In 1896, the Lumiere Brothers of France arrived in Bombay to display short-length moving images with their Cinematographe, the oldest ancestor of today’s cinema. But the French brothers were not the only men of history to come to India in 1896. Many other Europeans entered through where the Gateway of India now stands, in the same year. One of them was a British Army Lieutenant named Winston Churchill, who in time would become one of the most significant people in the history of the world.
Lieutenant Churchill’s very first step into India was a disaster. As he was transferring himself from a boat to the land, he fell, permanently damaging a shoulder. Then he proceeded to spend three years in Bangalore. He hated that time. This is what he wrote to his mother: “Poked away in a garrison town which resembles a 3rd rate watering place, out of season and without the sea…my life here would be intolerable were it not for the consolations of literature”
In time, as the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill did a remarkable job for his country in the Second World War. But he continued to dislike India and its capabilities, as evidenced by his many observations, including this one he made in 1947, when they were debating India’s Independence in their Parliament: “In handing over the Government of India to these so-called political classes we are handing over to men of straw, of whom, in a few years, no trace will remain”.
Were he alive, he may have marvelled at how reasonably well those men of straw, and their descendants, had managed their land. In fact, the Lumiere brothers too may have marvelled at our cinema, since we are now the largest film-producing country in the world.
So then, on the 70th anniversary of our Independence, is it all right to sit back and think we have made it, that we are the best, in a Saare jahaan se achha Hindustan hamaara kind of way? Of course not! Ideally we should not be thinking too much along the lines of Saare jahaan se achha Hindustan hamaara because while this poem advances intense patriotism, the words don’t ring true. Surely the reality of India’s actual position on the world’s landscape cannot put us on the top in many parameters. Moreover, the man who wrote this ode to his motherland well over a hundred years ago, Muhammad Iqbal, was talking about what was a united India then. Later on, in 1930, he endorsed the idea of a Muslim land, which became Pakistan. In fact, in a glaring turnaround later, Iqbal wrote, retaining the Hindustan hamaara idea: “Cheen-o-Arab hamaara, Hindustan hamaara, Muslim hain hum watan hai saara jahaan hamaara”.
Perhaps then, today, seventy years after becoming free, it’s a good time to take stock of both our failures and achievements, and we have had plenty of both. We have got by, with much distance covered, but we also have a long way to go yet. Perhaps our core strength—an inclusive society—needs to be highlighted more. That can be found in the song Mile Sur Mera Tumhaara today. Generally called the unofficial anthem of India, Mile Sur Mera Tumhaara is set in raag Bhairavi. This raag is not just euphonic; it is inclusive, since it engages with all the 12 notes—including the sharps and flats—of the octave. That itself becomes a subtle metaphorical message, but even more, the song in video—with its key personalities from different ethnic backgrounds, singing in multiple languages—identifies the interesting layer of the embarrassment of riches in the defining oneness of our culture.
Given India’s diversity, it is perfectly reasonable to imagine that people like Churchill may have thought only our adversity had glued us together against them. That once free, we would implode or be balkanized. So, through her songs, let’s now take a quick look at patriotism in a free India. That means, let us just for today overlook the nationalistic fervour that existed before Mr Churchill’s remarks in 1947. We are giving a miss to Jalianwala Bagh and Netaji Bose and Shaheed Bhagat Singh and all those who fought for us to be unshackled. Here are some such songs:
- 1954: Hum laaye hain toofaan se kashti nikaal ke (Jagriti)
- 1956: Chamka banke aman ka taara (Ek Hi Raasta)
- 1957: Ye chaman hamaara apna hai (Ab Dilli Door Nahin)
- 1957: Ye desh hai veer jawaanon ka (Naya Daur)
- 1959: Humne suna tha ek hai Bhaarat (Didi)
- 1960: Aaraam hai haraam (Apna Ghar)
- 1960: Pyaar ki raah dikha duniya ko (Lambe Haath)
- 1960: Desh ka pyaara sab ka sahaara kaun banega (Masoom)
- 1961: Insaaf ki dagar pe bachcho dikhao chalke (Ganga Jamuna)
- 1961; Uttar mein khada Himalaya (Pyaar Ki Pyaas)
- 1962: Nanha munna raahi hoon (Son Of India)
- 1963: Ab koi gulshan na ujde (Mujhe Jeene Do)
- 1963: Watan pe jo fida hoga (Phool Bane Angaare)
- 1964: Kar chale hum fida jaan-o-tan saathiyo (Haqeeqat)
- 1964: Apni azaadi ko hum hargiz mita sakte naheen (Leader)
- 1965: Na koi raha hai na koi rahega (Johar Mehmood In Goa)
- 1965: Aye mere watan mere pyaare watan (Tu Hi Meri Zindagi)
- 1967: Meri awaaz suno (Naunihal)
- 1967: Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle (Upkar)
- 1968: Ye dharti Hindustan (Duniya)
- 1969: Mere des mein pawan chale purwaayi (Jigri Dost)
- 1970: Taaqat watan ki humse hai (Prem Pujari)
- 1970: Hai preet jahaan ki reet sada (Purab Aur Pashchim)
- 1976: Aag pe rakh kar haath kar lo (Fauji)
- 1986: Aye watan tere liye (Karma)
- 1993: Bhaarat humko jaan se pyaara hai (Roja)
- 1997: Ye mera India (Pardes)
- 2003: Ik saathi aur bhi tha (LOC Kargil)
- 2004: Ye jo desh hai tera (Swades)
There have been dozens of non-film songs of patriotic fervour too. Examples: Aye mere watan ke logo (Lata/Pradeep/C. Ramchandra) and Watan ki aabroo khatre mein hai (Rafi/Sahir/Khayyam), both recorded well after 1947.
Songs often reflect life, but at other times not so. In any case, we can look around us with a hard stare, and see for ourselves that we are still managing together, never mind the bumpy ride. Mr Churchill’s ‘men of straw’ remark was a bad call. But reams of paper have been written about him, detailing his hatred for India, his megalomania, and his fondness for the bottle.
Many people also know that around the mid-1940s, because of an intense war and his dependence on sedatives and alcohol, the great man was gradually losing it, so how could he be trusted to make informed judgments across the board? In 1945 the Queens’ private secretary informed her that Churchill could not follow the trend of a conversation.
As for his fondness for the bottle, it seems he got attracted it from his early years. The Bangalore Club knows about it from his younger days as a Lieutenant. Its members are only too aware of the drinks Churchill had in their club during the years he was there, especially from some drinks he did not pay for. The club has put his name in a glass-enclosed ledger in its lobby. He owes them 13 annas, a bad debt they have proudly written off.
(Featured image on top: Ik saathi aur bhi tha, from LOC Kargil)
Originally published: 15th August 2017
http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2017-08-15 page 12 (editorial page)