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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My mother is sixty!

Free India is going to be sixty tomorrow!
Here are a few ruminations for the occasion to share with all my fellow Indians:

I am one of those folks who have been simultaneously cynical and deeply, incurably sentimental on the ‘unfashionable’ question of patriotism lifelong. Why can’t I find many people who are like that – what is so bad or stupid about it?

I cannot grow viciously excited when India is about to beat Pakistan in a cricket match and at the same time slaver and fawn over anyone who has got a green card to settle in the USA.

I cannot wax eloquent over how ‘rich and glorious’ my culture is while millions of little girls are sold and raped routinely in my country and few ‘educated’ Indians can speak or write either English or their native tongues correctly. Nor can I gush over what tremendous ‘progress’ India has been making economically while 300 million plus still wallow in the most abject poverty, and the whole middle class worships anybody who has a lot of money, no matter how dirty that money might be.

I criticize my countrymen all the time not because I hate and despise them, but because I want that they all take an oath to think a little less about petty and narrow interests (me and my family and our shopping) and bother more about larger ones (the per capita income, the prevalence of superstition and corruption, the general backwardness of our technology, the exploding population) – so that some day, through the combined, sincere, skilful and unidirectional efforts of a billion plus Indians, India can again become truly one of the leaders of the world, in terms of material prosperity, in terms of cleanliness and greenery all around, in terms of the safety and dignity enjoyed by the old, the very young, the handicapped, the ill and women, in terms of Nobel Prizes, Oscars and Olympic golds, in terms of shared pride in all that is good and great about ‘our’ culture, and in terms of the number of Indians alive whom the whole world acknowledges as great – such as when both Gandhi and Tagore were alive and active, or such as when the best students from all over the world came to Nalanda University in search of wisdom, or when the whole wide world, from Rome to the far east, had fallen under the spell of everything Indian.

I am a dreamer. ‘So am I!’, a hundred million other Indians will clamour at once. But are you, really, I ask them. And do you dream big (can you think, for instance, that there is greatness beyond becoming the BPO capital of the world, or being the largest churner out of B and C-grade movies)? If you do, think about the pledge of allegiance that every American child is taught to repeat every day in school: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Then ponder, also, over what has come to be known as the American’s creed: "I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes. I, therefore, believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies."

If a few fellow Indians share my love and respect and dreams for India in exactly that spirit, I call upon them all to vow with me along the following lines: “I love my country and want that she become great again. To that end, I swear that, however humble my capacity, I shall not harm her but try to do what little good I can – by never taking a shortcut in life, never giving or taking a bribe, never shirking responsibility, never preferring ease and convenience over duty, never believing that somehow getting and keeping a job is the highest goal to which every other ideal and principle must be unthinkingly sacrificed, never allowing cheating, cruelty and injustice to flourish unopposed before my eyes if I can help it, and always doing the work that brings my daily bread with as much love and respect and sincerity as I can, no matter what anybody has to say about it. I shall never again say that patriotism is for others to practise. – And I shall dream big for my country, whether or not my dreams come true in my lifetime. Jai Hind!”


Anshu Singh said...

On this occasion of great happiness, I would like to ask myself the question “Is my country really free?”
I know most of the people would vehemently answer in the affirmative. I somehow find myself to be on the flip side of this. Maybe my dear friends will find me highly cynical or maybe a little mad after reading my whole reflection.
I would like to start from the very foundation of our society.

We all know that the best use that we put it into is to get and leave jobs. There are very few teachers who are really devoted to the whole cause and purpose of “teaching”. There are very few parents who say “Look son! Money is a consequence of work, not vice-versa.” I find a dearth of people who are willing to accept the responsibility towards the proper education of children who are the future of this country. The education system we are following in schools is not ours, they belong to the British. The whole concept of taking degrees and getting jobs to get a secured life stems from the habit which our rulers had imposed on us “take exams and get cheap clerks to work for us. This will get them to be happy and contented hence lessening down our troubles in handling the Brown Skins”
The children are seldom encouraged to read good books written by good people, to talk with strangers, to accept failures with an open heart, to find their own way, to respect the ideals and the qualities of a human being, to take pride in being an Indian, to understand our culture without the adulterations, to have the ability of questioning the good and the bad, to live life with dignity and learn from it. India is the whole world in itself. People from other countries travel to our country in search of mountains, deserts, rivers, oceans and spirituality. We do not have to do that, we are the Blessed Ones!!! Do we know that? Do we know our country? Can we accept that and can we work towards reviving what our country really stands for? The meaning is getting lost in the mist .It is up to you and you yourself to search and spread it to the future children of India.

All other pillars of our society are in turn affected. How can they be strong and reliable when the nurturing stages had been so full of fault?

Again I would like to ask this question “Is my country really free”?
i start thinking and then the question boils to this question
“Is it my country?”

moushumi said...

In this 60th Independence Day we are least interested to feel what it really means....for people those who are working,it is just another holiday from work...just another day to go shopping or rest at home or vile away the time with their friends criticizing about the fact that we are still so "undeveloped" without making any sincere efforts to bring about any changes.For the students ,it is a day when they will be getting sweets from the school...or just another day when they can be at home free from daily school boredom.Some people dont even have the sincerity to stand while listening to a national anthem......How can we expect something good from a country which has daily issues of infanticide, rape, murder, violence,bribery,exploitation and a hell lot of superstition.Now it is the right time to unite forces and take the upbringing of our country in our hands. Let us do something,big or small, whatever we can do for our motherland.Let us all come together and take the vow with Sir.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks to both Anshu and Moushumi for posting comments so promptly, though Moushumi, I must draw your attention to the facts that the expressions should be 'while away', not 'vile away', and 'a hell of a lot', not 'a hell lot' (besides, it's slang, and my blog would look nicer if you didn't use such stuff!)

As to 'anonymous', thanks for the kind words, but I must repeat for the umpteenth time that I DO NOT allow anonymous comments on my blog, whether they are nice things or abusive ones. - in fact, I most prefer comments from those who leave their full names as well as email i.d.s with their posts.

alicia said...

Hello, Happy Independence Day! I feel honored to be here for the sixtieth anniversary of India's Independence. I also feel very flattered that you think so highly of my country's creed. I would like it if every citizen in the world felt so passionately about improving his/her country. I've only been in India for a short time, but I would agree with your general assessment that if any positive change is to occur then it needs to happen inside the common man's attitude.
Again, Happy Independence! and I look forward to reading more blogs!

Rupam said...

It is so heartening to see so many people thinking deeply about the significance of our 60th Independance day. The question is, whether we have really progressed any far. If progress means creating a few millionaires and hundreds more paupers, then surely we have progressed. If progress means having more billionaires than Japan (this is a statistical fact !), then surely we have progressed. However, if progress means having a happy country, then better ask the people who are losing land for a few netizens like us to ride a car (belive me, I do not belong to any political party! My only colour is the Tricolor).

Having a country of billions, all patriotic may be a distant dream. But the least we can do, as Swami Vivekananda once said, is being true to our professions, each one of us. It is a fact that charity is the worst thing to happen to society and big lectures of patriotism is the least beneficial for the country. Development of the society is our resposibility, not a voluntary charity. We need to be a country of not a few IT professionals, but a billion professionals, that includes teachers, cops, office staff, everybody thoroughly professional. Only then we will be a great country.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

To Alicia:
Thanks. I am most grateful for your comment. As for reading more on my blog, please browse through the list of older posts (along the right hand side of the home page): you might find a few interesting things among them. I keep writing on very diverse topics, you see, from careers to Harry Potter, from religion to science, from stories I have written to poems I have love. And I should like a lot more people to get involved!

Sudipto pondering said...

Independence, as I understand it, is something that we Indians haven't learnt yet now. Independence never meant just singing the national anthem and saluting the flag on a single day of the year, and never will it be so. So frankly, I don't see the point in celebrating independence day with all this pomp and pageantry. And what independence are we celebrating anyway? For a multitude of people whose thoughts are almost regularly influenced by demagogues, advertisements, and social pressures, what does independence mean after all? As one of my closest friends noted today: what did all our freedom-fighters die for? Do we even spare a sincere thought for these great people (and not blindly sing patriotic numbers in their tribute just because we have been taught and told to so)? Would our brave ancestors be happy with what we have done today, to the point of distorting the meaning of the freedom and independence (for example, patriotism is supporting the Indian cricket team!) they revered so much?

Wake my Indian brothers and sisters and unlearn whatever wrong we have gathered in all these years! Sixty years is still not too late to start anew.

Ranajoy said...

Anshu,Sudipto,Mousumi...if only a good part of India could think like all of you....

The biggest independence we need is in our minds....we still apotheosize English speakers....many ladies almost melt with adulation when someone says that he/she could not understand that she was a Bengali.....A French or a German never feels proud of speaking a foreign vernacular....We still are a servile lot, glorifying money,belittling petty labourers, longing to go abroad for a mythical "better" living....
Most crimes are for the greed to make much more than what we deserve.

I think,the vow should be taken at a family level, that I will pass on a sense of secured, independent tomorrow to my kid(s) so that they in turn can influence their spouse,children and their little ethos....

I have nothing against British education.....after all the British had done some good things too, like prohibiting "Sati" or endorsing widow re-marriages..Education should be ideally a blend of ancient Indianism as well as the latest happenings from the rest of the world....

Churning out global thinkers , yet Indians in their hearts is not an easy game amid so much of distractions and illusions around us. It needs a lot of wisdom,a lot of respect for experienced & enlightened people, and a lot of patience too....It is a difficult task...

I dont dismiss the dream of becoming a big businessman as anything less than glorious.....I respect Jamshedji Tata & Narayana Murthy for taking India to new heights in their spheres....99% Bengalis lack that fire in their bellies to be a big employer....even when they are middle class....But what were Steve Jobbs,or Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, Murthy or Dhirubhai initially? Wealth generation for increasing free India's GDP is a good dream to have if one has a decent business model & ethics....

Bijit said...

This post comes from a civil servant, a part of the structure that was at one point of time the "Steel frame of India". It is pertinent to note here, on the occasion of the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of our country’s independence and the campaign of the Times Group to find "leaders" for tomorrow (as if they were 'born' such), that a vacuum has started to get noticed in the Civil Services, once an elite career option but now a much maligned profession.

A country, whether it is rich or poor, safe or strife-stricken, needs to be "governed". It is not a throwback to the overweening govt. presence (eg.: License Raj) that I am referring to here, but the work that makes the micro issues merge into macro affairs, or that which breaks down the macro affairs into issues that touch our lives. Harnessing the efforts of individuals for increased generation of power (for example), while ensuring that the streets of our neighbourhood are lighted, increasing the GDP by collating the productivity of a billion people while ensuring that the poor get at least a minimum amount of food and work a day, becoming an international superpower and also being a contented nation at home -- these, in a small way, are what the civil servants are expected to do-- lead the country forward and take the countrymen too.

It is sad therefore to notice that in recent times, good civil servants are either growing rarer, or their interests have become very petty, provincial and personal. I will not be foolish enough to say that the bureaucracy of any country at any given age has not been riddled with such problems but what I would wish to hint at here is that the signs of indifference to it by the educated elite today have reached such an alarming proportion that self-seeking individuals have started to monopolise the services to a large extent, causing thereby a general deterioration of the quality of services provided as well as given a bad name to the civil services.

In view of the above, I feel that more and more people should come forward to be a part of the active nation-building process through the civil services. It is not only a good career option but also an opportunity to help your, our, my country in the way it actually matters – through the grind of daily governance.

It is also quaintly pleasant to remember that all these thoughts are being expressed in the blog of the very same person who himself had, at some point of time in the past, used these same arguments to convince me that the civil services provided some of the most satisfying ways to serve the country and enrich one’s own life. I have benefited from the advice and therefore this appeal to all of you who read through these posts and are yet undecided as to how best to structure your future life and serve the country at the same time – why not choose the Civil Services to forge your future and serve your country? That I am sure would be one good way to carry forward Suvroda’s dearly held ideals on the 60th anniversary of our independence and make this post contribute its mite on this momentous occasion too!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Most readers will not know this, but Bijit is both like a son to me, and one of the best and brightest pupils I ever had. It also happens to be one of my greatest regrets that till date, despite my having taught for 27 years, he remains the ONLY pupil I could persuade to join the civil services. As is obvious from his comment, he is neither ashamed nor unhappy today about having made that decision nine years ago (nor am I about being a teacher!). In this context, I should like to ask everyone interested in this discussion to read the edit-page article titled 'The State of the Nation' in The Telegraph, 14.09.2007 (p.14). Dr. Ashok Mitra, a very learned man, trained economist, MP and sometime Finance Minister of WB , head of numerous august governmental bodies, and regular columnist for many years, laments on the pathetic state of the nation, where there's very little to hope for from either the current bunch of politicians at the helm, or the judiciary, or even the bureaucracy - seeing that, in contrast with what used to happen a hundred years ago, not only the best but even the very mediocre of our youth have been migrating abroad for several decades now, or joining the private corporate sector in droves(basically doing nothing much more important in connection with nation-building than making cars according to foreign designs or selling credit cards and soap. Remember we still can't make our own rifles, fighter aircraft, microchips or surgical instruments, though we boast so loudly about our technological prowess!). The conclusion that inevitably follows is that barring the very rare exceptions, the most important professions - I shall forever insist that the jobs of MPs, judges, civil servants and teachers are among them - have been taken up only by the residue: the least mentally endowed, the laziest, and most corrupt. What does that augur for India's future? How long will our youth (and their parents) continue to say 'let others do the important jobs'? 'These are the victuals for sleepless nights', writes Dr. Mitra, and I concur wholly with him. ... when will the so-called educated youth decide that they should start thinking again about taking up the really challenging jobs, both for the sake of this nation and for the good of their own souls? Note that I am not even asking them to become world-renouncing sanyasis; senior civil servants can do very well for themselves, and lots of my old boys and their parents know that I make a pretty penny as a teacher. So what is stopping them?