Art n Life

Corona Musings : Blowing Conches, Missing the Anthem

Prof Harbans Singh | April 20, 2020 02:59 PM

I am sure that if we had acknowledged our inability in community singing or creating a community orchestra, then the self-imposed lockdown of March 22, 2020, would not have ended as a farce in the streets while blowing conches, ringing bells and beating other assorted instruments from the kitchen. We were destined to do what we did, not having ever been made to sing our National Anthem in unison! Remember how some of us hurried to the finish line in school even as others were somewhere in the middle fumbling with the words?

But the truth is that there is great strength in community singing. More than four decades ago, on September 2, 1973, we felt its full force in Amsterdam. The occasion was the final of Hockey World Cup against the home team Netherlands. Our morale was sky high going into the final having overcome our arch-rivals Pakistan in the semi-finals. Well before the start time, my friend and I had begun fiddling with the radio-transistor trying to determine which AIR station was best suited for a reception. We had also identified stand by choices too and covered all angles, or so we thought.

The great Surjeet Singh fired in two quick goals within minutes. Surely the masters were going to teach the pretenders how to play hockey! But as if on a cue, the spectators got into the act and all that we could hear was loud singing interspersed with roars from a stadium that might have gone berserk. My friend hastily looked for another station for clarity without success. It was the same everywhere. By now we were losing patience, giving each other puzzled looks and getting exasperated. The rest of the twenty-odd minutes of the first half passed in nerve testing suspense.

It was then that the periodic news bulletin shocked us with the announcement that the Dutch had drawn level after the whole stadium had burst into collective singing of the national anthem of the Dutch. The Dutch had lifted their game many notches and the score remained the same till the end of the extra time. How we lost a match that we had nearly won on the penalty strokes, is another story.

Obviously, our coaches had prepared for a battle with eleven players with sticks; we had not reckoned the power of the national anthem sung by fifteen thousand fans in one voice. But that is the result of an emphasis on community singing from childhood. Singing or any other collective act cannot be performed at the word of command. The result will be a raucous, as we witnessed.

(The writer is an accomplished Chandigarh-based academic)

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