When the National Anthem takes on a sombre tone, to acknowledge how the nation has fallen silent due to a pandemic, it becomes a song of hope. Set against visuals of a desolate Mumbai under lockdown, singer and playwright Isheeta Ganguly’s version of the National Anthem is thus a call to action. Released today, ‘Jan Gana Mana — Let My Country Awake’ is also a tribute to Rabindranath Tagore, whose birth anniversary falls on May 7.
The two minute, 12 seconds-long video wraps up with Shashi Tharoor reciting excerpts from Tagore’s ‘Where the mind is without fear’. The poem’s immortal lines also reflect on the uncertainty that looms over the post-COVID-19 world. “I grew up with Rabindra Sangeet. My maternal grandfather was a freedom fighter with the Bengal Volunteers’ Party and was responsible for instilling patriotism in me,” says Isheeta, who was born in Kolkata and grew up in the US. Even back in the US, following the 9/11 attacks, Isheeta had created a medley of the Indian and American national anthems in an effort to show solidarity.
“Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, there is a tremendous need for us all to unite. We all do need to remember that we have one National Anthem that speaks to different States, different religions and different languages — ultimately it’s all about humanism and universalism,” says Isheeta. Her collaboration with Tharoor, who is also an avid follower of Rabindranath Tagore’s works, has been longstanding. “’Where the mind id without fear’ has long been a personal favourite of mine since my school days, and it struck me that with all the uncertainty assailing our nation, thanks to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, it [this poem] would resonate all the more strongly today. But the verse is much more than that — it embodies a vision of our nation’s better self. I thought these soaring aspirations embody a message of hope, not just that we will overcome the present crisis, but that we will awake to something better,” writes Tharoor of this particular project.
The video, which uses footage from Mumbai Live, was edited and conceptualised by Isheeta’s 12-year-old son, Adarsh Das. Different versions pertaining to other Indian cities are in the making.