most carnally violating ways possible, stripped me bare of my characterless personality, called me a drug-addict, an alcoholic, a whore, a man-eater.
When I traveled to Delhi and abroad, I discovered my sensuality. Enough re-runs of “Sex And The City,” chick flicks, erotica, and more recently “Girls” empowered me to dare to think of myself as a confident, independent sex. I answered back, I turned men down, I could afford a Gucci or even a Prada. I wore Bobbi Brown makeup, I experimented with drugs, loved my Cosmopolitan. I became money-rich. Years of studying in an all-girls institute and regressed sexuality now gave way to a newfound freedom. I wanted my first kiss, I wanted to fall in love, I wanted to doll up, I wanted to party. I wanted to feel alive.
The Punjabi male rose like a jabberwocky and slayed me to bits. How dare a girl child, who tricked female foeticide and was born to an affluent family, be ungrateful and command her way in this male-dominant society. I was bringing shame to the shaan of the Punjabi. For a moment there, I felt I was returning to my limitless, ideal being of the woman I was 300 years ago. But all the virtues of the communication-driven Noughties still haven’t been able to understand me.
I am the woman Honey Singh hates. I am the woman who riles his loins and his latent passive-aggressive gene. He hates me not for I tease him, he hates for I am free. And he is not alone. He is merely a mirror to a society I have been brought up in. He won’t stop till my family, my state, my country don’t stop mitigating the male-dominance over me. He won’t stop till the now famine-nearing state of Punjab doesn’t stop harnessing their boys into incapacitated, uneducated men of tomorrow.
He won’t stop.