My father conditioned me to stand erect in ‘attention’ position whenever I heard the strains of Jana Gana Mana. The progenitor’s devotion was irrevocably to God and the country. This has been guaranteed by generations in the fauj and the fact that his childhood years was spent in the time of struggle for freedom. He ensured that he instilled the same feeling in my sister and me and I believe I did the same to my sons.
Years ago, they would play the National Anthem at the end of a movie and people would choose to shuffle out of the theatres while it was playing. Woe betide any person near my father chose to move. He would grab the unfortunate soul by the shoulder, saying, “Stand still, you*&**#*&. The National Anthem is playing.”
The values imparted by him and the fact that I studied in Kendriya Vidyalayas where everyone lustily sang the National Anthem at the end of every morning assembly, ensured that even decades later, I leap to my feet whenever I hear it. Sometimes during the assembly, kids would drag the singing to shorten the first period. The music teacher would glare at us and in the music period that week, we had to practice singing with adequate josh and in the prescribed 52 seconds.
Standing in attention was thus an unequivocal response even when I went through the phase of negatively comparing the country and its polity to “advanced” nations. Years of seeing the republic battered by countless divisive forces, strikes, protests, economic lows, rising expenses, crime and my own growing pessimism have yet not dimmed that instinct. It’s all worth it when I stand together with my fellow countrymen, look at the Tiranga and sing the National Anthem.
It does not often happen in adult life that we get the chance to stand together and sing the eternal song by Rabindranath Tagore, but it does happen in movie theatres before films are screened. When the National Anthem plays before the film begins, every person in the hall puts aside his coke, popcorn or chai and, in a single instinct, rises and stands still, a shared feeling of national pride overwhelms.
I was awestruck and elated when, for the first time, I saw a huge National Flag — the biggest in the country — gently rippling in the breeze at the Central Park in Connaught Place, Delhi. Put up by the Flag Foundation of India and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, this is truly monumental and deserves more than a glance from passersby.
Now, when I join my countrymen in standing up — in picture halls or wherever the anthem is played — and singing “Jaya, Jaya, Jaya, Jaya Hey”, I feel linked not just to the hall full of people, but to the souls of my father and forefathers, who lived and died on this land.
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