Happy Father’s Day Again! My weekly fanfic post this morning (it’s really good! You should read it) exhausted me, so this will be a quick-ish post. But it is Tubelight week, I can’t let the day go by without acknowledgement.
Tubelight takes place against the backdrop of the Sino-Indian War. So I thought I should give the bare minimum of background on it, ending with the lasting contribution it has made to Indian popular culture/art/nationalism, Lata Mangeshkar’s “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logo”.
The Sino-Indian war was a result of years of slowly increasing tension between the two countries. Initially, immediately post-Independence, they appeared to be natural allies. Both unaligned, both struggling to recover from decades of colonialism, and both excited about the idea of building some kind of Asian power block of diplomacy and trade.
But it was not to be. The tension began to increase after the 1959 Tibetan uprising, when India granted asylum to the Dalai Lama. The border to the Northwest, in Ladakh, had never been a natural border, not one drawn along a geographic element or between two naturally different communities, just a random line on a map with UN approval. Both countries began to maneuver along it, placing outposts and arguing for differing interpretations of where the line should be.
The actual official war began in October, after months of troop movements and occasional shots exchanged between the two countries on the border. It was over almost before it began, lasting only 32 days. It was really a terrible place to have a war, in the middle of mountains, terrible terrain, terrible temperatures, no real possibility of air or sea support, just soldiers balancing on mountain tops and trying to exchange shots.
It was also a decisive Chinese victory. China moved forward until it reached the line it had claimed to be the correct border, and then stopped. India was not able to prevent their movement. The war ended on November 21, 1962.
This was the first test of Indian sovereignty and power and it failed. The whole country had a vague sense of depression, and loss of identity. 2 months after the end of the war, the annual Republic Day celebrations were rather depressed. C. Ramchandra had written a song about the bravery of the soldiers who fought in the war. At first it was to be a duet between Lataji and her sister Asha, but Asha was unable to attend at the last minute. With almost no rehearsal, Lata went out and sang it at the National Stadium in New Delhi. It was an immediate sensation. Nehru, sitting in the audience, was visibly moved to tears. He later declared, “Those who don’t feel inspired by Aye mere watan ke logo don’t deserve to be called a Hindustani”.
In one fated stroke, Lata changed the narrative from “the Indian Army loses” to “the Indian Army does its best and bravely, and we should honor their sacrifice.” To this day, “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logo” has a place next to the national anthem and “Vande Mataram” as top patriotic songs. And it is sung at every Lata concert. Kind of amazing, that a singer from the film industry is the voice of this patriotic hymn.
Anyway, in terms of Tubelight, because of Lata the main memory of the Sino-Chinese war tends to be the sacrifice of the soldiers, not the goals of the war or whether India won or lost. And Tubelight seems to be following that pattern, selecting out of all possible wars, one that is connected with the idea of soldier sacrifice more than the idea of military might or triumph.