Netru, Indru, Naalai (Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow) was the name of the music concert. The organisers surely did not leave it anyone’s imagination as to what kind of music A R Rahman would be presenting at London’s Wembley Stadium. Yet, there was a fiasco, a mass walkout by disappointed fans who took to Twitter complaining about ‘language bias’. The Mozart of Madras was subsequently forced to issue an apology on Facebook expressing mild surprise that music could not cross language barriers.
Through this social media altercation, what become evident was that Rahman’s Tamil identity was not known to many of his Punjabi-North Indian fans. They were taken aback by the missing Bollywood numbers. The grouse was he was singing far too many Tamil songs. While the disappointment of the uninformed audience was understandable, even comic, it was a sad show of the divisive polity that we represent today even on an international stage.
It’s no less unfortunate that Indians come to know about their own fellow citizens through foreign medium. Perception about Rahman thus is mostly shaped by his Oscar-winning composition for the internationally renowned Slumdog Millionaire and not by the fascinating music he has composed in his mother tongue. One may find a Japanese singing a Rahman number in Tokyo with much fanfare, but perhaps not someone in Patiala or Patna. That’s the tragedy we live in.
Those haranguing the regional language crusaders over their objections to Hindi, better take note of how language chauvinism works both ways. There was an India in the past, where a M S Subbulakshmi would beautifully sing Rabindra Sangeet and her Carnatic renditions could receive critical acclaim across the subcontinent. But in today’s segregated world of identity politics and cultural insecurities, we only get connected to quibble on social media platforms. How else does music fail to bring people together? Why else this unfortunate Kolaveri di?