The Union Human Resources Development Minister, Arjun Singh is in news again. And this time, the reference is not to the Cabinet decision to move the Bill to set apart seats in higher education institutions for the Other Backward Classes. I am referring now to the debate on an order from the HRD Ministry that vande mataram will be sung in schools across the country on September 7, 2006.
Now, I love the song and enjoy listening to it every morning. I recall having enjoyed this since my childhood and that was a time when the radio was perhaps the only means of communication. I recall the days waking up from sleep to a rendition of this song rendered in raga ``desh’’ and the tune is set in my mind. So much so, when A.R.Rahman was commission by the Government to render the song in a different tune, I was among those who felt angry.
And my anger only increased when Rahman explained that he wanted to ``popularise’’ that song, once a battle cry for freedom from the British, among a new generation. I was sceptical that this was no way to popularise the song. Let me clarify here that I also love rock music and do listen to pop as well. The issue was that vande mataram represented an ethos and in an era where that ethos was being decimated, the song was also bound to vanish from popular memory.
In other words, in an era where the ethos of selfless sacrifice and the ideals of the freedom movement are giving way to concerns of self preservation and material accomplishments, there is no way in which a powerful slogan or a symbol of the freedom movement can be preserved as part of the popular culture. And vande mataram is no exception to this larger rule!
If this needed any proof, it is there for all of us to see. A.R.Rahman’s rendition of vande mataram turned popular among the college and school students during the couple of months after the 50th anniversary celebration of independence in 1997. It will not be an exaggeration to say that it is no longer heard of anywhere now.
Arjun Singh’s initiative or enthusiasm now to ensure that the spirit of the glorious days of the freedom struggle is recreated on September 7, 2006 by asking students in schools across the country sing that song is, in that sense, nothing but a manifestation of this ``teflon’’ patriotism. It is synthetic and hence not going to infuse any sense of love to the nation and its people!
While saying all this, let me make it clear that I continue to love that song and after reading history books and thus come to know what vande mataram meant to a generation of patriots, I now listen to that song with a sense of political responsibility and not just in the aesthetic sense. The tune in which the song is played, everyday, on the All India Radio is also appealing to me in the aesthetic sense.
Meanwhile, it is sad that every time vande mataram is discussed, we find the clergy among the Muslim community making it a point of dispute. It is time that the clergy is
told by the men and women from that community as well as those
committed to pluralist and democratic values that there is nothing wrong with singing a song that was once the battle cry of those who fought for our freedom.
And those who do not know the history of this song, let me recommend a book. An eminent economic historian, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, wrote a book which he called ``The Biography of a Song’’ tracing all the stages it went through; that it was popularised by the sadhus in the Anand Mutt, that it became the battle cry, the debate in 1930 over some of its stanzas and the evolution of this into the national song.
The writer had dedicated this book to his grandchild with hopes that it will be read after a few years. Well, it is important that the youth of today reads this book as well. And that may lead to a situation when a large number of people listen to vande mataram in raag ``desh’’ and also reinvent the ethos with which the song evolved into a battle cry and decide to participate in the war against poverty, inequality and oppression. This will make sense rather than a symbolic rendering of the song on November 7, 2006!