It is evident now that a revolution is coming in the Indian subcontinent, since all state institutions have collapsed and become hollow and empty shells, and on the other hand the people’s distress has reached alarming heights, with massive poverty, record and growing unemployment, appalling level of child malnourishment, skyrocketing prices of foodstuffs and fuel, almost total lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, continuing farmers suicides, atrocities on minorities, etc.
A battle anthem is now needed by the people to inspire them to do heroic deeds.
The Song of the Stormy Petrel was a poem written in March 1901 by the great Russian writer Maxim Gorky.
It became known as the battle anthem of the coming Russian Revolution, just as ‘La Marseillaise‘ written in 1792 by Rouget de Lisle became known as the battle anthem of the French Revolution, and ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai’ became the battle anthem of the Indian Independence Struggle.
In 1901 Russia was under the despotic and autocratic rule of Tsar Nicholas II ( like Pakistan today, where the Establishment has unleashed a reign of tyranny on the people). There was a strict press censorship, and it was dangerous to criticise the Tsar or the government directly, so writers had to write metaphorically, allegorically and symbolically (just as the great Urdu poet Faiz had to do during the martial law regime in Pakistan e.g. ‘Hum dekhenge’).
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A petrel is a bird, and ‘The Song of the Stormy Petrel’ describes the brave and glorious flight of a petrel (symbolising the revolutionaries) wheeling below the dark sky, but high over the ocean waves (symbolising the discontented masses), during a storm (symbolising the revolution), when other birds like sea gulls (symbolising the so called ‘intellectuals’), loons (symbolising the middle classes) and penguins (symbolising the fat rich) cower terrified in fear.
The stormy petrel is the harbinger of the coming tempest (the revolution), who sobs in ecstasy as he urges on the storm.
On publication in Russia in 1901, the impact of the poem was immediate and enormous. Everyone understood the symbolism and allegory, and millions of copies were made by hand and machines. The poem was read in all revolutionary meetings, to workers and students all over Russia, set to music, and sung everywhere.
Before long, Gorky, whose sympathy for revolutionaries was well known, was arrested.
Will any writer or poet in the Indian subcontinent write such a song for the coming storm ?
Markandey Katju is an Indian jurist and former Supreme Court judge of India who served as chairman for the Press Council of India. He has also worked as Standing Counsel for the Income Tax Department.