What kind of respect should we give our national anthem?

Simply singing in chorus doesn't generate the feeling of being part of a collective.

 |  6-minute read |   04-12-2016
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I'm sure we all remember the first thing we were supposed to do during our school days. Standing quietly in parallel rows for the national anthem was the start of a day laced by lofty morals. Having a taste of your dabba during the anthem, munching on an irresistible chocolate away from the gaze of your teachers and making fun of your friends about the way they used to sing often pronouncing certain words the wrong way are some of our memories of the national anthem.

Were we being disrespectful to the anthem? Remember kneeling down in front of all your friends for your naughtiness? It wasn't an embarrassing moment. At the same time, you had a sense of ownership and pride in defying the rules and regulations. Respect for the anthem? Why should I when I have other fun things to do at that moment? We all were informed no better.

To think about it retrospectively, many words in the anthem are still difficult to comprehend. I mean, who is this “adhinayak” that we are talking about in the first line itself? Why is the word “Sindh” still there in the second line which is no more a part of India? One more issue for the hardliners to include in the updated list of sedition?

Also, it is not simply things that don't make sense instantly. Jokes about where is “Tendulkar” after hearing “Dravid Utkal Banga” are too popular to emphasise them over here. If we see it this way, the national anthem in school didn't make sense as we weren't told why we were supposed to stand and sing it in the first place.

Simply singing in chorus doesn't generate the feeling of being part of a collective. School days are a classic reminder of that. The zealous patriots are overjoyed over the recent Supreme Court decision to make the national anthem in cinema halls compulsory.

In Maharashtra, the compulsion was always there because of the open threat by local parties. What is more important for them - nativism or national patriotism? I think by invoking this, I'm moving into seditious territory. The same people also have micro problems with the way the anthem is played in theatres.

Calls for bans on longer versions of the anthem because of some musical mix comes as a despicable attitude. If you have seen the Indian Army video in Siachen, you know what I mean. That one goes well beyond the 52-second mark. Are the soldiers anti-national in this case who agreed to be part of the video? I think I should control myself. But I can't stop thinking. 

Be honest with yourselves. What do we exactly do when we stand up for the anthem in theatres? People at the back rows are more interested in checking out people in the front seats. Some are busy in making sure they look good while standing up. Don't say that it's dark and nobody is going to see you. It's a reflective action!

tagore-embed_120416070006.jpg Rabindranath Tagore is one unhappy man in his grave. Nationalism for him was almost a sin. (Photo: India Today)

Unlike paying obeisance to the anthem, it's innate to our consumerist logic. Some have a weird habit of realising how big the theatre is by constantly looking at what's around them. An urgent call or a WhatsApp notification during the anthem? Only going to the loo can be more urgent than that.

Lastly, you also have people rudely looking at you after the anthem is over if you stood up without singing it. So much for being a sonorous patriot! 

Of course, the Supreme Court has limited the respect quotient to merely standing and not including singing in it. Respite for all those whose vocal cords have always failed them. But what if the person who is standing up in great admiration for the anthem is in effect a perfect rascal, a thug, a petty criminal whose sole job in life has been to deceive people into a manufactured innocence?

We have people making a ruckus over a temporary technical snag during the film. Unimaginable consequences will await if something happens during the anthem. For people who have come to the cinema halls for relaxation, to beat the scorching heat outside or an amorous couple who want some time together, the constant lurking of mobocracy around you keeps you in a deeply unnerving situation all the time. You thought theatres are not part of the fanatic “public”? Think again. 

Even before the decision, I have had experiences where some people have literally gone to the management asking them to play the anthem in case they forgot to do so. It's a daily ritual that people do before being part of something that makes no bones about being hyper-commercial. A coerced patriotic duty before watching a full on masala movie with invectives hurled in every second dialogue?

That's fine. We just need to show respect before we do anything in life. In fact, by disconnecting the two, we make the standing for the anthem a one-off affair. The delinking of standing up and the multiple roles and meanings it can have in our day-to-day public life is rendered useless.

Why do we get so edgy with anything associated with the anthem? The national flag? Don't worry so much. In the US, courtesy an amendment to the constitution, burning the national flag is a constitutional right. Over here, only a Pakistani flag can be burnt.

Allowing the US right in India would be blasphemous as it will put the two flags on the same pedestal. And for many, an ancient civilisation is always greater than a moth-eaten country!

But what about a silent protest? Alas, trying to reason out with dogma is always a foolhardy exercise. Am I guaranteed the right to life after I get thrashed black and blue by vigilantes in the theatre? Or will it still be a matter of showing respect to the nation before one talks about the individual?

Rabindranath Tagore is one unhappy man in his grave. Nationalism for him was almost a sin. He himself can be labelled as a traitor and an anti-national now for being the author of national anthems for three countries.

Vande Mataram, our national song, also gets suddenly emboldened as a matter of chain reaction. The patriots are seen as agitated over a disruption during the song as they are during the anthem. Laws or SC verdicts saying nothing about the song fail to cut ice with proud Indians. The free flow of a football game, a wild group chat of senior citizens, everything comes to an abrupt stop when the song suddenly goes on in certain public places. 

It comes as rude reminder of a confessional duty which we are supposed to be part of. It acts as our licence for a secured right of homogenous citizenship. The same applies in theatres where the otherwise normal people are turned into regimented minds, almost with a war-like machismo surrounding the entire place. 

Feeling of one-ness? It only momentarily manages to turn people into some kind of plastic superheroes out to protect the motherland at the hands of the enemy.

Also read: Sad 'educated' Indians are questioning standing up for national anthem

Writer

Suraj Kumar Thube Suraj Kumar Thube

The writer has done his MA in political science with a special interest in Indian democracy and Indian political thought. He also likes listening to Hindustani Classical music and watching football.

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