Today is 15th August. India’s Independence Day. For a land (and people) that has a history from time immemorial, the 63rd Independence Day still means a great moment.
The atmosphere outside is rather depressing. Pune is panicked with the fear of swine flu. Educational Institutions, Shops, Malls, Hotels, Theaters and Markets closed. There is hardly anyone on the road. In villages, people are waiting for blessings of Rain God and there is wide fear of a drought worse than 1972 – a kind of ‘benchmark’ for drought in Maharashtra. Prices have risen to sky and people are not sure whether they will be able to afford certain necessities six months afterworlds. The recession has hit number of families and especially the young generation. Natural calamities, Religious madness and Terrorist attacks are unpredictable and hence there is a general feeling of insecurity. Life seems to be indeed bleak.
When I was a kid, I always enjoyed the moment of Flag Hoisting with pride. It reminded me that there was something to live for and if required to die for. The freedom history was motivating and inspiring. I still remember the sad shock when I found (after consistent queries) that none of the people in my life at that time had participated in Freedom Struggle.
During college days, NSS (National Social Service) camps, which were generally held in small villages worked as an eye opener for me. Though I was brought up in a similar kind of resource poor village, I had not objectively looked at the situation till then. I still remember the women queuing up at the deep and almost dry well at 3.00 in the morning to fetch up one pot of water. I still remember a dinner with a Dalit family. Four kids were eating just chutney and jowar roti… and I was served potato vegetable with roti. When I naively inquired why the kids are not eating potato, the younger one smiled and spontaneously told me, “Oh! We don’t like it”. The realization that they were feeding me at the cost of their hunger still lingers on my mind. Once a six year child was cooking food and her face was sweaty and red with the heat of chulha, and she was trying to pacify her younger sibling who was crying… that picture still remains with me.
This was the India I had never thought about, this was the India I hardly knew anything about. This was the India, who did not know that they were ‘Indian’ and many of them did not know the importance of 15th August, simply because it did not change their life, it did not bring light in their life. Unfortunately, this India still exists, still struggles for a pot of water, still cooks in the midst of smoke and still can't afford a good meal....
Many such experiences were the turning points. I stopped attending flag hoisting ceremony on the two days (15 August and 26 January) realizing that I need to do more than just following the ritual of patriotism. Like religious rituals, there are patriotic rituals – I am not sure whether I did right but somehow I stopped attending these functions.
Does it mean I do not love India? Does it mean that I do not love ‘my’ people? Does it mean I am not grateful to the earlier generations who gave their life to make us free? Does it mean I am not concerned about people around?
May be few years ago, I would have asked these question to anyone who justified absence from flag hosting functions. But today, I don’t ask such questions – not asking questions is a sign of getting old; yes… that is what I used to say! Nationalism is a means to achieve larger goals; it is not a goal in itself – though it appears to be so at some stage of life. One has to grow out of it and not shrink due to it. Whatever objective we have, we cannot achieve it through hatred, violence and arrogance - even cultural arrogance!
Every year, there are difficulties – natural and human made, which the country faces. The poor pay more price during each such calamity. But these difficulties do not stop celebrations – religious and social. Life goes on in spite of pain and suffering. For those who live, they need purpose, they need relevance. They want to break the web of meaninglessness.
Life keeps on going; irrespective of, in spite of the realities. Actually life adopts these realities and moves on. People have the tenacity to overcome difficulties and they somehow try to make life livable.
When someone says ‘Long Live India’, I smile with the knowledge that Life Lives Long…