Ramaiyya Vastavaiyya by Shailendra

The DUA collective presents a translation of Ramaiyya Vastavaiyya, a song from Raj Kapoor and Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’s movie Sree 420. DUA collective is studying the works of the Progressive Writers Association and how they brought the message of socialism, humanity, and peace to the Indian masses. Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, an artist, freedom fighter and avowed communist, was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who instilled in him a duty to struggle for the self-determination of the masses of people around the world. The lyricist of the song, Shailendra, is also known as the “people’s poet” who penned the words to songs from Guide, Mera Naam Joker, Awaara, Madhumati, and Teesri Kasam.

In the 1950s, the movement of progressive artists influenced the film industry greatly. Movies reflected the conditions of the masses in India–the problems they faced, their spiritual strivings and their heroic struggles. Bollywood was a medium to throw light on social and political issues of the time, and a channel for artists to celebrate the human struggle. Bollywood today is a parody of the brilliance that once animated the Indian film industry, and the issues this song addresses are rampant in society today.

The song is a criticism of the opulent and decadent culture of the rich, and the way that Western imperialism warps human beings into cynics and consumerists who forget their people and their history to earn riches and fame. The video from the movie shows Raj Kapoor in a party of the rich and influential, in a world different from the one he comes from. The pomp and show of the scene he beholds reveals to him the ugliness and vulgarity of these people. He runs away in disgust, afraid of the person he may be becoming. He runs till he hears the song from the slum where he once lived. He follows the music and is greeted there with warmth and love by people whose humanity he now knows is invaluable. Their song gives him solace, showing him the choice he must make to stand up for them, and dialectically, for himself.

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Ram, won’t you come?
I gave you my heart
Ram, won’t you come?

In your eyes was the light of love
There was not this worldliness in your gaze
You were different, your heart was different
In your soul there was not this gilded blade
If suffering comes my way, so what?
Today, if I regret, so what?
I gave you my heart
Ram, won’t you come?

In that land, that foreign land of yours
In exchange for gold and silver, hearts are sold
In this village, under the shade of pain
The heart aches only in the name of love
Under the moon and stars, the night keeps on singing the song
I gave you my heart
Ram, won’t you come?

I remembered again and again, and the memory saddened me
I didn’t know how to change my heart
So what if you don’t come, so what if you forget
We never learned how to love and forget
From where you are, from far away, say it some time
I gave you my heart
Ram, won’t you come?

The road is the same, the traveller is the same
But no one knows where the guiding star has disappeared to
The world is the same, human beings are the same
But no one knows the one whose world has been robbed
Stay in my eyes, who is the one who will tell you
I gave you my heart
Ram, won’t you come?

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In the first stanza after the chorus, the singer remarks how the hero has changed. She contrasts the cutthroat, materialist, soulless world of the rich with the with the humanity of the poor. She speaks of how the working masses see through the chimeras of the capitalist world – their hearts ache not for gold or silver, but for love.

In the second and third stanzas, the singer sings of loss and love. When she says “tere pardes mein”, or that foreign land of yours, she is saying that hero has adopted the ways of an alien people and abandoned his own land. The middle classes of India then and today embrace the lifestyle of the West and denigrate the deep civilizational history and traditions of peace and justice from which they come.

In the third stanza, the singer laments that even though the hero has forgotten her, she has never learned to love and throw people away. The love she is talking about could be interpreted as a personal love for the hero, or as the love of the people for each other and for humanity, which is antithetical to a consumerist value system.

In the fourth stanza, the author reflects on the state of the world today. We are all travellers on the same road, he says, but our purpose, our guiding star is lost. He is calling on us to reflect on the path that humanity is taking today- where are we going? He speaks of the nameless many, those whose lives have been robbed by imperialism. Those dark masses of the world who know, as James Baldwin did, ‘Nobody knows my name’. The author is calling on us to know the people, these nameless many, who must decide the future of humanity.

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