OUR strategic failure that led to a humiliating defeat in 1962 War even after sacrificing the lives of over 3,100 soldiers had created an atmosphere of complete desperation, despair, dejection and hopelessness all over the country. Every patriotic person was feeling humiliated and the morale of our soldiers was at bottom. But a single song keyed up the scenario to the extent that not only the entire nation stood with renewed vigour but also the ‘demoralised’ Indian army defeated Pakistan in the 1965 War. That song became an undeclared ‘national anthem’ to be sung at every patriotic event anytime in a year. During the 1971 Bangladesh and 1999 Kargil War also it stirred the nation in an unprecedented manner. Yes, we are talking about Ae mere watan ke logon which turned 50 on January 27 this year.
For the last five decades, the song continues to resound at every patriotic celebration and serves to unite the nation. Written by legendary poet Kavi Pradeep, composed by C Ramchandra and voiced by melody queen Lata Mangeshkar, the song was first sung at the National Stadium in Delhi on January 27, 1963 in the presence of the then President S Radhakrishnan, Prime Minister Pt Nehru and other dignitaries just after two months of the war. The event was basically a fund raiser organised by the film industry for war widows. Kavi Pradeep also pledged the royalty of the song in perpetuity to the War Widows Fund. The atmosphere was so energised that, as elders recall, the women spontaneously gave away their gold bangles and ornaments to volunteers requesting donations for soldiers and war widows.
Very few people know that prior to Ae mere watan ke logon a song in Asamia, Koto jovanar mritu hol, was composed by Bhupen Hazarika and it became highly popular in the entire north-eastern region. China had invaded India on October 20 and the war ended on November 20, 1962. After the war, a delegation of journalists visited the border to have first hand information. After watching the sacrifice of the Indian soldiers there, Bhupen Hazarika, then a member of the delegation, composed this song. This song is equally popular in the north-eastern region as Ae mere watan ke logon is in the Hindi heartland.
The impact of Ae mere watan ke logon has been so huge that even Lata Mangeshkar had never thought of it. “Kisko pata tha yeh gaana logon ko itna pasand ayega (who knew the song would be so much liked by people). Since, it was not part of a film I thought it would have a limited impact. But the song became my signature tune. No show of mine, no concert or event is complete until I sing it,” she says.
Few people know that Lata had initially refused to be a part of this song, as she did not have time for rehearse. “It was Pradeepji who came to me and asked to sing the song. I declined, because there was no time to rehearse. But Pradeepji insisted. Who thought this song would turn out to be so famous. I recall vividly that cold winter evening in Delhi in 1963 when I sang the song as part of the Republic Day celebrations,” points out the melody queen. She gives full credit to Kavi Pradeep for writing such powerful words. “He wrote words that reverberated across the nation. We had just come out of a defeat in the war with China. But the song triggered emotions of great patriotic pride in every Indian,” Lata added.
Though the song was in memory of the Indian soldiers who died during the Indo-China war of 1962, C Ramchandra wanted the lyric to be an anthem remembering all martyrs who laid their lives for India’s Independence. And it too proved so. During the recording of the song Ramchandra told Lata, “I do not want to visualise any personal pathos, but the tragedy of every noble soul who sacrificed his life for this country.” There were about 15 musicians at the recording. Neither Pradeep, Ramchandra nor Lata or any of the musicians charged a penny for the recording. There was a feeling of true patriotism where everyone was involved with the song. As Ramchandra wielded his baton, the musicians performed and the 'Nightingale' melody flew through Lata’s voice like a fountain. In the second antara, she missed a note. Without showing any sign of restlessness, the composer advised Lata to allow her vocal octaves play with the tune and pour in all her emotions. Obeying, Lata created magic with her pitch. The song was recorded in four takes and the Nightingale wept after the recording, wiping her tears with her right palm.
Each word of the mind-boggling lyric penetrated like a bullet into the hearts of those seated at the National Stadium and with Lata’s melliferous voice, Kavi Pradeep’s soulful appeal Zaraa aankh mein bhar lo paani worked magic. Till the song climaxed there was pin-drop silence all around. When the song ended, suddenly, the stadium vibrated into a thunderous sound of claps, whistles and applause of 'Once More!!!' Rest is history.
This is how the unforgettable song created history and even made Pandit Nehru cry. Accolades were showered on Pradeep and Lata, both of whom went on to win the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. Lata even won a Bharat Ratna. Till date, many do not know that it is the musical creation of C Ramchandra who was also known as Anna Saheb, whom SD Burman and Shankar Jaikishan considered superior to them. There were no gentle shades of patriotism. The song, a strong melody in Raag Asavari — a sober morning raga — was straight and simple, with a different chord progression for every stanza.
The story behind the composition of this cult patriotic song is also interesting. In December 1962, when the nation was still coming to terms with the aftermath of the Indo-China War, a disturbed Kavi Pradeep was walking the streets of Mahim in Mumbai. He looked around and wanted to pen a line. But he was known to not carry paper and pen. After asking joggers and beggars around, he asked a paanwala, who gave him an empty packet of cigarettes. He opened the packet with a pen that a man standing there lent him, and wrote: Jo shaheed huye hain unki, zara yaad karo qurbani. The song, which was completed that night in his house, eventually went on to become a tableau of nationalism.
That’s the magic of the words of Kavi Pradeep who also penned the touching admonition – Aye mere watan ke logon which immortalised him and established him as 'Nation’s Star Poet'. Kavi Pradeep was the poet of the common man and never let his soul sell, even though he had to pay a ‘high price’ for his virtues. While his contemporaries enjoyed a luxurious life styles, Pradeep lived a middle class life, despite being labeled as ‘Nation’s Star Poet’! Kavi Pradeep’s real name was Ramchandra Narayanji Dwivedi.