Independence Day!

It’s that time of year again! Out come the flags and buntings, the patriotic songs that play on loop on the radio, the themed contests on TV, the patriotic status updates and cover pics…yup Independence Day is here…time to feel proud of flag and country! Time to celebrate ‘coz no matter how sorry the state of affairs, for once we have only ourselves to blame 😉 Oh yeah! This is our very own ‘Independent’ mess thank you very much! The Brits have been gone 68 years 😛 Perhaps I’m being overly and unnecessarily flippant – it’s intentional! It’s my safety mechanism…trying to, and inevitably failing to make myself feel better by being humorous about the stuff that in reality has me crying inside.

I’m the first to admit, that although I go through the motions of changing my FB cover & profile pic (the entire extent of my patriotism…a little sad that eh? I consciously didn’t do it this year though!), like a lot of fellow Indians; in my heart all I’m thinking is, ‘What a load of BS’! Not Independence per se you understand. NEVER Independence in itself, just the patriotic avowals that one feels compelled to make, as if to prove that on this one day among all others, our love of country is supreme and overwhelming. Before you hang and quarter me for treason – I do love my country. It’s inexplicable really. There’s not much to love on the face of it – India seen through my admittedly cynical eyes is sadly lacking in most qualities I prize and hold dear and want my son to learn and live. And although we love to blame our politicians for every catastrophe this nation of ours suffers, I blame US. We, the People. We – who tolerate and compromise and manipulate and teach our future generations to do exactly the same while all the time blaming a system that none of us raises a finger to change, coz it’s just too hard isn’t it? How on earth can we be expected to fight injustice and oppose wrong if it means putting our lives at risk? What will happen to our families that we leave behind? Heaven Forbid! No! That was another time – when people were still selfless and motivated. When they truly martyred themselves for Freedom. I’ve often wondered whether it’s easier against a definite foreign threat. Is it? Is it harder to rally, to unite when the danger is from within? When corruption, deception and subjugation come in the form of Indian politicians and goons and often our next-door neighbours, as opposed to the British? If it is, why is it so?

How many of us Indians are prepared to die for India today if that be the need of the hour? And I mean really die – take that bullet in the chest kind of dying as opposed to talking about being ready to die at the dinner table. I know I’m not. Hell, I’m not even brave enough to take a stand publicly for what I believe in. Mine is a closet bravado – I’m a crusader only within the safe confines of my home. Am I ashamed of feeling this way? Not particularly, no. Does it hurt that I’m not ashamed of being unashamed – maybe sometimes…but not enough to get off my butt and do anything about it. Honest to goodness. Not nearly enough. So why blame the politicians? Why blame Government? When the very fabric of our country is old and mouldy, whats the point of using it to stitch new clothes and wishing they would last longer, fit better?

I love India, love her like I love my Mom…it’s automatic. But liking her is a choice that often fails me. And pride?..I wish I could say that I had pride in my country, but I cannot. Not honestly. I had huge hopes when we returned home, to a country on the verge of exciting times or so I naively believed, and yes if success is to be judged by the number of malls being built, the number of cars on the road, the bevy of international brands that have set up shop here, then I suppose, yes, we’ve been successful. But I’ve reached a time in my life where I know for a fact that material success, attractive and desirable as it is, is just a minuscule part of true well-being. I feel like we’ve become selectively aspirational as a society, like money is now our only motivator, so that if we’re driving a ‘beamer’, who cares that that the road is non-existent! I’ve lived in Bangalore for a year and I can confidently say that the craters on the moon would be easier to navigate! The same goes for our education system…it deteriorates by the day and I watch as we continue to choose mediocrity over creative enterprise, marks over abilities and stereotypes over originality. We’re in the 21st century and apparently, with China, the next emerging superpower (this always makes me laugh and not in a good way), but in my state of Goa, one of the most advanced states in the country, we still don’t have enough drinking water and electricity for every citizen :/ The less said about states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Orissa the better. Why even the capital Delhi struggles with these basic issues! But we’re going to turn Mumbai into Shanghai. Meh.

Living here these past 5 years has taught me that much of the change I see is superficial, haphazard and poorly executed; so Mumbai gets a spanking new Metro but leaky-roofed trains! It’s a personal opinion based on personal experience, so feel free to disagree, as I know a lot of you will. I do believe that we must ‘Be the Change we want to See’ – but like most people I too am, at best inconsistent and at worst apathetic…easily swayed by my own moods and circumstance 😦 All I see is tons of wasted potential and a complete lack of motivation in changing status quo…from everyone concerned – government and citizens alike. If you have hope – well good for you. I don’t – not particularly. Not unless there’s a radical change in us from within. Not unless we give up this meekness (that so often masquerades as respect) and find the strength to truly stand up for ourselves, and by that I don’t mean FB status updates and more dinner table analysis. I mean a consistent, conscious effort to obey the rules – something most Indians manage to do only when they’re abroad! I should know – I’m one of them. Better than most, worse than others.

So the next time you break a traffic rule (of course you will! Don’t even bother to deny it!), it means not bribing the cop, not throwing around your connections (of course you’re the minister’s best friend) and doing it even when you know it’s going to lead to a whole lot of  pain and wasted time ahead. Would you? Could you? I know my Hubby won’t. He’ll think it’s a colossal waste of time that will achieve nothing, change nothing! The tragedy is that although I’ll argue with him, deep down I’ll know he’s right. When we’ve become immune to horrific rapes and endless wars, what’s a little bribe to the neighbourhood cop? It’s a Herculean task and I’m afraid one that we will have to achieve each one for ourselves without much support and few role models.

This has turned into a first-class rant eh?! Truly, I didn’t want to seem so negative and yet these are my deepest fears for my India, that I love despite everything I’ve just said, all the angst I’ve just unloaded onto you poor unsuspecting readers! So although I say I have no hope, I guess I do, even if it’s the tiniest shred, buried deep under a ton of cynicism, I guess I do. ‘Coz to utterly disbelieve is the worst kind of death and I’m not quite ready for that yet. Not just yet. I think the need of the hour is no less than a Renewed Freedom Struggle…this time from internal oppressors and from our own shortcomings – from weakness of character and the need to conform; from rabid materialism and defining success solely in terms of income; from vacuous dinner table conversations and the all-pervasive haunting inertia that I fear will be the death of a country with a glorious past and an uncertain future.

I feel like India is poised on the edge of a precipice, testing Her wings…I hope She chooses wisely. I hope She does what I believe She was meant to do. I hope She becomes truly Independent. I hope She FLIES FREE 🙂



Freedom & Country: My Freedom Wish List

On this Sunday, the 15th of August 2010, ‘Free’ India will celebrate her 63rd Birthday…63 years of self-governance & freedom from British rule, with the usual pomp and ceremony! The hoisting of her flag, an address by the Prime Minister or is it the President (?!) and a Parade to end all parades – in fact, all the staples of Independence worldwide 😉 Most Indians including moi, will watch in bits and parts on TV whilst munching snacks and surfing channels. The National address (In Hindi & English as if once were not boring enough!), most will skip. Who wants to listen to an ageing leader read out a list of accomplishments that for the most part, we don’t understand, in a dry, diffident tone? How I miss leaders with vision, with passion that shone in their manner and through their oratory…sigh! O brother, where art thou?

The Parade is worth watching, with India’s military might and men in uniform on display,wowing us all with their skill, precision and immaculate army threads! The State floats are rather boring these days, each one with some relevant message or achievement on display, which I’m sure are interesting to some, but not for me. Then there the hoards of children who dance and march and create human flowers and rings and all manner of geometric shapes and the like! I’ve always wondered what they really feel while marching obediently in formation, concentrating on the drum beats – these young denizens of a modern, free India. Are they proud to be a part of the ‘Great Indian Circus of the Day’ or are they secretly cursing their rotten luck for having to forego a welcome holiday? I’ve taken part in a lot of State parades during my school days and I totally hated it! We had to practice endlessly, marching up and down, keeping to the beat, looking suitably proud and forfeit most weekends, for a cause most of us had no understanding of and little sympathy towards, like most kids our age! Flag, freedom and country were just parts of a history lesson (not a particularly interesting one at that!) and the loss of a Sunday was a serious blow to our freedom! The freedom to laze, play and generally be kids! Unforgivable more so, because both school and parents made it compulsory (unless we were seriously ill, and I mean seriously!), and so deprived us of the most basic freedom of all – the freedom of choice!

Well, am older now, don’t have to march in any parades I don’t want to; freedom, flag and country mean a little more than a mere history lesson; but weekends are still sacrosanct! In my previous post I wrote about my own personal freedom struggle. I’m beginning to wonder whether a country’s freedom struggle is any different. I think India is in the midst of a freedom struggle that makes the one she fought and won all those years ago against the Brits, look like a cakewalk. I don’t mean disrespect at all – I just think the greatest and most important struggle in life is the one that involves the betterment of self –often hard and painful involving strict discipline and much courage, yet miraculously cathartic and fulfilling when the goal is finally achieved!

Isn’t it the same for a country? In her last freedom struggle, India and Indians united against a single usurper, an outsider who invaded her shores and was rightfully cast out. That was the last time, in my opinion, that we were truly united as a country, not counting the times we fight Pakistan of course, whether in battle or on the cricket field! But what next? Is India truly free? Yes, in an obvious way, we’ve driven out the invaders and achieved the freedom to abuse ourselves instead, some might say, given the current state of affairs! There is no outsider now, no indeed, India’s battles are now well and truly internal, and that’s what makes them so much more difficult, delicate, dangerous. The enemy (or should I say enemies) within are many, some old and well-entrenched, others recent and emerging.  Poverty, illiteracy, the caste system, the growing influence and interference of religion in politics, the abysmal quality of our politicians, known worldwide for their narrow minds and wide-open pockets, our excruciatingly slow and cumbersome judicial system…I could go on, but you get the drift. This is the flip-side of all the growth and boom that our government & media love to focus upon. Yes, we have come a long way and yes, we have much to be proud of, but this is one struggle that has no true end, ‘coz what is true freedom, if not constant evolution and change? Every generation defines it’s own brand of freedom, sets its own goals and fights it’s own struggle!

And so, on the eve of her 63rd Birthday, here is my Freedom Wish list for India. I wish her freedom:

From all forms of prejudice

From self-doubt & fear

From false pride and vanity

From violence and wars

From corrupt leaders and unbending bureaucracy

From religious fanatics, intolerance & fundamentalism

From antiquated attitudes and crippling superstitions

From arrogance and laziness

From poverty

From illiteracy


From the need to prove a point, to anyone other than Herself!

Go India! Happy Birthday 🙂