As I read the news of the Supreme Court of India mandating the broadcast of the National Anthem at all movie theaters in the country, I struggled to get the Orwellian visions out of my head. The wave of hyper-nationalism, sweeping the country, is eerily reminiscent of that in the fictional Oceania, from Orwell’s 1984.
As has become my habit now, I stalked every news item on the topic, to fathom public reaction to the mandate. The house stands divided, although there seemed to be more people lauding the decision, reiterating the Honorable court’s statement, “Time has come that people must feel and show respect to the national anthem”, than against it.
The irony, oh the irony
Tagore composed ‘Jana Gana Mana’ in 1911, for the 26th session of the Indian National Congress in Kolkata. In 1950, the first stanza of the composition was accepted as the National Anthem by the Constituent Assembly. As Professor Mohd. Quayum pointed out in this 2013 article, “Tagore and Nationalism”, in the late 19th century, Tagore was actively involved in the Independence movement. But, over the years, he was disillusioned by the violent turn that national activism took, rejecting Gandhi’s urging to join the Satyagraha Movement.
In his later years, Tagore upheld serious concerns against entrenched nationalism, calling the sentiment out as “an epidemic of evil”, in many of his works, notably his essay “Nationalism in India”, the famous novel “The Home and the World”, and in several poems in his Nobel-prize winning Gitanjali.
From Tagore’s vast range of work, it is evident that he was deeply attached to his roots, and sang many a tune in deep appreciation of his Swadesh. But, his affection was directed pointedly away from the “organization of politics and commerce” that hyper-nationalism represents. Tagore believed that creativity and personal freedom should triumph over policed nationalism, a sentiment that reverberates in his famous work, “Where the Mind is without Fear”. In this beautiful poetry, he calls out the need to apply reason before giving into to an enforced practice,
“Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit”
Applying the principle exalted by him in his works, I find the idea of mandating the singing of his composition, to cement the loyalty to the nation, extremely ironical.
The Land of Cards
Tagore wrote the famous post-fascist, satirical dance drama, Tasher Desh (The Land of Cards) in 1933. Tagore’s bored Prince sets out on a Carroll-like adventure and lands in a nation of Cards. The satire explores the mindless rigidity of totalitarian governance. The Prince provokes a creative revolution that enables the cards to heed their desires and break free as humans!
As a dutiful citizen of India, I would follow the directive of the highest court of the nation. I would stand up and lip the lyrics to a cherished song, every single time, before I settle down to a few hours of entertainment. But, in my mind, I would always imagine Tagore’s Prince, lurking in the dark theater, giggling at us and going,
“Chireton, Horton, Iskapon,
Oti Sonatan Chhande,
(Behold, the Clubs, the Hearts and the Spades,
Dancing mindlessly, in a regimented vintage rhythm)
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