A salaam like no other


It has been 25 years since A R Rahman’s Ma Tujhe Salaam became part of the popular lexicon. Read Here is the story behind the song that redefined the expression of love towards motherland

It has been 25 years since A R Rahman’s Ma Tujhe Salaam became part of the popular lexicon. Here is the story behind the song that redefined the expression of love towards motherland

As India celebrates 75  years of Independence, the mind goes back to 1997 when we celebrated the Golden Jubilee with an album that was created to commemorate the occasion. That was when Vande Mataram once again became part of national consciousness after Freedom Movement with AR Rahman’s composition penned by Mehboob. Now 25 years later, the song continues to give goosebumps.

Released simultaneously in 28 countries, A.R. Rahman’s Vande Mataram sold a whopping five lakh copies in its first week and it continues to be India’s largest selling non-film album.

In fact, shelf life was one of the three concerns that Shridhar Subramanium, president, strategy-market development, Asia and the Middle East, Sony Music, had at that time. The other two were Rahman singing, and singing in Hindi for the first time and how the idea of waving the national flag, which was essentially an American concept at that time, would be received.

Apart from the fresh sound, Shridhar analyses, more than the poem, it was the way the historical phrase was contemporised and contextualised. It struck a chord with the youth across the world. The beauty of it, he says, is the juxtaposition of a Sanskrit-oriented phrase – Vande Matram — with an Urdu-oriented phrase – Maa Tujhe Salaam. “Sometimes, you say  Vande Mataram and sometimes you say  Maa Tujhe Salaam and that’s how it has entered the popular lexicon. I think it is a rare moment for a song to do,” says Shridhar, in the latest episode of  Rahman Musicsheets, a YouTube series that will be streamed on Independence Day.

In his mind, Rahman says, he was doing something he wanted to do for a long time. “I wanted to do something away from films, but in a way where it is glorious and it is giving something… more personal.” The maestro says he was not aware of the controversies that surround the history of  Vande Mataram. “For me, it was about giving something pure to the audience from my studio, from my heart. It was a very uncorrupted attempt and that’s why god gave us success.”

On the poignant presentation of the mother image in  Vande Mataram, Rahman says he always felt whether a person is patriotic or not, there is always a kind of spiritual connection with the mother and a “larger perspective is reflected when you attach a country to it.” It, he adds, also brings a sense of brotherliness to a diverse country like India. “In a family where there are five brothers, they would have a connection with the mother. I felt it was so important to make that work and I think that’s the reason Mehboob wrote  Maa Tujhe Salaam.”

The lyricist who has worked extensively with Rahman says, “Ma is one word that a child picks up first. I felt we could not present a better gift to our motherland than saluting her.” The moment the idea occurred to Mehboob, he rushed to Rahman. “He immediately accepted it and said how did the line occur to me. Bas aa gayi (It just came),” recalls Mehboob.

The wordsmith says he didn’t want to use usual expressions of patriotism like one will make the supreme sacrifice for the country. “It goes without saying. Instead of being aggressive, I wanted to keep it emotional. Something the youth of the country could chant, something that Indians who are not residing in the country could relate to. That heaven lies at the feet of the mother whose love is unalloyed, unfiltered.”

((The special episodes of Rahman Music Sheets will be streamed on August 15 and August 18 at 2 p.m., on O2 India YouTube channel)

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