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!”