Didi, o Didi, why don't you listen, asks PM in Contai
So far we were wondering if Narendra Modi was using Tagore more or the Bengali language itself. On Wednesday at Contai, he added another dimension to his campaign by using a “time-honoured Indian tradition” in a Bengali way.
It is the way he repeated Didi’s name at the rally, several times. “Didi, o Didi,” he called, again and again. But he was not addressing Mamata Banerjee. He was making a big statement, such as “Banglaye dorkar, BJP sorkar (Bengal needs a BJP government)”, then dropping his voice, and sotto vocez, as if it were possible at a massive rally, asking for Didi, in a leering, joking tone.
She has to be called so many times because she just does not listen to anyone, he said. He seemed to be having such fun saying things in an undertone to a woman.
It reminded one of the way a man often makes a lewd comment casually at a woman. Levelling a charge against the “bhaipo (nephew)”, Modi lowered his voice and teased her again. “Didi, o Didi,” he called out her name, extenuating every syllable to make the fun last longer.
Modi would probably be happy to know that in Bengali this practice used to be called “comment mara” or “taunt kata”. Classically it was done by parar chyangra (neighbourhood boys, “useless” variety), on parar meye (neighbourhood girls), as an attempt by the boys to mark their territory. We live in the para, therefore we have the sole right to abuse our women.
A good example is the “twist” scene in the film Teen Bhubaner Paare (1969), in which revered actor Soumitra Chatterjee is actually doing “comment mara”, musically, to a very elegant and slightly bristling Tanuja.
Later, when the language became more mixed in this city, the “comment mara” evolved. Using a line from popular Hindi film songs was a common practice in any case, from Laila o Laila to Jumma chumma de de.
There could also be wolf whistles and catcalls (what is special about these animals?). It could get much worse, of course, when a woman’s body parts were named.
But Hindi or Bengali, slightly or highly lewd, a man harassing a woman would always use a certain tone, whether he was muttering under his breath, or throwing his voice: it showed he could say anything he wanted to the woman and was amused by the exercise.
So it was nice of Modi to use Bengali to address Didi. He was using the Bengali “comment mara” tradition to the hilt. “Didi, o Didi,” he said, and every time the crowd went crazy.
It does not matter of course that women constitute 49.01 per cent of the electorate in Bengal and that like Banerjee — she has repeated that the women of the state “ma bonera (mothers and sisters)” are her limbs, now that she has injured one leg — Modi is also appealing to women voters in the state. But respect for women is a separate speech.
“Didi o Didi” also reminded one of the Rajesh Khanna cry in Amar Prem: “Pushpa o Pushpa”, only inverted radically.
It is not a coincidence that we are thinking of film after film, because a great Indian cinematic tradition backs Modi’s performance. Men bully women and women submit — and this is called wooing. When the woman is not wooed — but she generally is, or used to be, till Dilwale Dulhaniya… at least — the audience is. The teaser is amused and amuses.
Not that Didi is a frightened teenager. She has her weapons — her voice, her ability to rhyme, her rock solid onomatopoeia, and her own performances on stage, with which she attacks Modi back straightaway. On Wednesday, she promptly branded him a “big liar”. Modi says she has also called him “a Ravana”, “a danava” and “a daitya”, a monster, that is. But she did not sound lecherous.
Modi and Didi are good at trading insults with each other. But a woman cannot often do to a man what he can to her.
So Big Boy Modi, Prime Minister Modi, came to Midnapore today and did a “comment mara” to a woman. To mark territory in Bengal.