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Why We need an Earth Anthem

abhayOn a very hot summer evening in Delhi, a motley group of people had gathered at Azad Bhawan, the headquarters of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations. Azad Bhawan is not as well located as Mandi House on Copernicus Road; it is near ITO, a little far from the comfort zone of Delhi’s cultural elite. The summer evening was made special by the presence of two erudite union ministers of India – Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor. They had gathered to listen to an anthem for our home planet Earth, sung by Shreya Sotang, a talented singer from Nepal, with music composed by Sapan Ghimire from Darjeeling, and written by yours truly.

The first draft of the lyrics to this song was written in 2009 while I was posted in St. Petersburg, Russia as Consul at the Consulate General of India. I don’t remember exactly what inspired me to write an anthem for our planet but in those days, I had just started painting. One of my first paintings was of our planet Earth, shining like a blue pearl surrounded by dark space. The earth’s immense beauty has transformed me into a matriot. I see her as the cradle and grave of all civilizations that has risen on her surface, creator and destroyer of all life, all history, all riches, and all the glories of mankind. A paean to the earth was long brewing within me. I rewrote and refined it several times and published it in my collection of poems ‘Remains’ that came out last year. But its transformation into an anthem, happened only after I settled down in Kathmandu.

About four months ago, I had a chance meeting with Sapan Ghimire from Darjeeling, who teaches music to schoolchildren in Kathmandu. I  shared with him that I wrote poems and asked him if he would be interested in turning some of them into songs. I scribbled ‘Earth Anthem’ on a sheet of paper and after a few weeks Sapan came back with a smile on his face: He had succeeded in setting the poem to music.

Friends and colleagues suggested voices and one of these was Shreya Sotang. Shreya’s voice was mellifluous and magical when I first heard her singing the words of Earth Anthem without any music. I was convinced that she was the one who could do justice to the song.

Meanwhile Chandrakant Jha, a dear friend from Janakpur, Nepal advised me that an anthem for the planet should contain words from all official languages besides Hindi and Nepali. It looked daunting, but not impossible. I wrote to friends in France, Russia, China, Egypt and Spain for translations and pronunciations of the line ‘We are humans, the earth is our home’. It took them a few days to reply but they all came back with help. Now the challenge was for Shreya to twist her tongue and master pronunciation in all the UN languages.

The recording was also done at the studio of Phanindra Rai located near Kamalpokhari. It took almost a month to get the Earth Anthem right.

Soon after the anthem was ready, I went to meet the country representative of UNESCO in Nepal, Mr. Alexe Plathe with an idea that the UNESCO should use this Earth Anthem to launch a global Earth Anthem Challenge and the winning entry of the challenge should be declared the official anthem of our home planet.

After the anthem was ready, the video was made by Mishree Lal Yadav of Nepal Television, and he readily agreed to edit the video. Simultaneously, the Director General of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, Dr. Suresh K. Goel, agreed to host the release of the Earth Anthem in New Delhi June 3.

Mr Sibal, also a distinguished poet, quoted the Secretary General of the United Nations U. Thant, who while signing the proclamation declaring the Vernal Equinox on March 21, 1970, made a statement declaring Earth Day. “On that particular day,” recounted Sibal, Thant “said something very important and I have as a quote -‘May there be only peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and circle in frigid space within its warm and fragile cargo of animate life.’”

Dr. Tharoor went on to remind the audience of their responsibilities as global citizens even as they paid tribute to our planet with a song that could unify all peoples.

The evening ended with Dr. Tharoor recounting how W. H. Auden had written a “Hymn to the United Nations” – and also attempted a hymn to the world which then Secretary-General U. Thant hoped would become the de facto anthem of the UN but it didn’t. This was the UN anthem Aiden wrote:

“Our several voices
Playfully contending,

Not interfering

But co-inhering,

For all within
The cincture of the sound
Is holy ground,
Where all are Brothers,
None faceless Others.””

It is an honor to walk in such illustrious footsteps. I hope to now take the Earth Anthem to schools and colleges, to radio and television stations and across the world … to inspire, convince and cajole the UNESCO to launch a global Earth Anthem Challenge, It is my dream to invite talented people across the globe to write their hymns to our home planet, our only oasis in this vast universe.

(Abhay K is an Indian poet-diplomat based in Kathmandu. You can listen to the Earth Anthem:

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