The National Anthem – and some other modest proposals

Last week’s front-page story in your favourite Sunday paper certainly stirred up a veritable hornet’s nest. The patriots read it and were puzzled. True patriots shed a bitter tear. Super patriots cheered themselves hoarse. People in general and politicians in particular talked about it the whole week. And the powers that be resorted to their customary tactic when the popular sentiment appeared to be prevailing against them. They denied everything. No, dears, don’t bother to deny it. It only shows that you’re in denial.

But ours not to carp, cavil, condemn, vilify, or heap contumely on government’s head (you get the point, don’t you?). Ours to reason why such a, er, potty scheme would have been cooked up. Was it an idea that sprang to the febrile minds of the fertile new cabinet (well, folks, it is growing, isn’t it?). Was it the piqued response of a ‘super power’ in high dudgeon who had taken umbrage at the treatment meted out to an ultra-nationalist leader? Was it the first step towards neo-nationalism in our country’s best interests?

We shall never know. And less will truly care where the truth of the matter lies. What matters is that out of the eater came something to eat; out of the bitter came something sweet. What we mean by this is that the rationale initially offered for the initiative proposed which is now not to be implemented – if some of the reports doing the rounds are to be believed – is a very good one indeed. In fact it begs to be adopted, and adapted, and implemented in many other spheres of national life. Instanter: ASAP…
Let us recap for the benefit of those who came in late. Last week, the state decided that it did not need the national anthem in two national languages.

So it fat-headedly eschewed one and fatuously enthroned the other. The reason given was that no other country in the world had their respective national anthems in more than one language. And never mind that (as many impudent quibblers protested) Canada has its version in three: English, French, and Inuktitut; that the Swiss national anthem is sung in four languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansch; and that even now-non-nations like Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe, for crying out loud!) has its in three; and also that once-almost-nations such as South Africa sing theirs in five different language versions (don’t ask me, just look it up – will ya?).

The point that I was trying to make before you started asking all these pesky questions is that the beloved leaders of our land who got it into their time- and space- and equality-challenged noggins to do this may have a point after all. Why sing the national anthem in two languages, when one national language will do? But never mind the nearby striking example of our not-so-beloved next-door neighbour India. Which, despite a multiplicity of ethno-linguistic demographics (i.e. people of sundry tribes and tongues) sings its national anthem in a single, non-national, not-ethnically-loaded lingo: Sanskritized Bengali, to be precise. Way to go, Rabindranath Tagore, and the Founding Fathers of Hindustan, yaar…

Be that as it may, before I get sidetracked again, let me doff my hat and bow one un-scraped knee to the powers that be who dreamed up this mad hatter’s dream – I mean, excellent scheme. After all, the bottom line is economy – no? Why two, when one would do?

That’s the principle we should follow in many other arenas, too. Cabinet, for one (is the weight worth it?). Go, you have sat there long enough as it is! Senior ministers, to boot… the boot for you, sirs! One Senior Minister is more than enough, as Singapore has so clearly shown us. Overseas junkets, for another; with “like pater, like offspring” becoming an axiom or sort of anti-national anthem.

Let us also practise economy in other areas where abundance or excess is sullying the good name of the late, great, and dare we say slim Sri Lanka. Who knows – even if we failed to win the Nobel Peace Price for ending our war the way we did, we may still be able to bag next year’s nomination for the Nobel Economics Prize if we cut and trim and slash the way we can and must and shall.

Down with forms in triplicate – and while we’re about it, no need to sign… a thumbprint on your driver’s licence will suffice. When do traffic police ask errant motorists to pen their signature in full anyway? So why bother having it on one’s licence! Out with name boards and sign posts and street markings in three languages – have them all in just one. Gobbledegook will do. The majority of our trilingual notices are indecipherable anyway, even to native-born speakers. To blazes with national education in three tongues – Sinhala (mother); Tamil (stepmother); English (absent father). Let’s teach them classical speech and have them interpret wonderfully bracing reminders like “Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate” (that was the inscription over the entrance to hell in Dante’s inferno – learn something new every day – which means “abandon hope all you who enter here”).

But why do I feel like I’m losing my audience? For those of you who are still here and patiently plodding through to the salty end, here’s one more titbit of Attic wit. Since we’re trashing the unimportant national languages these days, how about ridding the rubbish dumps of this sign… “Only dogs take a leak here!” Admittedly, that’s not a municipal regulation; but rather, an injunction scribbled by people who are, he he, cheesed off at strays polluting the environment. But beasts don’t read polite notices in three languages, do they?

Besides, only dogs would do their doggy-do as a sign of marking their territory when they feel threatened. And our powers that be are having more than a dog’s day in the sun, no? Sin, no! No. Just mind your step as you walk past the notice which says: “Only chauvinists kick the marginalized who need a helping hand to stand up tall again.” That’ll learn ’em reconcilers a lesson or two!

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