These thoughts were triggered 3 years back on Independence Day; but they found their way in the form of structured words a year later. And for the next 2 years, I kept them hidden as one of the zillions of word documents in my folder. Initially, I didn’t share this with anyone because I thought it was a little too long for the patience of a regular reader; and to some extent I felt it needed some rework. And later I just forgot about it. This independence day, I was suddenly reminded of this and realized that it is still relevant. And now that I have a blog, I decided to finally share it with others. I am publishing it here, without any revisions, in the original state it was written and intended.
Jinhe naaz hai hind par who kahan they? Jinhe naaz hai hind par woh kahan hai?
The popular song ‘bilqis’ by Rabbi struck me hard and threw me out of my comfort zone with a jolt. Every now and then my thoughts keep going back to it. The powerful music is complemented by the lyrics which are poignant, deep and thought-provoking. This one question gave way to many more. One of the first thoughts that I shared with a few friends on last Independence Day was as follows:
“While v celebrate 61 years of independence, i hav just one ques fr u – after spending more than 2 decades in this 61-yr old country, r u a proud indian or an apprehensive indian? I first heard the latest rabbi song ‘bilqis’ 5 days back on india’s independence day and am still haunted by it. And i am still looking fr an ans to the ques raised – ‘jinhe naaz hai hind par woh kahan hai?’”
The responses I got were more or less similar one liners, ‘I am a proud Indian’. And when asked why, there were some very disappointing and clichéd responses. Some were, however, insightful. Here’s one response that I particularly like. http://mutiny.in/2008/08/22/of-india-independence-and-freedom/
A nation and its citizens, in state of flux
One common thought that bound most responses was about the fast progress of our economy and society. Well, economy, I agree; society, I am not too sure; superficially, yes, deep-rooted, no. We have indeed taken some fast steps towards the development of our nation. Perhaps, not faster than some of the other developing countries. Perhaps, not to the level of many developed countries. Nevertheless, we are better off than what we were 30 years back. With the entry of western media and other businesses, we have got exposure to the world beyond our reach or even visibility till about 3 decades back. India has moved beyond the baby steps and grown into a splendid youth, characterized primarily by the ambitious fire to run, fly and catch up with the rest of the world. The true impact of this race is yet to be seen completely but the elements can be felt everywhere, in citizens from all walks of life.
The ones from the generation before us are holding on to their idea of this country, the historical India, the traditional India, where sacrifice is the virtue and ambition is a vice. The new generation is impatient, slave to technology, demanding and completely immune to the India which still haunts in the memory of the older ones. And sandwiched between the two is ‘us’, the ‘new’ generation of yesteryears and the ‘old’ generation of the new kids.
Every one, at some point finds themselves stuck between the generation of their parents and the kids. But, our case is slightly peculiar. We stepped into our youth with our country. We saw the old charm of the traditional India and we saw the fast pace of the new India, all packed in the twenty years of our growing up. These twenty years of our lives were also the fastest growing twenty years of our country. India accelerated on a high gear after liberalization, privatization and globalization in early 90s, just when we started to make sense of the world around. We saw a bit of both worlds, the old world charm of slow and comfortable Indian life and the restless energy of the new India. Today, our country and us, both thrive in our marvelous youth, the prime of our life. And we are an equally lost and confused group of people. We are a result of strange mix of ideologies. Most of us are stuck somewhere mid-way, confounded and caught in a dilemma between our own set of ideals.
Judging India… and Indians
One of my favorite responses to the question above captures this pretty well: “I am a proud Indian. And more than apprehensive I am confident, curious and motivated, all three at the same time. If you asked me why, I would have no real reasons except for the statement that everything India is, defines me (large, full of contradictions, basking in the past glory, struggling to cope up with realities of world fast changing world) and everything I am, defines India (young, mediocre, forward-looking, ambitious, trying to prove a point, wanting to lead the world).”
This struck me as a very apt definition of India. While on one hand, the ambition allowed us to take big leaps on the economic front with the growth of the service industry; on the other, our society, still basking in the past glory, is struggling to keep pace with the new found definitions of morals and ideologies. We are average, and we know that. Some of us crib about the mediocrity of the system and governance of our country, while some find excuses, hiding behind the so-called rich heritage and moral system etc, and there are some who understand the reality of the fact that nation is indeed a group of people living together in a geographical boundary and they are not separate from the nation. So when a comment is passed on the country, its citizens, it’s actually a comment on the truth of their own existence. And then there are some, who just alienate themselves, to sit on the boundary, observe and pass neutral judgments while combining the threads of thoughts from all corners. Somewhere in the group of these, you will find me, just observing. So here’s another attempt (you might say, futile) to conveniently pass judgments, this time on my country, myself, my friends and family.
So are Indians proud? Are they apprehensive? Do they associate themselves with India at all? Do they realize that they are a part of the country and they are the ones responsible for making what it is today?
We might not have done anything for the country on the surface that is tangible and visible. But we are a part of India. We have added count to the population of this country. The money we earn and the money we spent has been accounted for somewhere in this country’s national income. What we think, what we believe and how we lead our lives have a direct impact on the direction in which the nation is moving. So we like it or not, we might be indifferent or immune, we are India.
We are proud. We revel in the country’s progress (however significant or insignificant it may be). We feel great when anyone with Indian origins gets recognition or appreciation on world stage. We like to believe that we have more love and warmth for humanity than the rest. We like to believe that we are happier than the rest. One of the replies I received was ‘proud is a feeling I don’t associate with, because by doing that you give too much importance to self.’ But I guess most of us are lesser mortals. We do give importance to self, to anything that belongs to self – friends, family, community, city, state, country. We do compare ‘self’, ‘ours’ and ‘others’ and pass judgments on all (sometimes vague, sometimes baseless, and sometimes prejudiced). But we compare and we judge; the parameters may vary, defined by all of us on the basis of things that matter to us. And so, we compare our country with the world. And many of us conclude we are proud. I wonder why there was only one who said, ‘I am not proud, I love India’. I wonder why there wasn’t anyone who said, ‘I love India, not because I was born here and it belongs to me, but because I love this country, no matter what. I love the culture, the people, the food, the music, the colours, the vibrancy, the vividness. I just love it. And therefore I am proud. Not because India belongs to me. But because I belong to India.’
Many of us are little less romantic than that. Many of us are more realistic. And therefore, many of us are also apprehensive. Maybe we all are, just the degree varies. We are scared of the bomb blasts and the terrorist attacks. We are scared of having our women travel alone in the night. We are scared of our kids falling prey to drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. We are scared of our politicians being corrupt. We are scared of the thugs and the cops. We are angry with the legal system. We worry about the slow-moving and never-ending fight for justice. We crib about the governance, and the administration of our country at the local level and at the national level. We get sad, angry, disappointed, worried, scared, when we hear about Bilqis Bano and Satyendra Dubey. We cry in the security of our home when we hear about the terrorist attacks and futile deaths. We are scared. We are worried. We are apprehensive.
The uncanny part is that apprehension and pride are not mutually exclusive. They coexist. We will continue to revel in our achievements and continue to worry when we see the beggars on the streets and when we hear about bilqis.
The economic v/s social progress
There is another angle to the India story, a more complex, and more interesting phenomenon that has taken place as a result of the reality of our country’s recent past. We are proud and we are apprehensive. And the major contribution to these feelings comes from the last 20 years of change witnessed by us, during the growing up period of our generation. It was in these years that we realized we matter, we exist and we are counted on the world stage. It was also in these years that Kashmir was burnt down and Bombay was divided by its own inhabitants. We witnessed the Bombay bomb blasts, the crowning glory of BJP and the comeback of congress, the oscar, the T20 cricket, the dot com and BPO boom. We were swept by the bittersweet winds of change. We grew faster than our parents’ generation. We created an environment where our kids grew even faster than us. The bridge between the generations fell short of the ever-increasing gap.
We moved ahead, we grew and we ran. And all this while, our parents were struggling to walk faster and keep pace with the rest. Did we leave them behind somewhere, in our struggle for existence? No and Yes. Love and respect for parents is something we have inherited from our Indian roots, which has not changed over these years, and my guess is that it will not. They are with us, in our success and failure, our thoughts and dreams. They are still standing next to us, however, on a different plane. We are floating on different planes, different levels of thought-process. We have left them behind in our thoughts, our beliefs, and our definitions of morals.
For a long time, society’s self-claimed pioneers have adopted the policy of convenient morals and regularized them as popular code of ethics. The generation above us follows the code book. Some were progressive and ascended the higher level of awareness and rejected the codes on the basis of their understanding of the world. The generation below us doesn’t even know if a code book exists. Some are regressive and are loyal to their parents and grandparents and exist in the same world governed by this code book. And then, there are us, people like us, who have been taught the code book, who either gave up their sense of logic to follow the rules or simply reject the rules and rebel. The result is another set of chaos, loaded with contradictory ideologies floating in the environment, confusing the younger ones about our sense of self-belief and the older ones about our loyalty to their so-called Indian values.
We as a society are pregnant with contradictions trying to understand each other. We as an economy are trying to run, run really hard, in an attempt to catch up with the other developing economies with the ambition of leaving them behind. And that’s the fundamental flaw in the current construct of our country’s progress. While on one hand we welcome the new opportunities to make money and give a better life to ourselves and our family; on the other hand we are apprehensive about progress of our minds and society. The two are not able to keep pace with each other, leading to a second level of chaos.
Mera Bharat Mahan?!
While we are trying to make sense of this multi-level chaos, we hear slogans from various obscure corners, “mera bharat mahan”, “sau mein se ninyanve baiman, par mera bharat mahan”. So is my nation great? ‘I am a proud Indian’ is just an attempt of sarcasm on self?
Observation and experience says that we are in general proud, especially proud of our love and warmth for all. The inhuman acts on Bilqis, satyendra Dubey and the like are a big slap in the face of our illusions about our own society and our own people. The reality bites. A series of bomb blasts happened in Mumbai, some terrorist attacked locals somewhere in Kashmir, a girl was gang-raped during riots in Gujarat, many were burnt alive in Mumbai riots, and someone in Bihar got killed for speaking the truth. We like to live in our utopian dream-world and close our eyes when the harsh realities comes knocking. In our utopia, ours is a great nation, we have a rich cultural heritage, and ours ‘sanskruti aur sanskar’ makes us ‘mahan’. While we were busy establishing us as ‘the great’, people were being brutally killed somewhere around us. And the few, who manage to open their eyes to the real world, get scared. They don’t let their daughters go to the cities alone and work for the fear of them getting raped. They don’t let their kids wander alone for the fear of them getting kidnapped or falling into ‘wrong’ hands. They don’t trust their neighbours, their maids, their building watchmen. They don’t trust other humans, their fellow citizens of this ‘great’ nation. We might choose to ignore it or worry about it, but there is an element of dark that exists amongst us, around us, in our beautiful pearl-white world. Once in a while, riots or stories of rapes and killings would bring us out of the reverie. Some of us will dismiss it as another news item about some part of the country irrelevant to us. And the others will be a little worried for two or three days, till the time the news is hot on news channels and newspapers. At max, we drop a tear, or say a few words of sympathy, or get angry or share our stories of horror, maybe write some futile article like this. And then…forget and move on with life.
I would let out my anger or despair through this write-up, someone else will probably get drunk and discuss aggressively, and someone somewhere may take the first train down to the affected site and help as many people as possible to get back to life.
End of the day, we can’t always turn the blind eye or the deaf ear to the truth of our existence. We love India. But if we are proud of India, then why are we apprehensive?
So if I were asked, if I am proud or apprehensive, my answer would be: “Neither. I love India, for everything it is, its colours, clothes, traditions, festivities, the landscape, weather, people, language, food, diversity, vividness, everything. India is not great, yet. However, India has the potential to be great. What we lack is a dedicated focused effort, a vision, to channelize our energy and ambitions in a cohesive manner to take our country to the next level of development. A prime requirement is that we are not apprehensive, about our own people, about our society, about change, about new ideas and alternate belief-system. A prime requirement is that we are not proud and be oblivious to our own flaws.”