Mann ki Shakti

While I have a preference for Nesquick and Milo, and University provided me the option and love for Cavin’s, I am a true believer in Bournvita. We bought it several times at home, including the 5-star special they had come out with once. My introduction to Bournvita was at a friend’s house. Him and I stayed in diagonally opposite flats, and I visited his house daily to play cricket for a few hours in the evening. Over the years, he became my elder brother, giving me French tuition when I needed it in Grade 5, and teaching me several things about standing up to peer pressure. He inculcated in me a strong love for reading – because that was all we used to do on several days in his house, and a true love for barf ka gola. Most of all though, he taught me the delight in revelling in a cold or warm glass of Bournvita – and soon, that became a part of my routine at his house as well.

When I arrived at University, I learned a couple of things in my first few days. First was the fact that we had a strict firewall on the internet that was difficult to bypass (Psiphon’s efficacy was coming to a halt), second, was that my seniors were extremely cynical about the University, and third, that every single day at 6pm, they would play “Hum Ko Mann ki Shakti Dena” on the loudspeaker above the girl’s hostel. This would happen religiously at 6pm every day. Without fail. For five whole minutes. It would require most conversations taking place outside the hostel to be carried out at a volume higher than normal – to cancel out the overpowering sound. It was irritating at first, because my earphones and headphones were defenseless to the music, but also because it was extremely shrill, and unnecessary. I didn’t understand it at all. Of course, I understood the lyrics and the kind of empowerment it sought to spread, but I did not figure out why on Earth we were being subject to this on a daily basis. That too on loudspeaker.

It felt cult-like, to be frank. I was, and remain, on the questioning side of belief systems – where I question, relentlessly, and read, as much as I can before I formulate opinions and beliefs. Then I hold them personal. It’s very rare I speak about anything I believe in: either in conversation, or for oratory purposes. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s how I operate. I’ve been raised as a religious person, but my parents have given me the opportunity to be inquisitive and understand what I want to believe in, and the freedom to discard beliefs that I feel do not meld with the identity I wish to cultivate. That’s been liberating. It was how I entered this University. I also entered with a deep-seated dislike for the ruling Government party, which was backed by a religious fundamental organization. Listening to this song every day at 6pm, I associated it with religion immediately – it felt like we were all being turned in some way to believe what it said. You’d see this in behavioural patterns while roaming around at 6pm. If the loudspeaker didn’t start, people would converse about it – not several people, but a few murmurs would definitely be audible. When the song came on, outside the mess especially, you could hear people humming along. And I wondered: is this not how organized behaviour and conditioning begins?

As time went by on campus, I got used to it. The song evoked no feelings in me, except for the realization that it was 6pm. On most days this meant I was pleased because we’d have dinner in about 2 hours: and news of any meal gave me happiness. On some days, it’d mean I’d step out of the library for a while to look at what was happening on the cricket field. On other days, I’d carry on with whatever I was doing. I remember being on a video call with a friend once, and making them listen to the song in its entirety so they could experience some part of my day. At the end of my fourth year, I told my roommate that we wouldn’t have to listen to this on the daily ever again after we left. It’s almost improbable that any other University or organization plays this song as an anthem, almost. To me, any GNLU alum ending up at such a University or organization would beg some serious questions about the mysteries and ways of the Universe at large.

Over the previous semester however, I began to not hear, but really listen to the song. To understand the depths of its secularism, in a lot of ways. Arguably, there are shades of grey in the lyrics: of religion and a sense of greater purpose, but, for the most part, I would argue, the song’s almost about screaming out into the void – a war cry, a battle chant, to help you navigate through the day. At several low moments, I heard the song every day at 6pm and realized I had made it through another day, another 24 hours. That I was alive, and I was fortunate to be exactly where I was, and that it was okay to be where I was. That was a comforting realization. Then there was the realization that it almost mimicked the last verse of the prayer I used to say at my primary school: God, Grant me kindly thought. The sense of nostalgia notwithstanding, the one realization that donned on me at the time was that in all of these songs, prayers, we seem to seek out desires that our heart reflects, or wants. Belief in self, a desire to be and do good, and other such things. Things you could express quietly, or loudly, or however else you want. Or things you don’t need to express at all.

And each day I listen to the song at 6pm in my final semester, I recognize that when I leave this University, there will be no daily expression of the things my heart wants but refuses to perhaps express and say out loud. There will be no automatic brain realization that it has become 6pm, for I will have to seek out a clock, or some other mechanism to recognize what time it is. Absurdly, starting out from where I was: I will miss hearing this song. I will hope that it stops – for I still feel it is quite unnecessary to be playing this out loud, and in the deepest pits of my heart, I know that I crave for some adventure where somebody steals the loudspeaker, or the CD that plays the song, or some other device. But I also know, in equal measure, that this song, thisshrill, loud, piece of music, whose lyrics I know by-heart, is what makes this University what this University is. While arguably this University would be this University without this song as well, it’s an additional layer of identity.

What I also know is that I will probably leave University and go back to drinking Bournvita out of a glass at some point daily. For I know, now, that sometimes you need an external manifestation or representation of what Mann ki Shakti means, and the Tann ki Shakti would be an added bonus.


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