Guest post by PRABHAT KUMAR
Hanuman in the Enemy Land
What did our Ram-bhakt Hanuman do in Lanka, the land of his master’s enemy when he went there in the golden past? Everybody knows. What will Hanuman do, if today he is sent to Pakistan? Lankan voyage of Hanuman then, and cinematic expedition of his modern counterparts now (Sunny Deols of Border, The Hero, Ghadar, etc.), leave no room for imagination. Pakistan – the enemy land of India’s nationalist imagination – must be taught a lesson, as Rashtra-bhakt TV news anchors keep shouting from behind fire and embers on the screen.
We have seen on almost daily basis the bhakts, posing variously as Rashtra-bhakt or Ram-bhakt or lately as NaMo-bhakt. Bhakts, who persistently wish to annihilate the enemy land in TV studios, social media, or movie theatres. However, what a latest Hindi film Bajrangi Bhaijan shows is an unusual, or should I say, an abnormal bhakt. A bhakt, who does not want to destroy Pakistan! Lo and behold, he is a Hanuman-bhakt! He is called Bajrangi-Bhaijaan (Salman Khan). For, the word Bajrangi is a synonym of Hanuman, the ubiquitous monkey-god. He is bhaijaan because he is unable to lose his affection for a cute little girl even after knowing that she is a Muslim and, more than that, a Pakistani!
Bajrangi Bhaijaan: A Lovable Fool?
Bajrangi-Bhaijan is not a normal guy with brains. He is ‘abnormal’ who thinks from his heart. A person, who does not have adequate hatred for Pakistan can hardly be normal anyway! He is, therefore, at best a lovable fool, who cannot understand the ‘rational’ animosity of two nation-states: India and Pakistan. He is a simpleton, who does not know the merit of speaking lie and hence only speaks truth to power – the armed officials of the state. He is almost like a lunatic (Toba Tek Singh?) who is unable to fathom the naturalised abhorrence and distrust of the two states and their military apparatuses patrolling and shelling at the national borders. His desire to help a voiceless citizen-child of the enemy nation is simply impractical and foolish, if not irrational. His entire persona (his way of thinking or the lack of it, his (mis)deeds and self-less service to a helpless little girl, albeit belonging to the land of the devil) is of an emotional fool, who is nonetheless lovable. He is lovable because he is not shy of venturing for the sake of pure love and benevolence, unmindful of the ‘complexities’ of the real world. He is ready to bear all the risks in order to help the helpless, just like the lord Hanuman is known for by his devotees.
From Bhakt to Bhaijaan
Bajrangi’s penchant to help the helpless and his long arduous journey to unknown destination in the territory of the Other (Pakistan) transforms him from an ordinary bhakt into the bhaijaan: from an ordinary Hindu/Indian citizen to beloved elder brother, if not a big brother (of the Pakistanis). Bajrangi has been an ordinary caste(ist) Hindu believer (Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi) with all his inherited social prejudices – his father was an RSS pracharak, for whom Muslim and Islam are the despised other and their presence is even polluting. The fair-skinned people who eat non-vegetarian food are either impure Muslims or those belonging to some Hindu martial caste! However, the circumstantial confrontation and gradual acquaintance with a little other (a mute Pakistani abandoned girl child lost in India) and the consequent travel across the ghetto of his own cultural world and national boundary (to restore the girl to her family and nation), transforms the prejudiced bhakt of Hindu nationalism. He loses the fear of the hitherto unknown other, Islam as well as Pakistan.
At the end of this journey Bajrangi becomes bhaijaan, beloved brother of the Pakistanis. For, he is an Indian,who infiltrates Pakistan not because he is an agent of RAW as the Pakistani nation-state and its establishment would like their citizens to believe. This Indian in Pakistan is a saviour of aam Pakistanis, a lost child and her poor engrieved family. The Indian is, in fact, a protective elder brother. He is given the epithet bhaijaan by the Pakistanis.
India that is Bhaijaan
Not surprisingly, the little Pakistani national regains her voice in the end of the film to call him mama – the brother of her mother. In effect, she voices the feeling of aam pakistanis, the Indian intruder is no less than the much misunderstood revered brother of her motherland. Bhaijaan crosses the LoC and reaches Indian side with the help of aam Pakistanis – a news-hungry journalist, a kind hearted maulana, and a few good men in uniform. Bajrangi’s demeanour is conspicuously different at the end of his journey, he does salaam and aadaab in addition to jai shri Ram. In the final scene Bhaijaan looms large on the screen as if Gandhi on the frontier draped in a coarse blanket, holding a long stick and people on either side of the national fence watching him with reverence and awe. The transformation of a bhakt, thus, is figuratively completed. So is reaffirmed the seniority (and by implication maturity and superiority) of India in relation to Pakistan, needless to say, in the cinematic self-perception.
Prabhat Kumar is Assistant Professor of History at Presidency University, Kolkata. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org