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Love rapping in times of hysteria

Updated 18 Apr, 2019 03:27pm

Humsaye Maa Jaye receives mixed reactions from both sides of the border.

Amidst the media-fuelled war-and-hate frenzy that has seen escalating tensions between Pakistan and India, actors Bushra Ansari and Asma Abbas released a rap song to spread a message of love and peace. The creative powerhouse of talent behind this contribution to the de-escalation process is Ansari and Abbas’ elder sister, poet Neelam Ahmed Bashir who penned the verses. Bashir’s lyrics are a reminder of how the simplest of words and analogies can be used to convey ideas powerfully.

With Humsaye Maa Jaye (Children of the Same Soil), Bashir communicates her message of peace and harmony through the parallel and strikingly similar realities of two ordinary village women who live on either side of the border. This peace offering by a well-known family of Pakistani artistes could not have come at a better time, just as India and Pakistan have been pulled back from the brink of war and sit amidst a fragile and uneasy calm.

Rather fittingly, the two women sing their song of peace, love and tolerance in Punjabi, the language of a province that is divided by the border of the two countries and which was the scene of unspeakable atrocities during Partition. The choice of rap as musical style also works for the video, as the form has recently become popular post the release of Bollywood film Gully Boy, about the life of a Mumbai rap artist. Incidentally, Gully Boy was one of the last Bollywood films to be pulled from the cinema screens in Pakistan, as a result of the dramatically deteriorating relationship Pakistan and India.

The video is shot simply in one room and depicts two women sitting in their respective kitchens, divided by a wall topped with crushed glass, which represents the border between the two countries. The metaphors are simple yet effective, easy for everyone to understand. Both women speak the same language, and understand each other’s food and culture. They refer to each other as gwandne (neighbour) and sing about their concerns regarding the escalating tensions between their countries and their inability to carry out neighbourly gestures, such as sending each other food. The lyricist uses the platform to draw attention to the problems that plague both countries, including food scarcity and illiteracy. The two women dream and sing about an ideal vision of a world without nuclear bombs while exchanging chunnis (dupattas), in a traditional ritual of friendship. The village kitchen with a wall becomes a symbol of the love and the hate that complicates the relationship between Pakistan and India.

The peace rap struck a chord as soon as it was released on Youtube on April 3, 2019 and quickly went viral with mounting (escalating?) views on both sides of the border. Reports in the Indian media say that the video has been widely shared in Indian Punjab. Humsaye Maa Jaye also marks the launch of Ansari’s YouTube channel. The video quickly spawned reaction videos, especially from across the border, which were generally positive. The project, which was shot in a quick three-day spell, has largely been received as a welcome breath of fresh air in an environment that continues to be fuelled by uncontrolled rumours and warmongering by politicians and the media – and exacerbated by the run-up to the Indian election. On the other hand some trolls did wonder why, if we are so similar, did Muslims demand another nation and why are we now singing about our similarities.

In the meantime, the video continues to gain traction on the internet, as it circulates back and forth via across social media carrying its message of love.

Shahrezad Samiuddin is a pop culture junkie and an aspiring screenwriter.