What is independence? What is freedom? What is India? Who is India?
I’ve indulged in distant musings about these questions to and fro on dusky dawns and starry nights, pausing the moment I’d feel a thought of wonder hit the chambers of my brain or those of my yearning heart. But these thoughts are evasive.
Forgive me for writing a not-so-celebrative, (seemingly) incoherent article, but these are my true opinions, and oh – let me use my freedom to express these at least on Independence Day.
Although I won’t deny that we are country of color, of wonder, of joy, of Gods, of Dharma, of innate and developed greatness, of diversity, integrity and unity – but somewhere beyond the glossy rainbow of time and wealth, are thunderous clouds of grey. Yes, we must celebrate India, and be proud of our Indianness. But what we mustn’t do in our fanaticism and festive love for the country is forget that our journey is far from complete and our quest for being truly free has only begun.
On this day, as we honour our beloved freedom fighters and the valiant men in uniform, for whom living is not merely breathing, but dying and sacrificing themselves for their nation’s sake, we must pause and ask ourselves some questions: Do we, by our code of conduct, moral values and actions, justify the sacrifice of millions of men and women for the sole purpose of freeing our country? Are we credible citizens who spare the country a thought on days that are not titled ‘Republic Day’ or ‘Independence Day’? Do we ever think about how we are going to give back to the country, after we’ve obtained our numerous degrees from numerous top-class institutions?
Most of us will be surprised when we answer these questions. Let’s not lie to ourselves; our apparent ‘service’ for the nation has been reduced to singing the national anthem in schools as an excercise being done simply ‘for the heck of it’ and waving our national flag with smug grins on our faces on days of national importance because, well, that’s the ‘trend’. Let’s admit it, the Government may have thought it an integral step to play the National Anthem before movies to inculcate national pride, but as the song plays in the background, all we can think of is how appealing the hero will look when he first makes his entry and whether we should buy popcorn or nachos in the interval. Lata Mangeshkar sings ‘Bharat Bhagya Vidhata’ in her most mellifluous voice, and all of us take the queue for sitting down after another five seconds – some of us murmur ‘Jaya He’ towards the end; other’s don’t even bother doing that.
“So today is fifteenth August! Since everyone’s buying the national flag and pinning it up proudly on their chests as a symbol of Indianness, let me buy one and pin it up too. Let me adorn my home with paper and plastic national flags that the street vendor is selling on 15th August. Let me post a Facebook status sympathizing with and hailing the efforts of our countrymen and freedom fighters. Let me change my WhatsApp display picture to that of the Indian National Flag – a symbol of ostensible pride. Half the population doesn’t even know what the three colors on our flag signify – but it’s evidently cool to use the flag as a fashion prop on Independence Day, so I’ll go ahead and do it.”
Schools will have an Independence Day parade; the prime minister will conduct a special flag-waving ceremony.
And then? Then, it’s 16th August – the plastic flags will be dumped in the nearest dustbin and our miniature national flag pins will be stowed away in our drawers to be forgotten for another year, another eternal year. What a celebration, indeed.
This mindless singing of the national anthem, this compulsive shouting of slogans like ‘Jai Hind’ and ‘Vande Mataram’, the pinning up of national flags here and there, the updating of statuses across the social media – if you take these as testimony to being proud citizens of our motherland – well, I’m sorry, but you are sorely mistaken.
I’m not trying to discourage people who sing the national anthem – it is the most beautiful song and must be sung by every responsible citizen of the country – neither am I discouraging people to update their statuses and send across Independence Day text messages. All I’m saying is that people who suddenly seem to believe that doing this is a grand gesture towards our country and that they are making a huge difference by doing this – thye need to know that they are living under an illusion.
To truly make a difference, we need to take action that is more radical and sensible, and involves estranging ourselves (even if momentarily) from our computer and mobile screens to do something that will truly contribute to the betterment of our nation.
I’m not saying that this action that we take has to involve a lot of money and effort. All it needs to have is heartfelt feeling and the motive to make a positive difference to the lives of our people, which will in turn make a positive difference to our entire nation.
Sure, update your status, but after that, go to an NGO and spend an hour with a child who cannot afford education. Take this up on a daily basis. Maybe this one child grows up to be the prime minister of our country! Maybe he grows up to be a scientist who wins Nobel Prizes for the country!
Become part of groups who besides singing the national anthem and holding rallies for national integration, engage in social work which may involve education, teaching moral values and soft skills, or spending time with the disabled and the aged.
Make plans to evolve as an individual and excel – because your success will eventually coincide with the country’s success. Learn to organize and manage yourselves so that in the future, you emerge as someone who not only has the intelligence and intellect (which can be attributed more to hard work than natural tendencies), but you also have the ethical and moral values which will help preserve your sanity and the country’s culture.
Do not engage is sheer fanaticism which people claim to be display of love for the country. This Independence Day, take one step beyond the regular ‘norms’ which focus of flag-waving, anthem-singing and slogan-shouting (Oh, and also visiting the food joints which offer tri-coloured items for a special ‘Independence Day Date’ with your boyfriends/girlfriends). Do something which will create an impact, not metaphorically, but literally.
LSR, New Delhi