A couple of years ago I happened to notice a handbill with a picture of Bob Marley on it stuck to a wall on a street. The words on the notice were in Malayalam, and so didn’t convey anything to me. I wondered briefly about Bob Marley’s Cochin connection and then dismissed the matter from my mind.
Subsequently, I learned that, unlikely as it may sound, a two-day festival in memory of Bob Marley is held every year in Fort Kochi, the famous tourist hub that lies to the west of Cochin across the bay. So when I began seeing Bob Marley handbills stuck on the walls of buildings a couple of months ago (see the pic above), I knew the festival was back. This time there was a brief news item in the Engagements section of the newspaper:
On the last day of the two-day event, May 11, a Sunday, I took the boat to Fort Kochi in the evening, hoping to listen to some of Marley’s songs. An auto took me to the venue, and this is the sight that greeted me (see pic below).
They were not playing Bob Marley songs, but the audience was lapping up the catchy Malayalam numbers. I took a seat and bided my time. Bob Marley was present on the stage backdrop.
Bob Marley was also on the T-shirt of this drummer.
And Bob Marley was present on the posters lining the venue.
The program today seemed to feature local talent and old Malayalam songs. This man belted out a lively number. The instrumental backup team was in fine fettle.
Some stood up and sang, while others sat, like this singer, who crooned an old melody.
Perhaps because it was old songs that were being sung, it was the elderly spectators who were the most enthused. Take this man, for instance. He looks unprepossessing. But from time to time, he would start shaking his head and moving his shoulders in time to the music.
Then in one smooth motion, he would suddenly let fly with a kick and a blood-curdling, full-throated yell.
Another elderly eccentric with dreadlocks chipped in with his mouth organ.
There was a rapt audience, and everywhere were Bob Marley posters.
This was the pick of the posters. It has a restrained psychedelic charm.
A black-and-white creation. I wish I knew who Janaki is.
This man spoke for a few minutes, a kind of political speech tearing into the big corporations.
And we have a poet here, whose frankness must be admired. He began writing a poem, he said, and was making steady progress, when suddenly — the poem slipped through his fingers and ran away from him! Still, he presented his aborted creation, for what it was worth.
The Left is a strong force in Kerala, and Che Guevara is often seen on the posters of the left parties. He is viewed as the archetypical revolutionary. It looks as though Bob Marley is occupying the same space, as a symbol of the struggle against injustice. This event had a distinct leftist flavor, with the inauguration by the well-known Maoist spokesman, writer, poet, and academic (I’ve seen him often on TV defending the Maoists), Varavara Rao.
However, it appears that there are those in Kerala who look at Bob Marley with grave suspicion, because of his association with pot. He has been accused of corrupting Kerala’s youth from the grave with his music, by encouraging them to use pot. Even a Bob Marley T-shirt is viewed as drug paraphernalia! And it is the Kerala Police that is spearheading the drive against Bob Marley.
There is universal acknowledgment that the War On Drugs has been a colossal failure. Uruguay has completely legalized pot, from growing to consumption; other countries have not gone as far as that, but many, from the US to Portugal, have liberalized draconian laws. Far from being a lethal drug, pot is a relatively benign intoxicant, even in comparison with alcohol. When will India learn? Not for a century at least.
I may as well say that I didn’t get a whiff of pot the entire time I was at the fest. And, no, I didn’t see the police there either. I doubt if any of them — from the performers to the speakers to the poets to the attendees — were pot users. They had appropriated Bob Marley’s legacy of music and protest and wisely, perhaps in deference to the public mood here, or perhaps because it didn’t interest them at all, left his pot legacy alone.
I leave you with a few videos of previous events that I found on the Net:
I like the part in Meena Kandasamy’s talk where she says that her father, exasperated by her rebellious ways, used to tell her that she would be punished by being given a son like Bob Marley, a good-for-nothing drifter with weird hair. Then she would understand the meaning of parental agony. 🙂