Sunday, 15 August 2010

Excuse me, Are you Indian ?

India is 63 years old today. Well, India is several millennia old, but also only 63 years young. It is Independence Day for India the country, as it exists today. Bits and pieces have gone away – Pakistan, Bangladesh and so on. But a large part came together, as it never had had all through its history. People with different cultures, different languages, different religions, and even with wildly different looks, came together as one nation this day 63 years ago. At midnight on that momentous day, as the Union Flag came down and the Indian tricolor came up, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister made the famous Tryst with Destiny speech. You can even view a small portion of the speech here.
India’s independence heroes came from all parts of the country – as diverse as the land itself. There wasn’t even a common language they could speak in. And yet, they came as Indians, first and foremost. Not as Punjabis or Bengalis or Maharashtrians or Tamilians. But as Indians.
To my mind, that spirit of Indianness is going away. We are reverting back to first being a Punjabi or Bengali or Maharashtrian or Tamilian, before we are Indian. States fight with states on boundary disputes or sharing of river waters. Misguided regional parties taunt “outsiders”. In Kashmir and in the North Eastern States, separatists want to secede altogether. People die demanding creation of a separate sub state. A Central Minister hobnobs with terrorists because that might fetch her the Chief Ministership of a state – to hell with the country as a whole. 
You only have to look at the erstwhile Yugoslavia to see where this madness can lead to.

With some sadness, I searched for people who were Indian, who were seen by the countrymen as Indian and who would be respected across the country as Indian – not narrowly only in their community or state. Here’s my list of seven living Indians who truly unite us as Indians, one symbolically for each decade of independence.Counting down from 7 to 1

7. APJ Abdul Kalam - Former President of India and a brilliant scientist. He stands for the scientific community of whom India has produced many illustrious sons. They are Indian - Abdul Kalam was not a Tamilian scientist.
6. Captain Bana Singh PVC - One of the only 21 Indians to receive the Param Vir Chakra, the highest military decoration, equivalent to the Victoria Cross or the Medal of Honour. Bana Singh, the hero of Siachen, so much so that the peak he captured is named after him - Bana Top. He symbolises the Armed Forces a truly Indian institution. Despite the regiments in the Army being local (Sikh Regiment, Gorkha Regiment, etc), they are a national force, perhaps an example for us civilians to follow.

5. Ratan Tata - From the illustrious house of Tatas, standing for the business houses, a truly great Indian. Businesses run pan India and employ Indians. Do we call Ratan Tata a Maharashtrian ??

4. Atal Bihari Vajpayee - The only truly national leader living today. Respected even by his opponents. Power and responsibility came to him late in life - who knows what might have happened if it had come to him when he was at his prime. Indira Gandhi and he were the only ones who could have sold a Kashmir solution to the people of India.

3. Lata Mangeshkar - When she sang, every Indian's heart beat faster. Actually every heart who appreciates Hindi music, Indian or otherwise. Even the terrorists will bow to Lata.

2. Amitabh Bachchan - There can only be one Amitabh. If you walk even today in Egypt and look Indian , shopkeepers will call out to you "Amitabh Bachchan". Such is the appeal of this man. Hindi films has done more to unite India and make non Hindi speaking people take to Hindi than any other aspect of life. And nobody has as universal an appeal everywhere than Amitabh. When Kaun Banega Crorepati  (a wildly popular Indian TV program) ruled the waves, India came to a halt , even in households that spoke not a word of Hindi. Such is the magnetism, and Indianness, of this man.

1. Sachin Tendulkar - He has to be numero uno. Every Indian identifies with him. Its easy for sport to unite a country, but cricket does this to India in a very special way. Everybody rejoices when Tendulkar shines, everybody groans when he gets out. The nation holds its breath when he bats. Everybody rises as one  to applaud when he scores a century. To everybody in the land, he is the quintessential hero. He is truly Indian.

We, the post independence generation, must recapture the spirit in which freedom was won.  As Indians and for India. Indians first and everything else next.

Yes, I know, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, as Samuel Johnson famously said. But I prefer patriotism any day to parochialism.


RS said...

Happy Independence day Ramesh!

Great list of people who unite India!! Wish the people who boast of their regional pride have ther bubble of regional ego burst and get together. Let us hope the headlines of ,"Tendulkar and Tejaswini Sawant have made Maharashtra pride" be replaced by "They made India proud". For we can only hope against hope. If not this year, next year, for hope is not time bound!!

Would like to join you in wishing India an year of peace, unity, and courage. All that I can contribute is to remain silent and continue to do what I have been doing.

Deepa said...

What a post to be commenting first on!

Happy Independence Day to you.

Guess what, we have an elaborate program lined up for Indian Independence Day this evening. Incidently people turn patriotic once they go out of the country. Although, staying out of the country hasn't made a dent in the parochial mindset that you mentioned. But I am ready to overlook all that today. I am in the mood to be a scoundrel today; it comes effortlessly to me anyways!

A typical Bollywood song, in a typical bollywood flick, sums it up pretty well.

"Hum logo ko samajh sako to samjho dilbar jaani, jitna tum samjhoge utni hogi hairaani... Phir bhi dil hai hindustani!" (for non-hindi speaking friends, loosely translated, it means... try understanding us if you can; the more you try, the more boggled you'll be... but whatever it is, we are proud to be Indians)

Deepa said...

I just missed it by a whisker! :(

Anonymous said...

awesome lineup :) Bana singh pathi kelvi pattathilla..i would love to add the IT industry to this list..sheerly for providing opportunity for people to, forget about settling, even visiting some indian cities. Not just that..such casual visitors have come to embrace the new cultures and many have even found their life partners in their new found lands. A marathi marrying a tamilian or a Punjabi marrying a mallu might not have been making headlines nowadays..but is definitely frowned upon lesser. Another one would be the movies. Nowadays not just the heroines..even heroes find pan India acceptance. Indianness..for that matter..tamilness..marathiness..even lochness :D i believe, is a fluid concept. There is no concrete ten point program as to do this and be called "so and so". But any individual/entity, who/which makes a billion people misty eyed and makes their heart beat a shade faster with joy...deserve a mention as a noble human..leave alone Indian or any localite.

Anonymous said...

oh yeah..before i profound thanks to this 64 years old special day..which has given me the liberty to blab over anywhere and everywhere..without having to bypass any censor or climb over the great wall of proxies :D

Jai India :)

Ramesh said...

@RS - Doing one's duty is the best form of tribute we can give to any association we are part of. No less than the Gita preached this. Very noble indeed.

@Deepa - Yes, when anybody goes out of his country, he often sees it in a fonder light. There's nothing wrong in being a Gujarathi or Bihari - its just that we must put India first. That seems to be dangerously slipping away.

@Gils - I have nothing against ethnic or linguistic identities. But the nation should come before all other affiliations. One state fighting another is the silliest form of behaviour possible.

Yes, IT would find a place there too, but for large parts of the country its still niche.

sandhya sriram said...

I marvel at you Ramesh! with every post, my admiration for you just grows and grows and grows. you are no less than amitabh bacchan for me.

There is an affinity within a member of a state or a community. it is logical - maybe coz of the same language or practices or whatever.. but what people are doing is capitalizing this affinity to divide people. i always feel sad when i see people from tamilnadu struggling to speak hindi. they have been mentally programmed to boycott the language by people to meet cheap political ambitions. while it is changing now, its a long way to go.

Like the Indian Constitution, Judiciary, Armed forces which are largely adopted from the english, the political philosoply is also adopted as much "Divide and Rule"

Happy Independence Day!!

Anonymous said...

One of the best Independence day post,Happy Independence day.


Ramesh said...

@Sandhya - Thanks as always. Division is all in the mind. We can always find a reason to divide - caste, town, sect, whatever. May God grant us the wisdom to see that division has never paid off, while unity always has.

@Ambulisamma - Thanks. And to you too.

Connecter said...

Divide & Rule - This was the concept of English when they ruled us. 63 years gone past and today the same is being felt as politicians trying to divide the people with language / river / boundary, etc. Today India lacks a very strong leadership at the top -to me it's not good to be a good economist but you need to have a strong mind to deal with regional politics or vote bank politics emerging across India...

Yet we find certain precious stars (like the 7 you have mentioned) who make sure we are well integrated. Salute to these people and those who tag the line of Indianness through their life.

Jai Hind - wishing everyone a very happy independence day

Kiwibloke said...

Add the nameless, faceless marginal farmer (20K of them commit suicide each year)to the top of the list - could be from MH, AP,KA,BR, any other state. He 'owns' about 1 acre, hopes to irrigate his farm from canals which have not been desilted because our bureaucrats/netas have eaten up all the money and owes the local money lender 20 times the value of his land. He survives and somehow manages to put food on us urbanites tables.Should he not top your list? What did we get independence from and do we deserve it?

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

The State has ceased to be a source of pride to most Indians. However the concept of motherland should still inspire some emotion in us. I find even that slowly fading in favour of regional loyalties, as you have highlighted. I could open the floodgates of cynicism in all of us by highlighting, say, the CommonWealth Games mess, or the mess in Kashmir, or the Maoist issue. Instead, as you have done, let us dedicate ourselves. My own pledge

- Work hard, and to the best of my ability in my profession
- Be a good neighbour
- Strive for excellence in my daily life
- Practice good civic sense

I would like to say that I will not promote corruption, but then, what do I do when my shipment arrives from the UK and the agent wants money? Better to make promises I can keep.

The crackling voice of Nehru making the Tryst With Destiny speech still brings a tear to my eyes....

Vishal said...

Happy Independence Day, Ramesh and everyone out here!

Special thanks to you for giving us such a good post on this very special day. Equally important is the century of posts by you in consecutive years. May you continue scoring more and more centuries like this! Congratulations :-)

Amidst all the problems that the country is facing, I would like to take heart from the progress that we made in these 63 years. Indeed, there are problems which threathen our integrity but somewhere there is a sense of security in my sub-conscious mind that tells me "we shall overcome"

P.S. - As I scrolled down the list, I wished that all the seven people were from a fraternity of people in-charge of running the country.

Ramesh said...

@Connecter - I think Divide and Rule is a misnomer. You can only be divided if you allow yourself to be divided. Usually , in adversity, people unite. So if people want to stay united, they can. We need to mature as a society to refuse to be divided.

@kiwi - I am not as partial to the farmer . While suicide and misery are tragedies which we should mourn, the farmer is far from blameless. If he could get educated, not take wild risks in farming, stop getting into debt because of paying massive dowries, and so on and so on, his life would be better. I am not condoning government inefficiency and corruption, but the farmer also needs to do his bit to get our of penury.

@Ravi - Yes the State has slipped into greater and greater disappointment, but in a democracy we have to accept our share of the blame. We vote criminals, so what else would we get. If a large measure of th population looked to the greater good of India, we will get a government that would act that way too.

@Vishal - Thanks Vishal . Hadn't realised that I had crossed a hundred for this year !! Hopefully quantity is not a substitute for quality !!

J said...

Maybe it is our richly diverse cultures and traditions that cause us to be so easily divided. But I think when faced with a serious problem, Indians do unite as during Kargil but on a day to day basis a national identity is somewhat lacking. After many years I went to an independence day celebration over the weekend ( advantages of small town living), complete with national anthem(s). There's something about our national anthem that is just so moving each time.

Vishal said...

Oh yes, the quality and the theme of each of your post are too good. Definitely, quantity becomes a by-product then.

Ramesh said...

@J - Oh yes, when the strains of Jana gana mana start,I feel the goose pimples too; everytime.

P.N. Subramanian said...

I appreciate the kind of message you wish to pass on through this post. Hats off to you. This should be the spirit of every Indian.

Ramesh said...

@PNS - Thanks for dropping by here and for your very kind comment.

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