The Hangover of Demonetisation

Much to my delight, I was able to catch up with my old friend Neha Natalya Pandey last week. To my even greater delight, in this reunion, I was also able to meet Neha Natalya’s brother, Prof. Dr. Dr. Boris Bhartriraj Pandey, who over the course of dinner, explained to me the hidden significance of Yo Yo Honey Singh’s recent song, This Party is Over Now. Prof. Dr. Dr. Pandey insisted that his insight was trivial and not worth putting out to an academic audience. However, in view of the fact that nobody among the lay public has had the same insight, this represents a perhaps excessive level of modesty on his part. I was able to prevail upon him to quickly write up his observations on this song for a popular audience, and he agreed to let me carry it on my blog. I am, of course, indebted to Prof. Dr. Dr. Pandey for so raising the intellectual tone of this blog, and I trust that my readers will also be thrilled and enlightened after reading the below monograph.

The various civilizations of India that have co-existed over the centuries have always centred themselves around material fulfilment and the pursuit of pleasure. They stand in stark contrast to the Greco-capitalist tradition of austerity and self-denial; which has been expressed over the ages in various incarnations, including the Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius, the Protestant work ethic of Industrial Age Western Europe, and the brutal working hours of modern day USA. By contrast, Indic values emphasise community, feasting, and the fulfilment of desire. Although contact with Greco-capitalist societies such as Alexander and the Bactrians, or Scottish colonialists, has unfortunately led to Indic culture picking up strains of self-denying behaviour such as renunciation, monkhood, and entrance examinations; the fundamental character of Indian civilization has never changed; and the art of India has always reflected this.

The most recent manifestation of such art, is, of course, renowned musician Yo Yo Honey Singh. Mr Singh, as an artist, has hit the high notes of infusing art meant for the struggling masses, with educational messages that elevate it beyond both the meaningless drivel of folk music; and the elitist preoccupations of academic writing. With his exhortations, for example, to drink four bottles of vodka a day; Mr Singh subtly reminds us about the ancient connections between India and Russia, a subject upon which my father, the renowned scholar Dr Acharya Somuchidonanda Pandey has often written; while also grounding his work in the Indic tradition of pursuing pleasure for its own sake. At other points, Mr Singh’s work applauds young women for their efforts towards redistributive justice, specifically praising them for pursuing pleasure in Goa. Truly, Mr Singh has been an artist who brings back the ancient virtues of hedonism to a civilisation that too often forgets it in the face of an onslaught of Greco-capitalist values.

With this history, it is truly shocking to witness the direction Mr Singh’s latest work has taken. I refer to his recent song, This Party is Over Now:

What can explain this sudden rejection of wine and the pleasure principle after years of upholding it? Has Yo Yo Honey Singh succumbed to the pressure to conform to Greco-Capitalist values? A trivial reading would suggest so, but once the semiotics of the song are examined in greater detail, we realise that it is in fact a great work of resistance.

The song begins with a declaration that the party is over, and advises all listeners to sober up. Superficially, it appears to be a turning away from the old Indian values of feasting and community gathering. However, as we go further into the song, more comes to light. The very next verse speaks of finding your sanghi-saathis, or fellow sanghis, and going home with them. This is followed by a chorus of rapid fire Gujarati.

In the next segment of the song, Mr Singh declares that his party is for simple people, and that nobody present is either a gangster or a don. Once this is done, he further declares that anybody found excessively drunk will be fined five hundred rupees.

The denoument of the song takes place in the next bridge, where Mr Singh repeatedly calls out to his friends, but uses the word ‘mitron’ to do this. With this, we finally understand why Mr Singh has taken this turn – he has moved from simply expressing support for traditional Indic values, to actively protesting an assault upon them.

From my description above, I hope that readers and listeners will now see what to focus upon: Mr Singh has addressed the song to all those who were intoxicated with the NDA government in India. In May 2014, the joy of a majority government led to BJP supporters partying in joy; but since then, their expectations have been so repeatedly missed that Mr Singh advises them to sober up and go home. It is clear from the advice to find fellow sanghis that Mr Singh is addressing BJP members and supporters in particular, and not the public at large. Moreover, the invocation of the five hundred rupee fine is perhaps a needlessly cruel reminder of the pain felt by everybody, BJP supporter or not, during the November 2016 demonetisation. And to leave no doubt that it is indeed the Narendra Modi government that is the subject of the song, Mr Singh repeatedly uses Mr Modi’s catchphrase ‘Mitron’ in the bridge of the song.

The shock announcement of demonetisation meant that Indians were prevented from carrying out the actions closest to Indic values: feasting, partying, and throwing lavish weddings. Countless families were forced into the austere and self-limiting behaviour that is characteristic of Greco-capitalism and the decadent west, and had to act against their deeply held beliefs and values. What choice did Yo Yo Honey Singh have but to address this atrocity in the way he knew best?

When Mr Singh talks about the party being over, it is not to suggest that he wishes the party to end, but savage commentary on how demonetisation ended parties for millions of Indians. Far from being a mere ‘item song’, This Party is Over Now is in fact a protest song; and Yo Yo Honey Singh has joined the pantheon of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and other notable artists who turned their music into a weapon against Greco-capitalism.

The author of the above monograph, Professor Doctor Doctor Boris Bhartriraj Pandey, is the former Chair Professor of Semiotics in Popular Culture in the Department of Politics at the Universita degli Studi di Parma. Prof Dr Dr Pandey is now a scholar at large, and a consulting fellow for the Bundesrepublik Lautmusik und Alkohol Unternehmen. In view of his association with the above institute, I regret that the EU-GDPR constrains me from providing his email address. However, Prof Dr Dr Pandey will attempt to respond to all comments received on this post.

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