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Out of tune

The state government has recently expressed concern over the fact that “tune and pitch of the national anthem is not consistent in educational institutions and multiplexes.” In a show of decisive problem solving, they will now be issuing a CD to ensure that people don’t sing a single incorrect note. There will be awareness campaign for this too. I suddenly have visions of people doing national anthem practice at street corners.


Illustration/ Amit Bandre

I come from a family of folks who like to sing. If there are two or more of us present at any time, the chances are you will be subjected to our joint singing. This is most common when we are in the car, but really it could be anywhere except a funeral. However, like all community activities, this singing too holds all kinds of complexities.

Sometimes we sing for fun, or because we like the song. Sometimes we undermine each other -- deliberately singing slower or faster than the other persons just to spoil their fun and bug them a bit in a stellar display of passive aggressive behaviour. Sometimes we compete to sing better than the other.

Sometimes -- often -- we argue: no no, those are not the words, you are mixing up two verses! Arre that is not the right tune ya!

In pre-internet days there was no way to actually prove this so either the argument would escalate till we lapsed into miffed silence, or the non-arguing member (usually my dad) would intervene and force some jollity back into the situation. Occasionally we ourselves would say -- achha forget it let’s sing some other song. Even more occasionally, we might discuss the options and end on a non-commital note or even concede that one of the versions may be righter -- or simply, just as pleasurable.

But the thing is -- we always, always sang again when we were together.

Isn’t a song all about the remembering and making it your own? That’s quite how songs are passed down in the oral tradition, where each time a song is not just resung but a little bit remade from all the ways of singing that get passed down. Meaning, I listen to the national anthem several times a day being sung in the school assemblies near my house and I don’t know if they are the sacred version, but I always know what it is. What is wrong with that?

I mean, isn’t the whole thrust of our national anthem that there can be unity in diversity rather than in uniformity? Why not sing it in a million ways instead of treating it like a fundamental text and rendering it robotically in keeping with that idea?

I have already begun looking nervously over my shoulder for Puneet Issar’s wife, so perhaps she should head the awareness campaign.

But it made me remember this. My father, a Begum Akhtar fan, used to sing this ghazal by her which I began to love but couldn’t find a recording of. So one day, I just asked him to teach it to me. After he passed away, I sang it to myself often, because to forget it would be to forget him. I searched for it online for years, in vain. Then finally, one of those searches suddenly showed up the ‘original’ recording.

It was wonderful. My father had remembered it a little differently -- and for that matter, who knows if I am even singing it the way he taught me. Each version independent based on our ability, mood, memory and history. But each kept alive with our love. And it’s still the same song, really.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.¬†

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