ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Judge Not...

Earlier this week I was startled to come across the following report in Open Magazine (http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/real-india/kerala-police-versus-b...):

Bob Marley, the king of reggae, has risen from his grave in Jamaica to become a headache for the Kerala police. In cities across the state, the police are on a drive against the use of marijuana among youngsters and Marley suddenly finds himself the prime suspect for sending these wayward youngsters tripping on grass. The police are dutifully confiscating T-shirts, key chains, bracelets and stickers with Marley’s pictures. Some of these policemen actually believe that Marley was a gang leader of an international drug mafia headquartered in Jamaica.

“We have caught around 200 students for using ganja. Most of them had Bob Marley songs on their cellphones, and stickers of marijuana leaves on their bikes. These children are attracted to drugs by Bob Marley songs,” says a straight-faced NG Suhruth Kumar, a civil police officer who is heading the mission in Thrissur to ‘free’ teenagers of drugs. In Thrissur and Thiruvananthapuram, the police have raided shops that sell Bob Marley T-shirts, bracelets and key chains. Cases have been registered against the shopkeepers under Section 3 (1) Young Persons (Harmful Publication) Act 1956 for promoting material that is ‘harmful’ to youngsters.

Wondering whether to cry or laugh I promptly tweeted and facebooked the link to it. Based as I am in Kingston, Jamaica, most of my friends responded in puzzlement—Hadn’t ganja/Marijuana  been brought to Jamaica by the indentured labourers from India who came here more than a century ago, they asked. Why were Indians now behaving as if it were the other way around and the troublesome weed had originated in Jamaica?

Most mortifying for me was the fact that it wasn’t the Kashmir Police, the Bihar Police or the Andhra police who were making such asses of themselves. It was the Police from God’s own country—and mine—declaring war on God’s own ganjavu, as it’s known in Malayalam. In fact some of the best herb in India is grown in the aromatic hills of Kerala. But as Bob Marley sang, “In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty…”

By far the most preposterous of all was the Police’s belief that the globally revered Marley was “a gang leader of an international drug mafia headquartered in Jamaica.” You almost have to wonder what the goodly Police folk of Kerala have been smoking!

The only good thing about this comedy of errors is that it reminded me of an interview I’d done with Rahul Bhattacharya a couple of years ago when he was in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, at their Bocas Literary Festival. One of the coolest surprises in his highly acclaimed novel, The Sly Company of People Who Care, was his love affair with Jamaican music manifested at regular intervals in his book. But let me quote directly from the interview so you can see how prescient my questioning was all the way back in 2012. Indeed I seem to have been channeling the Kerala Police themselves! Perhaps Rahul’s genius for cross-cultural translation might be of use to them. At any rate I hope it will inspire them to employ a little more imagination in their detective work.

AP: Now the other thing that is very impressive is your extensive knowledge and familiarity with Jamaican music. I love the part where you say, “Reggae songs are like bhajans for an Ethiopian King.” I think you were explaining it to somebody else. That's fantastic!

RB: I haven't actually used that in life but that's the only way... I thought that if I was to explain Bob Marley to a bewildered man from India, what's this Jah talk and who is Jah and what's going on here, See the impulse would be to think that reggae music is, basically very decadent, but it also has this sort of deep devotional quality and I think that  is what a middle-aged Indian typically...

AP: Could relate to.

RB: ...would understand.

AP: No, that's great!

RB: So the character which is in the book is somebody like that, has come from India and is completely bewildered at the start of the book. And so when I was writing, I tell you that if a character like this was to understand what Reggae was…

AP: That's just a stroke of brilliance. But you have this, you know, intense relationship with the music, when did that develop?

RB: I think probably, you know what, I just met Justine Henzell a couple of days ago, and I was delighted to meet her because I think it was probably...

AP: Her father's film, The Harder They Come...

RB: The soundtrack to her father's film probably introduced me to reggae in a proper way. I saw the film maybe five years later which was fortuitously playing in the city I was in, and I was so delighted to be able to see the movie at long last because I knew that music pretty well by then already. So this would have been in the early 2000's when I... I mean, of course, I would've heard the odd reggae song and I would've heard Shaggy and things... Shaggy, who I think is actually pretty cool.

AP: He is cool.

RB: Yeah. Because people think, you know, Shaggy is just like, Shaggy is just pop, but I think, Shaggy... he has some big songs, big grooves?

AP: Yeah, yeah, he does.

RB: So that was the album which really sort of opened up reggae for me, that soundtrack, and there's lots in here:  I love the groove, I love the bass lines, I love the melodies, I love the repetitiveness of those rhythms. They're very sophisticated, I found, as well, for songs which are basically pop songs, the arrangements and, you know, when an instrument comes in and when it goes out, very sophisticated, and it’s so much about daily concerns and the lives of people in a way, I thought, which is…like this is the music of the people and its proper.

AP: It is.

RB: And so I found that very... inspirational, I want to say, but that comes at a later stage. Initially, you're just... with reggae, when you feel the hook of reggae, you just feel the hook, you know, you just feel the bass line and its... or you feel the horn sections when those existed.

AP: Did you smoke by the way?

RB: Ganja?

AP: Yeah.

RB: Well, I smoked a little bit in college, and I smoked... I wasn't a big smoker...

AP: You weren't smoking and listening to the music, necessarily?

RB: No, not really. I didn't... No, I didn't have to get into that, sort of, well, ganja and reggae kind of zone.

See it there Kerala Police?? It’s possible to appreciate Reggae without smoking the holy weed. And think of Bob Marley as a kind of Jamaican yogi, whose Bhakti was expressed through his music. He was no gang leader of an international drug Mafia, you’re confusing him with ‘Dudus’ or Christopher Coke, who is now languishing in a US prison cell. May I recommend that the entire force take a puff or two of the wisdom weed before devising any further anti-Marley strategies? 

About Author

<p>Annie Paul (anniepaulish@yahoo.com) born in Tiruvalla, Kerala, is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies, Mona. &nbsp;Paul is author of the blog Active Voice (anniepaul.net). You can follow her on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/anniepaul">@anniepaul</a>.</p>
Back to Top