Friday, August 17, 2007

Jana Gana Mana.

If the media hyperbole over India entering her 61st year of independence has resulted in anything besides people denouncing the Emergency all over again, it has been to make me realize how much I love the National Anthem. Many people have written about the anthem, written beautifully needless to say, and I thought it would be hubris to add to the set of distinguished posts.
But, despite myself, I am.
I listen to the re-released album Jana Gana Mana and stand so stunned at the various unbelievably beautiful interpretations of the simple melody, that I brought myself to write about them. (This, when I had decided that this space would be for flippant discussion over things that don't really matter to any of us.)

Drawing artistes from across the country and her various forms of music, the album is, as was intended, an amalgamation of all things musically patriotic, or patriotically musical. Every Lata Mangeshkar is represented by a DK Pattammal; every Bhimsen Joshi, by a Balamuralikrishna.
Each showing to us, using the same swaras, the same taala, the same words and the same bhaava, all that is diverse about their chosen streams of music, yet proving to us all too conclusively that Jana Gana Mana is the great unifier. Note how each of them interprets even the smallest of murkis differently, sounding so different from each other, and still sounding so alike.

I get gooseflesh when I listen to that great doyen, part of the female trinity of Carnatic Classical music, DK Pattammal singing the ode to Dispenser of India's Destiny; or when Lata, that picture of greatness, negotiates the high note of Jaya he, when she was a ripe 70.

The tune itself is very simple; based on Bilaawal/Shankaraabharanam (wherever your affiliation lies), raagas that have been used so often in popular film songs. Yet, with this song, it evokes something so dormant in most of us.
I am not a very patriotic person, if jingoism is what is construed to be patriotism these days. I do not end a speech/performance on stage with a Jai Hind, or stick a plastic tricolour to my bike on Independence Day, or insist on standing up while the national anthem plays. I do not.
But this song, much cliched as it sounds, makes me very proud. And very happy. It makes me want to go back to school and sing it out loud with hundreds of other kids, each one holding a pitch ranging from A to Z and then some.

While being in school, singing the National Anthem, 'wasting' 52! seconds seemed like a ritual as dreary and ill-gotten as getting the school diary signed, or wearing polished shoes, or attending Moral Science classes. It had been over six years that I had last sung the National Anthem before the TV invasion of the anthem happened, and since then I must have sung/listened/hummed it enough to make up for all the lost years. May be it is the innate pride over how far we have come since 1947; since the day when a Line killed millions, fractured an entire geography, and threatened to put the subcontinent back to the days of uncertainty, despite the 'independence'. And look where we are today! If this isn't a giant leap for mankind, little else is. Agreed the country still has the corruption, the dowry, the redtape, and the works. But, if we have achieved as much as we have in as little as 60 years despite all these impediments, imagine what the Indian spirit, alive in every one of the billion, could achieve in the next 60.
We, as the citizens of the country, are in that sense, the true Dispensers of India's Destiny; and I am inclined to believe that Tagore thought of this very thing while he penned the anthem.

As Independent India turns a glorious 61, glorious visions of the future hold me in thrall. And I stand an excited spectator in my little corner and watch the spectacular symphony as it unfolds, note by note, movement by movement, over the whole of the country.

This got too pedantic, I know. So, I stop.
You, all of you, go listen to Jana Gana Mana, or better still, sing it out loud.
(It doesn't have to be Independence Day to, you know.)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Did we all grow up too soon?

It was not the first time that my wonder on wheels had thrown a fit. So much for nomenclature, that wondrous contraption on two rickety wheels is hardly a 'Sport'.
For the third time in as many months, my Hardly Davidson (control that smirk you, my friends thought that was funny.
Okay, used to. Three years ago) was having a flat tyre, bad brakes, and was generally being a bitch. And so, I was making a Tughlaqesque journey, with much panting, to the mechanic's.

As I sat there waiting for Salim/Javed/Naved to be the desi Fulliautomatix and leave oily fingerprints over beloved Lalchhadi, I had all the time to indulge myself in an activity I like doing best. Watching people. Watching people do stupid things. Okay, judge me all, watching people do stupid things, and then laughing about it. I did quite a bit of it, the watching I mean, considering that the mechanic and his minions have their ways of making you want to fall at their greaseful feet to get your sulking bitch to move again. Disgraceful. Which was fine. For, there came to focus the first Oh-dear-lord sight of the day.

[I urge all my fine readers of refined sensibilities to cast an eye on the hoi polloi, (populating streets of Bangalore that aren't called Brigade Road/MG Road/Church Street), and to keep it cast thus for a while, for they present to you sights of unimaginable wonder, at least to the middle-class, Brahmin, prude self that is mine.]

Here in this dingy by-lane of a dingier locality, turning more incredible by the minute to my incredulous self, I sat watching in wonder, (with my jaw sweeping the grease off the floor might I add), a young impressionable boy and a younger impressionable girl walking together arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand, very much in love and evidently making no efforts to hide it, what with the loud squeals of laughter that seemed to work by a metronome of once every 6 seconds.
Now, despite being a self-declared prude, I am strangely tolerant to public displays of affection; mostly because of the sheepish looks on the faces of the people involved, and what-the-hell, the first few days of being in love are something else.
The aforementioned incident of les inseparables, would in perspective, seem entirely much ado about zilch, except that the Agapornis taking flight here were no more than twelve, and in their white and blue school uniforms; tie-belt in place. What's more, our little Romeo here, with facial hair sparser than penguins on a Bangalore street, was marking his trail with frail, yet perfectly formed smoke-rings!
Hello? This is Bangalore? was what my dominant parietal lobe trying to articulate, but got waylaid into doing the -
Dekh tere sansaar ki haalat kya ho gayi bhagwaan,
Kitna badal gaya insaan

Which was just as well, for I felt a hand tap on my shoulder and a girl's voice ask, "What problem?".
Now this was our mechanic's minion, Khaled (close enough), Chhotu for obvious reasons. Barely 4 feet above ground, he got to working on Laalchhadi, like the little virtuoso, that all these mechanic shop children somehow always are. He told me that he was seven, and that he earned for his entire family; being the second eldest in a family of six children, the responsibility of feeding many mouths rested on him too.

I was taken slightly aback, I admit. Within a span of ten minutes, I had seen two situations as different from each other as South India is from the North, yet strangely held by a common thread. I couldn't help but wonder, that whatever may be the reason, we as a generation, as children of the new century, grew up too soon.

Theorizing like Socrates (ah, the pseudo me), I rode back home on the Khaled-ized Laalchhadi, to a surprise as pleasant as any. My brother, merely Four Seasons wiser than me, was placed in a software company (where else?), and would be a taxpayer at tender 21. And it seemed like only yesterday that he cried like a baby without a rattle, when he got less marks in Physics in Class XII. The whole growing up too soon brainwave only got stronger. If thousands of years hence, a Hawking sort (without the Lou Gehrig, of course, 'cos medicine would have conquered everything by then) wrote "A Not So Brief History Of Time", we'd be chronicled in the palimpsests of time as the generation that paved the way to growing up too soon.
Whatever may be the circumstances that led to it,
whatever may be the socio-technological reasons for it,
and whatever good or bad came of it,
we all did grow up too soon, don't y'all think?

My Bollywood-esque reverie was broken by a rather shrill scowl. My kid-cousin, barely a year old, was throwing a fit at his mother for having given him the dummy telephone to play with, when the gadget of his choice was, but obviously, the new and gleaming mobile phone!

Beaming like the Buddha, I thought to myself, 'Well, he is well on his way.'

written about two years ago; needless to say, needs to be hemmed and hawed all over.