Friday, January 27, 2006

Is Desh un-desi?

Amar Akbar Anthony refer to their common homeland as Desh. It never crossed Amar's mind that there was anything possibly objectionable about the word Desh, something to cause offence or require replacement.

And yet here I am, listening to the Pakistani version of "Hum Layen Hain Toofan Se", which tries to preserve as much of the original as possible, but one of the things it feels necessary to change is Desh to Mulk? Is Desh too Hindu? Is Mulk more proper and Muslim?

Perhaps I should tell you a little about this song.

"Hum layen hain toofan se"

The original lyrics were penned by Kavi Pradeep (Ramchandra Dwivedi), who had started composing patriotic verse in the days of the insidious Angrezi Sarkar. When independence came, he continued to write songs about his love for his new country - India. There is a famous story about how Lata Mangeshkar once sang Aye Mere Watan Ke Lagon in the aftermath of the 1962 India-China war, and gave such a powerful performance that everyone had tears in their eyes, including our prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Well our poet fellow composed that song too.

The Indian version came out in the film 'Jagriti'. It was a short song, but
eloquent and full of fine sentiments. It said essentially that the nation's freedom was fragile, that it had been won through sacrifice and struggle, that the youth were the future of the nation, and they must look after it well. All non-controversial so far.

But there was other stuff too. One verse seemed to urge an isolationist foreign policy - have nothing to do with the ways of the world, lest someone deceive you. Another said the world ran on the force of atom bombs - take each step with care. Does this mean we must be peaceful and not acquire atom bombs? Or does it mean that prudence required the acquisition of atom bombs to protect ourselves? After all, if we don't have any bombs, how will we protect ourself and this freedom and be able to ignore the world?

Anyway, the brothers across the border in Pakistan liked the song too. The music was great, the singer was great, and the lyrics were kickass. Except obviously they didn't want to sing about how great Bharat was and the sacrifice of Gandhi. So they tweaked a few words, and produced their own version.

It's a fantastic imitation. The singer and the musicians lovingly replicate the original on their part. No difference there. But the word revisions are very very interesting.

As mentioned earlier, desh becomes mulk, and some other words are changed, presumably 'islamicised'. Where the garden had previously been watered by the blood of Gandhi, now it is simply the blood of martyrs.

We are still told to be wary of the world - but then a twist: our journey should instead be under the guidance of the Quran.

And from here the lyrics adopt a radically new path. Where the Indian version pondered obtusely about the world's explosive ways, and the need for caution, the Pakistani version continues:

We cannot rest in comfort now - we must yet walk the path of thorns
We still have to take Kashmir, don't forget this! We still have to take Kashmir, don't forget this, Do not forget this!
In Kashmir we have to fly the flag, keep this nation safe my children,
hum layen hain toofan se....

ps: Akbar, Anthony, please feel free to add your insights as well.