The controversy over the compulsory singing of India’s national song, Vande Mataram, continues. Meanwhile, Indrajit Hazra settles down to read Bankimchandra in a Scottish pub:
Today Vande Mataram retains its iconic status, but like the resounding anti-semitism in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice or in Wagner’s The Ring Cycle, there’s the niggling business of it being anachronistic in an embarrassing way. The poem/song was written purportedly as a ‘page-filler’ for the magazine Bangadarshan in 1875, six years before Anandamath was serialised in the same magazine and seven years before the novel was first published as a book. (Which makes it rather strange that rumpus-meister Arjun Singh wants to ‘celebrate’ the ‘centenary of the song’ on September 7.)
One can’t get around the fact that Anandamath, the receptacle where Vande Mataram found its textual home, is vicious against “these bearded degenerates” and “the baldies”. But it’s not so much the text itself, even with its cult of Shakti used as nationalism used as a nationalistic-religious force that (has) unsettled some Muslims. It’s who has used Bankim and Vande Mataram and Anandamath and to what end that sends people pressing the secular emergency button every now and then.
Vande Mataram was taboo in England for very different reasons, of course. Here’s Manohar Malgaonkar on the subject:
DECEMBER 22, 2002. People who had been listening to BBC’s morning programme must have thought they had got the wrong channel. The radio was playing Vande Mataram.
This couldn’t be true, you told yourself. Had the mandarins who run the BBC gone mad? Did they not know that when the British were ruling India, the song Vande Mataram was banned? That is Rudyard Kipling’s India, those who sang it were classified as ‘anarchists’, and that even to say the two words Vande Mataram was a criminal offence for which the usual sentence was a still jail term…
…It all seems to be a part of the BBC’s 70th birthday Bash. As part of the celebratory programmes, the BBC was going to broadcast the Top Ten popular songs of the past 70 years, and invited its listeners to give their votes. Vande Mataram turned out to be one of the most popular — indeed it only just missed being the top song, which was an Irish number called ‘A Nation once again! Song number 3, incidentally was ‘Dil, dil, Pakistan.’