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National Anthem versus the National Spirit. Whither Nationalism?


Question: How many of us can remember our country’s national anthem? Another question: How many of us can claim to know the philosophy behind each verse? Yet another question: How many of us can proudly state that we live each day full of that philosophy?

Point made.

A week back media reports and the press, the public, members of political parties were agog with anticipation over the outcome of the so-called ban  over the singing of the National Anthem in the elite schools of Pakistan. Endless debate, arguments and counterarguments later, an independent observer would witness every verse of the National Anthem in question, being sadly torn to shreds in spirit in any such ‘discussion’. The public in general feels strongly about the National Anthem and rightly so. However, more importantly, what is it that makes an anthem an anthem? What does an anthem even stand for? These are the questions that need to be answered before we start repeating parrot-like statements about the National Anthem being our pride and spirit and being ‘very important’. The question is, WHY?

The answer: simply because an anthem reflects the ideals of a nation – state and the foundations on which it stands and that is why it is important to know and understand it. Remember – know AND UNDERSTAND it, not rote learn it. And I’ll connect this factor later in this text.

Today I attended a discussion related to the issue of banning the National Anthem in the city’s elite schools at a cafe in Karachi, Pakistan. Here are a few of the salient features of that discussion that I found interesting. Almost all the participants of the discussion were unanimous in saying that the National Anthem being sung every day was not as important as following the ideals of what has actually been mentioned in the Anthem. The fact that the only word in the Anthem ‘ka’ (of) is in Urdu and the rest is actually in Persian, was also brought forward. There was also some amount of debate over the fact that this is not the original Anthem that was approved by Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the original was written by a Hindu Poet from Lahore: Jagan Nath Azad. One senior participant went as far as to say that she could take up to a month to just teach the philosophical aspects behind the verses and lamented the fact that schools barely teach our children ethical ideals nowadays. Another participant – a young mother, mentioned how she had been educated in an elite school and how her school mates were now not even in Pakistan and remained barely connected to the place in spite of having sung the National Anthem every day for the whole of their school lives. A point was also raised for the behaviour of people during the recital of the Anthem and how in cinema halls many are too busy to even stand up or how naughty young children are involved in their own pranks and begin to take the recital as something of a bore. The discussion ended with a strong vote in favour of promulgating a movement to include the National Anthem as part of the syllabus and teach it in the light of its philosophy.

Continuing the point I had made earlier at the start of this write up, what exactly is the philosophy behind the singing of National Anthem every day? Revival of the Nationalistic Spirit? Drilling the National Anthem into the head so it can be repeated as and when needed?

Irrespective of who wrote the National Anthem, which one should or should not have been selected and what people do with their lives once they grow up and decide of a place to settle down, the focus needs to be on what we glean from the Anthem in the first place. There is no formula to ensure that people will stay or not stay on in Pakistan after learning or not learning the National Anthem or even understanding its philosophy in a month or a year. And even if people decide to stay on after acquiring an education here, it is entirely a different debate on how ethically they will lead their lives. Personal life, family, society, their own perspective have an immense influence on it all, that cannot ever be attributed only to the words of the Anthem.

So what can be a better alternative? Is the daily recital of the Anthem a must? What exactly do we achieve or hope to achieve by this? There cannot be just one right answer to this. Patriotism is not a variable directly proportional to the amount of times one recites the National Anthem.

That being said, it is the prerogative of the schools to decide what their policy should be. I am proud to have studied in a school (termed as non-elitist) where not only was the National Anthem recited daily but we recited our school’s own Anthem as well, yet it is not the recital that makes me proud. Many of the students would not be able to recite more than a few lines of it at this point in their lives in spite of having recited it daily for ten years. However what will remain with many of us for most of our lives was the manner in which it was explained to us by our teachers through relevant examples from life. They taught us not only the philosophy behind the verses, but through their own behaviour showed us the dedication, the hard work and the spirit that goes into the making of an institution and a country. These are the values that we need to reflect and focus on.

The sparks of the debate over the National Anthem may now be dying down but they have nevertheless triggered an important knee jerk in the public consciousness. There is need yet to re-examine the manner in which our current syllabus is being taught. Our children learn Pakistan Studies and the fourteen points of Jinnah diligently yet barely know what each stands for. We rote learn the Anthem, stand up slackly when it is played, get Goosebumps at the tune and feel our spirit soar – but it all becomes as momentary as an autumn leaf each time we throw that wrapper up in the air into the arms of the kishwar e haseen, when we let the tap run dry in the arz e Pakistan, when we break the rules and regulations and slip that bank note under the table to the man on the opposite end breaking the Paak sarzameen ka nizaam and when we kill our brothers and ruin the quwwat e akhuwwat e awam.

May we all collectively reach our desired destination, our manzil e murad and may the road be one of peace, not the rocky one towards which we now seem headed where words become more important than deeds.

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