It is the 15th of August. India is bathed in the colours of the tricolour- saffron, white and green- as it celebrates its anniversary of freedom from the British imperial powers. From dawn to dusk, you hear patriotic songs being played from each loud speaker, radio and television screen.
I reflect on how the trend of patriotic songs has changed through the decades. The songs of the era just before and after independence were full of meaning, set to a rhythmic throbbing tune and most importantly, easy to sing along. Remember Qadam qadam badhaye ja, which was Subhash Bose’s Indian National Army’s marching song. Or Muhammad Iqbal’s still popular Saare jahaan se achcha, whose immortal words still make sense.
Maẕhab nahīṉ sikhātā āpas meṉ bair rakhnā Hindī haiṉ ham, wat̤an hai Hindositāṉ hamārā
Then the Hindi film industry took over. And patriotism became Lata Mangeshkar’s melodiously rendered Ae mere watan ke logon. Few were able to sing at her high pitch, but the strains of her voice famously brought tears to Nehru’s eyes. The song was written by Kavi Pradeep. But Pradeep has written other gems which I love more. These are the inspiring: Door hato ae duniya walon, De dee hamein aazaadi bina khadag bina dhaal or Chal chal re naujawan. My personal favourites are Aao bachhon tumhein dikhayein jhaanki hindustaan ki and Insaaf ki dagar pe bachchon dikhao chal ke. We have sung these in school year after year, and they still roll off our tongues easily.
Dilip Kumar’s Yeh desh hai veer jawaanon ka still makes it to the charts every national day. I love the throbbing tunes of Chhodon kal ki baatein,Ae watan tujhko meri kasam, Apni aazaadi ko hum, Jahaan daal daal par sone ki chidiya and Mera rang de basanti chola though they were written in the 1960s. With the exception of the two songs which set off his career as Mr Bharat, Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle and Sarfaroshi ki tammana, Manoj Kumar’s songs are less famous. Hai preet jahaan ki reet sadaa and Zero diya mere bharat ne don’t have easy lyrics.
The trend of writing patriotic songs continued through the decades. But the words no longer were as memorable. We never remembered them beyond the first verse. Remember the lyrics of Dil diya hai jaan bhi denge from Karma? These days patriotism is rendered through songs of AR Rahman. Even on my trip to the Wagah border, songs by AR Rahman were played incessantly. But ever tried singing Maa tujhe salaam or Yeh jo desh hai mera? The music is great, the lyrics aren’t. And certainly not easy to sing aloud. Everyone goes off key.
I yearn to sing new songs with meaningful lyrics and easy tunes. At the Kendriya Vidyalayas when we were studying, they started the trend of teaching us one patriotic song in each national language. And it was delightful to sing along in Malayalam, Assamese, Sindhi or Telugu. Even today, when we meet KV students who are decades junior, these songs creep into our conversations and invariably Janmakarini Bharatam, He muhinjo watan or Aakash Ganga are mentioned.
At Sevagram, at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, it is a trend to ask students (either academic or sports achievers) to hoist the tricolour on Independence and Republic Day.
Today as I watched young Srushti Jadhav, our final year student, do the honours, there was hope that the country will be safe in the hands of the future generation. As Pradeep would have said: Hum layein hain toofan se kashti nikaal ke, is desh ko rakhna mere bachchon sambhaal ke.