How many of you Indians out there know what the lyrics of the national anthem means?(yes, hurry and Google it!)I don’t understand a word of Bangla and yes, a long time ago I might have read the translation too but I don’t remember it at all. If someone said they didn’t know the national anthem, even a five year old kid, you’d gasp and the parents would keep that poor kid awake all night memorising the jumble of words that make no sense right? Okay so I know it and I can sing it, you can question my pronunciation, but it’s all there in essence. But I don’t understand it. Does that deserve a gasp too? Perhaps it would for people in monolingual countries. So we Indians are in an odd predicament indeed. A national anthem we stand up to and sing in perfect harmony even if it is in a Karan Johar movie, in a language most of us don’t understand, still feeling patriotic(whatever that emotion might be- is patriotism an emotion?). How is music connected to language then?We learn language through associations, words that tally with an image in my head. A for apple means I see a shiny red apple in my head and hence I process the intonations of the word ‘apple’ as a logical word. A logical word- you know, when you play scrabble and you just know when someone is making up a word? That kind of thing. Which is why when we learn a new language, we translate immediately in our heads to an already established image of the new word in our mind, hence making this new jumble of words logical too. Sa se seb= A for apple= shiny red apple.
But the curious case of the national anthem is a jumble of words that have become all too familiar which correlates to no logical imagery in my head, but still makes sense because of the associative emotion. So what is this connect between language and music? How does it become a coherent whole?
National anthems have an aural politics of their own. Other than the performative aspect of it, which brings into question the ritualised motions of standing up, placing a palm on your chest, singing along, is a national anthem a genre of music in itself? The rhythm,the melody and tempo specifically designed to produce an emotion?
The idea of a national anthem is to consolidate a sense of community and solidarity, some articulate goals and others even suggest boundaries and landscape(Vindhya,Himachala,Yamuna… or And like a torrent rush, rebellious Scots we crush). How about those that produce fractures in the sense of community and a reluctance to associate to a nationhood- consider Germany’s troubled concept of the anthem. There is certainly a mixed politics to the creation and continued association with a national anthem.