Bharat and Freedom: I sat out the national anthem twice. But I'm not an anti-national. Then why?

The fear of being accosted, beaten up or mobbed was so real. Yet I remained firmly seated.

 |  2-minute read |   07-06-2019
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It was the first-day first-show of Bharat, Salman Khan's latest offering. It was Eid. The theatre was packed — a rare sight for a 9 AM show. I wobbled in with my coffee and popcorn, manoeuvred my way to my seat amidst the sea of people — and missed the customary national anthem at the start of the film.

The movie started and Bhaijaan took over.

On screen, Salman was urging a hiring manager to select him and his friends — an odd bag of semi to unskilled labourers — for an oil mining job in the Middle East. They've failed the physical test. But Salman was undeterred. After a monologue about India's economic development and the role everyone should play in it, he takes a comical pause, only to break into the national anthem. His friends join in.

Something strange happened around me in the theatre at that moment.

Everyone stood up as Jana Gana Mana filled the air.

But I remained firmly seated — brushing stares from neighbours aside, looking over my shoulder to see just how many people were judging me — a tad scared I might just get beaten up.

I still stayed firmly seated.

I had read somewhere that standing up for the anthem in theatres was a matter of choice — and I had just exercised that choice.

Salman took over again and I forgot all about it.

Until I did it again.

This time, right before the start of the India vs West Indies World Cup match — office televisions were tuned in to the match, the sports desk ran helter-skelter to get their copies ready, and then it started, the customary national anthem of both the countries playing.

in_060719051832.jpgGet up! Stand Up! Stand up for your right — or do we need to keep sitting for the same? (Photo: Reuters)

Two of my colleagues, returning from the coffee corner stood midday, cups in hand, and started mouthing the lyrics. Another scurried out of his chair to stand up as if a delay meant disrespect.

Wait. Did I disrespect my country? Both times?

In school, the national anthem ended every morning assembly. In college, the national anthem was the morning bell — the last 'Jaya He' meant the start of class. Both times I stood up, sang, enunciated, and felt it deep, deep in my heart. Yet, here I was, sitting the national anthem out. Even against peer pressure.

Why?

I'm not anti-national. But I'm wired differently — as I'm sure is the case with many others — to do exactly the opposite of what I'm forced to do. It's called acting out.

Movie theatres and cricket matches are two places where citizen-nationalism breeds — seeing a man devote his life to the country in a patriotic film makes us want to do the same, a cricket match is almost like a war. If it's against Pakistan, it is war. If England, colonisation talk will make a comeback. It is where emotions can easily take the better of you — that's how powerful the medium is! Which is why it is difficult to act out at both these places, potentially dangerous even. As a colleague and friend pointed out, she "couldn't dare do such a thing" when she was in a movie theatre for example. 

Just look around you, how many forced 'Jai Shri Ram' chants have you read about so far? 

Yet, as I sit here, reflecting on the day that was, Salman's Bharat didn't seem to have affected me the way the 'sitting out' did.

For I had probably just put my life in danger — I could have very easily turned into a news headline for tomorrow! 

Wait. When did the national anthem go from being a thing to respect to a thing to fear?

Also read: What the Kathua rape victim’s letter to the Aligarh victim might have said

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