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Translation of External Affairs Minister's address during the launch of Coffee Table Book ‘Vishnav Jan to Tene Kahiye’

January 09, 2019

My senior colleague in Ministry of External Affairs, General V K Singh,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Officials from the Ministry of External Affairs and
My beloved brothers and sisters present in this auditorium


A simultaneous translation of my speech is going on and hence I am speaking in Hindi.

Friends, today’s event has been organized for the launch of a very unique Coffee Table Book. You would have definitely seen a lot of Coffee Table Books and you will see many in the future as well but perhaps you may not see such a book in the future and perhaps you hadn’t seen it in the past as well.

Prior to telling you about this coffee table book I would like to tell you something about its background.

As Gitesh Ji was telling right now this is the birth centenary year of Mahatma Gandhi.

You are aware that internationally and even at the level of individual countries certain days are dedicated to great personalities or to certain important events.

For example, 8th of March is celebrated as International Women’s Day, 2nd October is celebrated as Non-Violence Day, 21st June is now celebrated as International Yoga Day. Similarly we celebrate 5th September as Teacher’s Day and 14th November as Children’s Day in India.

But I think India would be the only country which has dedicated one day for its diaspora and that is 9th January i.e. today.

9th of January is celebrated in India as the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas and 9th January was selected as the date for it because Mahatma Gandhi, who is considered to be our greatest Non-Resident, returned to India from South Africa on 9th of January and that is why we have dedicated 9th of January to our diaspora and named it as ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas.’ Every 9th of January we organize certain programs to celebrate this Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas.

This time, as I said earlier, it is the 150th birth centenary year of Mahatma Gandhi so a lot of programs are being organized in the country by the government, its different departments and also by the many institutions related to Gandhi Ji. However Ministry of External Affairs has taken up the task of organizing programs to celebrate centenary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi overseas or in foreign locations.

One day Prime Minister and I were having a discussion about the programs which were put forth during our HOM’s conference to decide on which all programs should be taken up to celebrate the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi overseas. You all know that our Prime Minister is known for many of his ‘Out of the box initiatives.’

So during the discussion he said to me, you know very well that ‘Vaishnav Jan to Tene Kahiye’ bhajan was a personal favorite of Mahatma Gandhi. And here I would like to tell you that we do call it a bhajan but it is not a religious prayer and neither a song related to any particular religion or community.

‘Vaishnav Jan’ means a Virtuous Man and this whole song elaborates on the characteristics of a Virtuous Man.

The very first stanza of the song says, ‘Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je Peer Parayi Jaane Re’ which means a virtuous man is the one who understands the suffering and pains of others just as they are his own.

‘Par Dukhe Upkar Kare Par Man Abhiman Na Aane De’ which means one who helps the needy but never allows himself to have this arrogance or presumption that he has ‘helped’ somebody.

Similarly all the stanzas of the song elaborate on the characteristics of a virtuous man and it also says that the mother who gives birth to such a person is really blessed.

So I said to the Prime Minister, yes, we always sing this song and most definitely on 2nd October. So the PM said, you do one thing, please get this song sung by 150 singers from all over the world. I said, yes, it will be done, we will get them to sing the song. The Prime Minister then said, No, not in their language but get them to sing the song in its original language. And just what Gitesh Ji had said, the original language of this song is not Hindi, it is Gujarati. So the singers should sing the song in Gujarati. I said OK. Then the PM said, they must sing the song in its original tune and they should sing the complete song, (the song actually is very long) and they should be briefed about the meaning of the song in their native language so that they know what they are singing which will allow them to have the genuine expressions related to the meaning of the song and the expressions can match with the lyrics.

I did accept the task but it was a very big challenge as I knew language is going to be the biggest barrier in this task.

If the PM had said that Spanish person can sing in Spanish language, Chinese person can sing in Mandarin then it wouldn’t have been any problem, we could have just translated the song and given to them for singing. Anyone could have made the tune for the song and could have sung it.

If I tell a Spanish singer to sing in Gujarati or a Chinese singer to sing in Gujarati or a Portuguese singer to sing in Gujarati, this was a big challenge.

Very hesitantly I put forth the task in front of my HOMs, whether we will be able to do it rather get it done? They all said, Ma’am Prime Minister’s wish is like an order, it is not a mere wish.

We just have to do it. You give us this challenge, we will definitely try and we are confident that we will be successful.

Today, from this forum, I want to give accolades to all my ambassadors, congratulate them, and also express my gratitude towards them that the task which I believed to be impossible, they made it possible more than what I could imagine.

Not just 150, we have received video recordings in Gujarati from 155 countries, and the recordings are for the entire song and in the same tune in which we sing it here.

We have made the medleys of the song for the African and the European countries. Just as a sample here you will watch some part of the medley from the recordings of the African countries which you can yourself watch.

Those who do not know either Hindi or Gujarati, let me tell you that almost 90 percent of the singers have sung it with 100 percent perfection and rest have also sung it with at least above 90 percent perfection.

It is very difficult to sing a song in another language and in their tune, but they have accomplished this impossible task. So we thought that we must publish a coffee table book about them.

The Prime Minister became so overwhelmed after seeing the first medley that he tweeted his thanks to all the singers in their native language.

And I wrote letters of thanks to all of them and we had decided that I would do a program here on the 9th of January and all our missions abroad will do this either today or someday in this week where all those singers will be invited for felicitation. Our people will be there and everyone will be given a letter of thanks, along with some souvenir. But we will be inviting each of the singers, they will be thanked in our missions and we are dedicating this coffee table book to them.

I had said that it is an amazing book. It is being published from India but there is a photo of the singers from all the countries, and below the photo we have their bio-profile. If there is an anecdote from the time of recording of the song, then we have also given it and on the opposite side of the page, a picture of some place or something which is very popular in that country, is also published. We will provide this book to all of you there and now you will watch that medley.

I am very happy today that a task that Prime Minister gave us as a wish, we accepted that as an order and today we are able to fulfill that.

Video recordings have been done but today this thing that we are doing, this book is dedicated to those singers. Prime Minister, I, my colleague General V K Singh, government of India along with all the people of India today offer our gratitude to these singers and these countries who have offered this unique tribute to Baapu, we lovingly address Mahatma Gandhi as Baapu, dedicating this book to all of them I am releasing this book.

You all came and witnessed this program today, for this I express my gratitude to all of you.

Thank you.
Namaskar!!

New Delhi
January 09,2019

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