Hima Das stood on the victory podium. She won the gold, a true champion. She didn’t pump her fist through the air or try to spot the cameras. She stood still, as she waited for the national anthem to be played.
And as the anthem played out to commemorate her win, silent tears slid from Hima’s eyes. She wept almost inconsolably. The words of the song never seemed more poignant, given the herculean effort the 18-year-old put in to get to that dais in Tampere, Finland after all years of practice in the muddy fields of Nagaon district, Assam.
Das scripted history as the first Indian to ever win a gold at a world track event — the IAAF World Under-20 Athletics Championships — and it all condensed to those minutes that the anthem played. We cried with her because we could feel her connection to the motherland.
We got goosebumps because the hard-earned victory made us proud. We felt deeply for her rise against the odds. The love for the country manifested in everyone who saw her spectacular run. Hima's achievement and her emotions gave the anthem a meaningful dimension. The anthem reverberated through the country and social media, with pride.
The National Anthem In Cinema Halls
Now, let me remind you of the other instance we listen to the national anthem. In a dark hall, you just got your favourite tub of caramel popcorn and are contemplating if a plate of nachos will also be a good accompaniment to the movie you are about to watch. You are telling your kids to stop fidgeting. The movie hall is filled with lazy shoppers. Some seats have entwined lovers. Then comes the ‘no smoking’ ads and then an announcement to stand up for the national anthem.
It is a plea that gets reluctant moviegoers to stand up, balance their popcorn, detangle from their lovers and well, feel patriotic. The song is not appreciated or respected. Everyone is thinking of the movie, where to eat next, what to buy next etc. Even the visual of a flag waving in slow motion on the screen doesn’t evoke any nationalism.
It seems like a farce. Where is the real emotion? What are we pondering over? Do we feel grateful at that moment for our land, while we are waiting to be entertained? What kind of ploy is it to manufacture patriotism suddenly, anywhere, for no reason?
In January, the Supreme Court made the playing of the national anthem in cinema halls before the screening of movies optional, modifying its November 30, 2016, order that had made it mandatory. But given the political climate, nationalism peddled via WhatsApp messages and the constant fear that you may be perceived as an anti-national establishment, the ritual of playing the national anthem continues unabated at movie halls.
It continues even when people are clearly insulting the song by not standing upright, or attaching any emotion to it. We must respect it, like a prayer. The right space for the national anthem, in schools and national holidays, makes it solemn. It is an anthem each Indian must know and respect, so why mock it by playing it before an entertainment show?
Isn’t it disrespectful, when a movie that has taken creative liberties with historical references, criminal charges or adult content, is preceded by our national anthem? Is the anthem so trivial? Is it like any other ‘public health’ advertisement that needs to be repeated, only this time to keep our ‘nation safe’. Is the love for our country so weak?
Hima Das certainly doesn’t think so. She knows its value. She reminded us what it means to all of us. It is time we give it the same respect.
First Published: IST