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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

Founders and keepers

We can blame this week's departure from music to the spoken word on the electricity crackling in the air. First came August 15; then the Anna Hazare show. Amitava Sanyal writes.

columns Updated: Sep 03, 2011 16:56 IST
Amitava Sanyal
Amitava Sanyal
Hindustan Times

Best legendary speeches ever
By Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, etc
Saregama, Rs 900 (6 CDs)
Rating: ****

We can blame this week's departure from music to the spoken word on the electricity crackling in the air. First came August 15; then the Anna Hazare show. Suddenly, phrases such as 'spirit of democracy' and 'constitutional authority' gained more currency than the usual 'batting disaster' and 'bowling collapse'. In the sobriety of the moment, it could be useful to listen again to the speeches made at turns in our history by some of our leaders. So the latest in Saregama's superlative-happy series, 'The Best of... Ever' — promising 'legendary speeches' — is timed well.

The 13 distinct speeches on the first CD finds Mahatma Gandhi in a post-Independence melancholia. He makes a distinction between hukumat (right to govern), which had been won, and swaraj (self-governance), which had not yet been fulfilled the way the Mahatma saw it. We hear him (probably during some of his daily prayer meets) deploring the continuing religious violence.

He holds forth on a range of subjects, from the high standards the judges of independent India needed to maintain, to the power that newspapers needed to exercise responsibly.

The next CD draws an arc of Subhas Bose's political evolution. Presiding over the 1938 Haripura Congress, he exhorts one and all to be disciplined under the banner of non-violence. He holds on to ahimsa even after resigning the party presidency. But 1943 onwards, he hammers home the need to organise a disciplined army and compensate for "the only drawback in our national struggle". If the Mahatma's Urdu-laden Hindi gives off a sense of absolute conviction, Bose's speeches, delivered in Hindi, English and Bengali (and one in German), betray the gradual emergence of a set of thoughts. The Mahatma was conversational; Bose was rousing.

Nehru, whose speeches are all in pukka English, sounds wearier than the rest. He asks repeatedly for "continuing sacrifices" needed in nation-building. Anna's followers, who want the PM's office to be covered by the proposed anti-corruption watchdog, may find a quotable quote or two in Nehru's words after taking oath as India's first PM, in which he emphatically described himself as "the first servant of the people".

The next CD, dedicated to 'Assorted Leaders', features BR Ambedkar asking the Constituent Assembly to set aside "slogans" and make "concessions to the prejudices of opponents"; Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan invoking Chairman Mao to explain why Pakistan, during the 1965 war, was wrong in taking Kashmiris for granted; Zakir Hussain laying out his chaste Urdu while opening a Unesco conference; Vallabhai Patel talking about how the government's "ruthlessness" had restored internal peace, but only temporarily (the context isn't clear); and Lal Bahadur Shastri declaring the end of the 1965 war.

The last couple of CDs seem like an old Congress party trick — that of putting later leaders such as Indira and Rajiv in the same box (in this case, the same box-set) as the nation's founders.

During the early 1970s, Indira reiterates the need to be "open to change" a number of times. At the Ramakrishna Mission, she talks of a "network of minds" that is needed for spiritual strength. However, while talking forcefully on 'Democracy and socialism', she tunes up to a different frequency: "How much time can we spend commemorating things that happened thousands of years ago?... There cannot be democracy without socialism."

Rajiv Gandhi's first speech is on the evening of his mother's assassination, asking for peace and "balance". His last one is the longest in the whole collection — more than 27 minutes of Rajiv holding forth on 'international law and world order'. It's also the biggest yawn.

One would have expected the producers to use available technology and cut out the ambient noise and static crackle. Instead, the scratchy earlier recordings include children wailing, airplanes booming and cars honking at the back. Some of the speeches — such as Nehru's 'Light has gone out of our lives' speech, delivered at the death of Gandhi — are cut short mid-sentence.

The biggest gap in the six-pack is the lack of context. For some we have subjects, and for others the date and place. But what are we to make from a title such as 'Speech in Moscow, Speaker: Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan' (possibly the acceptance speech for an honorary doctorate at Moscow University, 1964)?

Before we project any greatness for our nation, we should ourselves learn to take pride in our heritage — spoken, written, drawn, carved or filmed — and treat it well. This responsibility falls on anyone who handles the heritage, even on clearly-for-profit private enterprises. Pity we refuse to learn that.

First Published: Sep 03, 2011 00:29 IST

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