With the Indian Republic celebrating its 63rd anniversary this month, I ask myself the question I pondered over last August too, as we celebrated 65 years of freedom — how truly Indian are we?
Do we even bother to spare a thought to our pan-Indian identity? Or are we just Tamils/ Marathis/ Bengalis, somehow muddling through in our corners, concerned only with immediate problems in our backyards?
Yes, the nation did rise in uproar over the recent horrific events in Delhi and the Indo-Pak border. Social media has been ablaze with talk about hanging for rapists and retaliatory beheadings…brrr. But it seems to take monstrous acts to rouse the sleeping Indian. Mostly, we are happy enough to paddle along in our little boats, surviving the day. And on occasions like the Republic Day or the Independence Day, there is some obligatory flag waving, a speech or two at the local club/school, watch Gandhi on the telly for the umpteenth time, and then it’s back to immediate issues and lives.
Local matters require immediate action, agreed. Our chaotic and insanitary public urban spaces rouse us to anger over governmental apathy. We phone, we try and get our areas cleaned up in more ways than one. But I seriously feel that the ordinary citizen needs to be awoken from slumber, inspired to reflect at least for a few moments, on this ancient multicultural free India that we have inherited. I asked my 18-year-old neighbour whether her school and college friends experienced India in their daily lives, or was it only their Tamil identities that predominated. She replied honestly that she thought of herself as a Tamilan first and then an Indian; that her friends were mainly Tamil, and yes, there was a Telugu girl too in her circle. They watched Tamil films in theatres and English-Hindi-Telugu films on TV. They were aware about the Delhi rape case, also painfully conscious about similar happenings in Tamil Nadu.
Fair enough. But wouldn’t it help the country to nudge our youth, our future, towards national consciousness?
You may or may not agree with the present government in power, whether at Centre or State level. But that’s no excuse for badmouthing whole groups of people, people belonging to a certain religion or State. There is so much of divisive hateful talk on our social networking sites and forums, it’s disheartening and sickening. And shockingly, quite a bit of such talk is from a section of young people, the future inheritors of this country. And even more saddening is the cynicism displayed by older people who should know better.
Braveheart Anna Hazare is continuously mocked by a leading weekly; a TV show that attempts to make one ponder over pesticides in our food and contaminated ground water — this noble attempt was continuously dismissed by cynics in the media. And these are just two examples.
Our youth need to be weaned off such soul-destroying negativity. Our books, films and cultural platforms need to be used in a befitting manner. Schools and colleges too need to look beyond churning out graduates.
Young and old, we need to read, watch, listen …discover ancient and present Indian truths. Good books (my all-time favourites include Pavan K Verma’s many bibliographical works on India identities), good films that encourage pan-Indian thought (Sarfarosh, Mr. & Mrs. Iyer — two films that talk of nationalism being above all other identities) — these and other such works need to be experienced. Uplifting Sufi music, the Ramayana ballets of Delhi’s Shriram Kala Kendra, quotes from Kabir and Tiruvalluvar...
To paraphrase a popular advertisement jingle — Jaago India, Jaago!