Friday, June 29, 2007

Indian is as Indian does.

I've always been very much Indian. The indolence, the love of family, the respect for learning, the pointing-people-the-wrong-way-with-assurance, the garrulity, I have it all. And I'm proud of all that, and of my country. I do get that funny constriction in the chest when the national anthem's played, and I do feel compelled to rise to my feet and stand a little straighter. I hate hearing criticism of my country, and I did cry after I saw (and loved) Rang De Basanti. I was a sucker for the India Shining campaign, the Blue Billion ad, the glorified accounts in the History textbooks, and most of the other propagandist feel-good nonsense as well, because I, like most people in the world, am afflicted with patriotism. Shaw had said, with immense courage of conviction, "Patriotism is your conviction that your country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it."
There's a lot of sense in that. What is it that makes thousands of soldiers fight till the end for issues they know precious little about? Even when it's obvious the soldiers on the other side are just as passionately believing in their side of the story? What is it that enables statesmen all over the world to go to war, to buy their little military gadgets and planes to blow other countries to bits? What is it that makes us offer no protest when they waste millions of rupees on fancy planes we don't need, money that would feed some, even if not all, of our starving millions? What is it that lets one man fire unflinchingly into another man's eyes and lets him watch the other man die in agony, only because he's from a different geographical region of this planet?
Yup, patriotism it is.
Shaw, straight thinker and unafraid speaker, had also said, "You'll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race."

He was right both times.Patriotism is a terrible thing. But it's also a terribly beautiful thing, entrancing fatally those who can bear to wear blinkers, and tearing apart with conflict those who can see both sides of a story. It makes you forget you're an individual with a mind, takes away reason, and thrusts you yelling and screaming into the seething, madly exultant crowd of people who commit atrocities in the name of their country. You become one of them, and in doing so, cease to become you and simply become an 'Indian'. (You can substitute the name of your country in the quotes. It's all the same). And that's all that you become.
You don't stop to think, what if I'd been born in Pakistan?

I don't flatter myself with being a clear thinker and able to resist patriotism. I do think my country is the best. I could write a whole new post about why it is, with bullet-pointed reasons.The national anthem will always make me stand a little straighter, the Republic Day parade of might will always make me proud of our strength, and if I ever go abroad, I'll be severely homesick and scoot back at the earliest opportunity. But I do hope that if ever the time comes for senseless conflict and taking of sides, this post will remind me of a man who did recognise conflict as senseless, and also remind me that it's gross arrogance to be convinced that my country is superior to all others, just because I was born in it.