(A post by @krtgrphr)
Anne says, rather succinctly, that “any music you grew up on is automatically the shiz”. Anne is right, and Anne is the reason I am up an hour past midnight this Monday hammering away at a keyboard.
First, a routine flashback – yes, much as I hate admitting it, “growing up” is only a phrase that I can use in relation to the past now; as in “when I was growing up”. So when I was growing up and in my teens, I had the great fortune of going to a school that didn’t think that kids ought to study all the time (in fact, from what I hear of the place, very few people there think kids ought to study at all now). As part of this high ideal, we were encouraged every week to put up all manners of skits and plays and song and dance routines for an entire class period – this was considered good training for the years of cultural festivals and social ingratiation that lay ahead.
And every single term – sometimes even once a month – we would behold the white-salwar-color-dupatta dance. If you’re smiling already, skip ahead. If you’re still reading, this would translate to a peppy dance number that involved three or more girls, all wearing brilliant white chudidars with equally stark and wildly colorful dupattas tied gracefully around their waists. Lots of twirling and carefully choreographed sequences; a thorough delight to watch.
And so to the point of this piece. The song that played in the background.
It was always, always, always Revival. Track 2 from AR Rahman’s Vande Mataram album, the song that lit a thousand lamps and launched countless cultural festivals. The words themselves were from Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Anandamath, and carried with them more than a hundred years of history and the collective weight of the Indian freedom movement. And what sweet words they were – the translation apart, which Aurobindo Ghose claimed was as futile an effort as any other – the sweetness of the syllables and the wonderful adjectives, themselves giving rise to many a beautiful name.
Set quite aptly to Raga Desh, the Revival version begins with a slow saxophone salute, a feature that returns at the end and gives the song a somber and dignified air without turning it into a martial tune. And from that point on, the magic is all guitar and voice, with nary a distinction to rank one above the other in terms of pure melody.
But that isn’t nearly enough to make it a dance song, no. And thus the bass guitar is called upon to provide the tempo that only it can, and the first two verses are completely transformed. The energy, the delight – there are few passages in music as uplifting as that one minute when the first two verses of the song are repeated, and fewer still as powerful in conjuring up images of rhythm, progress and passion single-minded.
From that point on, the song is solely the composer’s, his to fill out with instruments and melody as he sees fit. Guitar joins percussion and humming in one lilting tune that conveys quietly and subtly the hold that the refrain has in the common consciousness. And then it is back to the saxophone, with its lilting and sometimes melancholic sound, to close the song out – a fitting finale for the stateliness and the majesty of the song.
Of one thing I will remain certain – Vande Mataram Revival has the finest orchestration of any song that AR Rahman ever conducted. And for me, it will hark back always to those days from the past when it was less a song, and more a celebration.
And if you really want to do this poor nostalgic fool a favor, please find for me (and link to) Bharatbala Productions’ original video that featured this song, and aired all over Indian TV in the late 90s.