Last week as they were burning down an effigy of Ravana in my neighbourhood, I was wondering about this man who is seen as the embodiment of evil in much of India, even if he is worshipped in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and in several other places, including by many here in India itself. A particular trait of this giant made me connect dots with John Lennon, the leader of The Beatles, the English music band that rocked the world and changed it forever in the 1960s. That would be arrogance. A tragic flaw common to both musicians, not forgetting that apart from being a scholar and an able king, Ravana was an ace veena player.
Two heads are not always better than one
“Two heads are better than one” is a proverb we learnt early in life. But is that always the case? Even if the two heads are sick? In that case, by an extension of thought, Ravana, who had 10 heads, should have been 10 times smarter than anyone with one head. But Rama outsmarted and eliminated him. A body of thought also believes scores of curses killed Ravana, and it was he who invited death upon himself. That could be because of his famous arrogance, which had ticked so many people off. Think of this song from Insaniyat (1955), with the 10-headed giant strutting about, singing these lines:
Main Ravana Lanka Naresh
Mere dus hain sees
Mere bus mein dharti aur paataal
Hai chaho dhaam mera hi naam
Meri takkar le kiski majaal
(Manna Dey, Rafi/Rajinder Krishan/C Ramchandra)
“I am Jesus Christ”
Many music aficionados know that The Beatles are the highest selling artists in the history of music. Their singles, albums and music videos have sold more than anyone else’s. While estimates vary, the number of Beatles records, CDs and digital downloads bought range anywhere between 300 and 600 million units. Whew!
For people who were around in the 1960s, the Beatles were everywhere, and so was their music. The hysteria that accompanied them during that decade can hardly be imagined by those that didn’t live in those times. With so much uncontrolled excitement around them, they were mobbed everywhere they went. The smallest twitch of their eyes became sensational news. It is no wonder then that they started getting feelings of megalomania. Particularly infected was John Lennon, let’s see that now.
Fifty years ago, in 1968, Lennon called his teammates for a breaking news kind of announcement. With gravitas, he told them, “I have something very important to tell you. I am Jesus Christ. I am back again”. He proceeded to tell his small audience that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. The other members looked at each other. They had heard such hubris from him before, and they would hear it from him in the coming years again. But on those occasions he would be talking to the Press. This was more intimate. They asked for a break. After the break, Lennon did not mention the subject.
John Lennon had first made such waves in an interview in early 1966. “We are more popular than Jesus” he had said, arguing that rock music was here to stay, even as Christianity was in terminal decline. Later, in his 1970 song, God, here are parts of what he sang: ”I don’t believe in Bible…I don’t believe in Jesus…I just believe in me”. Somebody shot John Lennon dead in 1980.
History has taught us many cases of arrogance, which has rarely gone unpunished. Julius Caesar was assassinated in March 44BC, and Adolf Hitler committed suicide in April 1945, only because his arrest, trial and punishment were imminent. Poetry has offered examples as well. Shelley wrote a sonnet called Ozymandias, the name of an arrogant king:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
But now the arrogant man’s statue was dismembered and found in a desert somewhere.
Cinema is not far behind, not at all. In the opening scenes of BR Chopra’s film Waqt (1965), Balraj Sahni was a dry-fruits businessman high on arrogance, since apart from his own arms, he now had three sons who would take the commerce forward. But presently a huge earthquake visited them, and in a matter of minutes, he was brought down to zilch, his sons separated from each other and the parents.
That is why Shakeel, advising against excessive egotism while pitching for humility, wrote this:
Laakhon yahaan shaan apni dikhaate hue aaye
Dum bhar ke liye naach gaye dhoop mein saaye
Wo bhool gaye the ke ye duniya hai saraaye
Aata hai koi subah to jaata hai koi shaam
(Rafi/Naushad/Baiju Bawra, 1952)
To guard against punishment is why so many songs tell us to be modest, dump that arrogance. Maghroor na ho apne muqaddar pe o naadaan, Allah ki nazron mein baraabar hain sab insaan (Rafi/Asad Bhopali/Chitragupt/Insaaf, 1956) is one of them. Maati ke putle itna na kar tu gumaan is another. It is from Sheroo (1957), the crew being Kaif Irfani/Rafi/Madan Mohan. That is why we have poetry such as Aasmaan pe udne waale mitti mein mil jaayega, Qasmen waade pyaar wafa sab baaten hain baaton ka kya (Indeevar/Manna Dey/Kalyanji-Anandji/Upkar, 1967).
Arrogance is different from vanity. In the latter, the focus is on one’s looks and appearance. These songs would fit the bill of vanity: Main bahaaron ki natkhat raani, saari duniya hai mujhpe deewaani (Asha/Hasrat/Shankar-Jaikishan/Boot Polish, 1953), Mujhe dekh chaand sharmaaye ghata tham jaaye, main nikloon to kahe haaye zamaana kahe haaye (Lata/Indeevar/Kalyanji-Anandji/Samrat Chandragupta, 1958) and Nazar bacha ke chale gaye wo warna ghaayal kar deta (Rafi/Hasrat/Shankar-Jaikishan/Dil Tera Deewana, 1962). The focus is on looks. In arrogance, it’s about power and influence in a non-cosmetic way.
Here are some songs that take us on the road of arrogance, in the opening lines themselves: Hum hain to chaand aur taare, jahaan ke ye rangeen nazaare (Mukesh, chorus/Hasrat/Shankar-Jaikishan/Main Nashe Mein Hoon, 1959), Main hoon mast madaari, bina teer dil ghaayal kar doon aisa main hoon shikaari (Mukesh, Lata/Pt Madhur/Kalyanji-Anandji/Madari, 1959), Hum jab chalen to ye jahaan jhoome (Rafi, chorus/Sahir/Usha Khanna/Hum Hindustani, 1960), Hai aag hamaare seene mein hum aag se khelte jaate hai, Takraate hain jo is taaqat se wo mitti mein mil jaate hain (Geeta, Mahendra, Mukesh, Lata, Manna Dey/Shailendra/Shankar-Jaikishan/Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, 1960), Haseenon ke jalwe pareshaan rehte agar hum na hote (Manna Dey, Sudha, Asha, Rafi/Sahir/Roshan/Babar, 1960), Jab tak hum hain, hum hi hum hain, Koi naheen duniya mein apne siwa (Rafi/Shakeel/Ravi/Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya, 1963), Aji hum se bach ke kahaan jaiyega, jahaan jaiyega humen paaiyega (Rafi/Hasrat/Shankar-Jaikishan/Arzoo, 1965).
All that lasers in on the fact that if arrogant people put a little culture into their lives, they wouldn’t end up as they often do. Reading about Julius Caesar and Ozymandias can tell us where not to go. Listening to messages in songs is a wonderful way to learn to behave with justifiable pride that keeps some distance from arrogance. Sadly though, such people are so much into themselves, they have no time for appreciating literature or music. They end up the poorer for it.
Originally published on 28 October 2018 in DNA Jaipur page 13 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-10-28#
Featured image: from Hai aag hamaare seene mein