As some readers will have noticed, I let August 15 – the seventy first Independence Day, really, not the 70th – pass quietly by. That may come as a surprise, especially to long-time readers with long memories. I have waxed eloquent on the crying need for a little more patriotism among Indians, not once but again and again, publicly here. See, for instance, what I wrote in Free India is 65 today five years ago, and follow up the links provided therein to even earlier posts. So why was I silent this time round?
One obvious reason is that I am growing old and tired. But, as you might have suspected, there are other reasons too, reasons for deep and helpless disquiet.
Given the fairly strong resurgence of patriotic urges highly visible over the last decade, I should have been a happy man. Why am I not?
I remember that the greatest men that have ever lived, including Buddha and Gandhi, Einstein and Tagore, have condemned patriotism of a certain kind as an infantile (and very dangerous-) disease of the mind.
I remember what Japan and Germany did to the rest of the world a little more than half a century ago when they grew ultra-patriotic, and what in turn happened to them.
I remember being taught by the greatest of teachers that true patriotism does not hate other nations and try to hurt them or cry them down, it means recognizing the faults of one’s own nation and trying all one can to remove them.
I see much dark cruel stupidity of the past being revived in the name of loving and respecting ‘our culture’, I see a conscious effort to put a very large, diverse and complex nation into a very narrow cultural straitjacket (I won’t insult what is nominally my religion by identifying it with what is being passed off in its name), and I can see only mischief, violence, destruction and retrogression on the horizon, not progress.
I see a tragic and deeply humiliating mental contradiction which most of my countrymen apparently do not see – that of jingoistic boasting of all our ‘achievements’ and simultaneously a) reluctance to learn more about our own country and b) slavering over favours from stronger, richer, more advanced and self-confident nations, everything from jobs to honours to mention in their newspapers: an affliction that is very highly visible even among the most supposedly ‘educated’ and well-off Indians, so why blame the subalterns?
No one would have been happier and prouder than me if I could see a glorious future for India. No one is sadder that I cannot. And the ominous warning of a great sage rings in my ears – ‘Men who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.’