Verses of love- a gendered discovery, exploration and adoration of the body.
I assume all of us have these ‘dimag ki batti jali’ eureka moments in the middle of things. As a result, nothing changes outside of us but inside we untie a knot. It’s that ‘oh! I see! That’s why…’ strand of thoughts which feels like a discovery for the first 3 seconds and then turns out that you just took notice of something that’s been there forever.
A fortnight back, my husband, Yeashu made me hear a fresh production from our music studio. It’s a cover, John Mayer’s Your body is a wonderland.
(Disclaimer: The post will make sense if one has heard the song before. Original or cover, doesn’t matter.)
Shashank’s voice has done justice to the lyrics, in my opinion. He hasn’t tried too hard to make it sound like the ultimate cover. The vocals float lightly and dis-cover the poetry. Ultimately the lyrics lay bare open and take prominence here.
So, while I had the headphone on and the song reached the chorus (your body is a wonderland, your body is a wonderland) something struck me really hard and now comes the ‘dimag ki batti jali’ moment- most lyricists are men. And, this has been an unspoken norm. Hasn’t it? Most of our collective favourites are male lyricists (try now. name some) – more so in the Indian music/poetry space which includes Bollywood. I actually can’t think of ‘oft quoted’ lyricists who happened to be women.
In this song, a man is addressing his lady-love whose body, according to him, is a wonderland with a range of possibilities to experience as he progresses with his discovery of the wonderland. There is one thing that he is left to do, he says, “discover me discovering you“. The same time at which I fell in love with the ‘wonderland’ metaphor I heard an echo asking myself- How is this song any different from a canon of uncountable songs full of endless metaphors and similes for the girl’s eyes, hair, lips and body? While the rest of this song talks about the same things- the hair, the lips, the skin etc., yet, the one thing that makes it stand out is the absolutely direct tone in a contrasting soft voice. Most songs of this family beat around with part similes, usually missing the heart of the deal. This one does all that and much more. If one takes away that one phrase from this song, for me, it will be just the same as all the others in the canon of love songs. That differentiating phrase is the refrain, your body is a wonderland.
All this and I still wondered why we have only men as memorable lyricists. Is it not so much to wonder as it is to come to terms with? Imagine this song, in a woman’s voice. Women, now think what would you say in place of ‘candy lips’ or ‘bubblegum tongue’. Would it make for an intense love song, a classic and a favourite? Interestingly, no, though, I would be happier to be wrong.
I am not at all trying to judge gender roles here. It’s funny how it never occurred to me before- people’s favourite love song lyricists are men, even today. Also, think about the ‘Ghazal’ and ‘Thumri’ forms. To the max, there is a female poetic voice, yearning for the man-love or wooing him but it seldom goes into discovering the body and even if it does, remember it may have been penned by a man.
The next thing I wonder is, does this unspoken boundary, limit any women from writing poetry of adoration for their man-love? I’m not referring to subversive poetry and the point is not to exemplify the handful of women poets known to the Indian audience. Could it be that a female singer dumped a rich metaphorical love song that she wrote, fearing the response of the listeners? Would it be accepted as ‘normal’ and actually make for a ‘romantic’ song?
After I post this, it will be time for me to listen to the original version which I have never heard- John Mayer’s Your body is a wonderland. I hope to be mesmerised once again.