The lyrics of two Hindi film songs written ten years apart show starkly how the dreams nurtured by Indians of life after independence from British rule came crashing down to earth.
In 1948, Nazim Panipati wrote a song expressing absolute glee over the British departing from India. It went: ‘ab Darane kii koii baat nahiin, angrezii chhoraa chalaa gayaa’ (film: ‘Majboor’, music: Ghulam Haider, singers: Mukesh and Lata). The joyful mood of the song is clearly evident from the very fact that the much-hated Englishman is referred to as ‘angrezii chhoraa’ (‘English boy’) and ‘vo goraa-goraa’ (‘that fair one’)!
Right in the beginning, the poet declares ‘ab Darane kii koii baat nahiin’ (‘there’s no need to fear now’). Why? Because, the poet says, ‘thaa jinakaa Dar vo gaye chale’ (‘the ones whom we feared have left’). Hope of better days is expressed in these words: ‘ab nahiin hai raaj firangii kaa / lo jhanDaa lagaa tirangii kaa / ab nahiin zamaanaa tangii kaa’ (‘British rule is no more / the tricolour is in place / the days of scarcity are over’). The numerous troubles that the British gave us were expected to go with them: ‘dukh-dard firangii laaye the / hamen laakhon rog lagaaye the / gaye vahiin jahaan se aaye the’ (‘the British brought with them sorrow and pain / they gave us numerous afflictions / (what a relief that) they have left whence they came’).
In 1958, Sahir Ludhianvi wrote a bitter satire on the state of the young republic in the song ‘chiin-o-arab hamaaraa, hindostaan hamaaraa / rahane ko ghar nahiin hai, saaraa jahaan hamaaraa’ (‘China and Arabia are ours, India is ours / we don’t have a place to stay, but the whole world is ours’) (film: ‘Phir Subah Hogi’, music: Khayyam, singer: Mukesh). It was a bitter, but brilliant, take-off on the poet Iqbal’s poems ‘Tarana-e-Milli’ and ‘Tarana-e-Hind’ (i.e., ‘saare jahaan se achchha’).
What is the state of the common man in India ten years after the ‘angrezii chhoraa’ left?
They are deprived of shelter and education: ‘kholii bhii chhin gayi hai, benchen bhii chhin gayi hain / saDakon pe ghuumataa hai, ab kaaravaan hamaaraa’ (‘our rooms and our (school) benches have been forced from us / we now roam the streets’).
The authorities have become oppressors: ‘jeben hain apanii khaalii, kyon detaa varnaa gaalii / vo santarii hamaaraa, vo paasabaan hamaaraa’ (‘our pockets are empty, why else would / that sentry, that protector of ours (the police) abuse us?’).
Capitalists dominate the economy: ‘jitanii bhii bilDingen thiin, seThon ne baant lii hain / fuTapaath bambaii ke, hai aashiyaan hamaaraa’ (‘all the buildings are distributed among themselves by the wealthy / the pavements of Bombay are our refuge’).
Common folk find it difficult to get work: ‘taaliim hai adhuurii, milatii nahiin majuurii / maaluum kyaa kisiiko, dard-e-nihaan hamaaraa’ (‘our education is incomplete, we don’t get work / who does know our pain?’)
Even if this is an overly pessimistic scenario, Nehru’s mixed economy seems to have produced dissidents in the very first decade of independence.