The Death of a Nation

I wrote this first when I was in high school, then went back and added contemporary references towards the end of my first year of college. It wasn’t written for a special day or event. From textual evidence, this lack apparently caused my tiny audience some discomfort. But as I re-post this today, I hope I do it with a certain amount of Significance.

[For those of you who don’t know — or haven’t had time to check Google Doodles thing morning — the 15th marks India’s independence from British rule. It is our 65th years of putative freedom this year.]

Excuse my scatty verbosity. I was a teen.

***

There’s an Amitav Ghosh article called ‘The Ghost of Mrs Gandhi’. I was reading it when my eyes started stinging, and there was this constriction at the back of my nose. For insensitive bone-heads, it means I very nearly cried.

And then I immediately thought, aren’t I supposed to be a student of English literature? Shouldn’t I be able to focus on the content, but be magically disconnect from the emotion it inspires? I read an article about unthreatened people (in terms of community) risking their lives to shelter the threatened minority in the middle of a violent riot, Nehru’s ‘bhai-bhai’ sentiment out in full-force, people fighting the system with their will and their humanity and their goodness — ooh, such heroes! — and my first reaction is heart-swelling tears? Yuk! No wonder Bollywood works!

But that’s not actually true. In fact, the heart-swelling tears only happened at the bit where the women in the group surround the men, to protect them from the violent goons. The rest of the article brought out the anger I’ve been feeling at the world lately, in my own unvoiced, understated way.

Actually, I’ve been furious.

It’s difficult to convey this anger, because nothing’s been happening to ‘justify’ it. Mangled spoon-fed religious belief and calculated politics don’t need a justification, but if you want to pour your heart out about the state your country, your whole bloody world is in, you need a mass-murder at least. Or a hideous accident in which loads of little kids die or have their limbs wrenched away. Or a bomb to go off in one of the nerve centres of the world. If there isn’t a ‘tragedy’ there’s no point speaking your mind. People are going to look at you and wonder what you’re on about. It’s irrelevant and slightly insane, you see, till something big happens. Life goes on, because it must.

For example, I grew up in a family where people didn’t particularly discuss the religious aspects of the Babri masjid event, even as we lived through it. I remember a lot of concern, a lot of worried mutterings over tea, but only between fishing out the purse to give the domestic help money to go buy telebhaja from the bazaar, and searching for a particularly scathing editorial in the day’s newspaper for everyone to appreciate.

But then, I was a child. Maybe my family were secret fundamentalists. After all, they came from Bangladesh, didn’t they? But growing up, I found no inkling of anything discriminatory in my surroundings. Which is why the world comes as such a shock. Some day, the newspapers say that in Mumbai it is against policy to paint public buildings green, because of it’s association with Islam. On other days, in a different vein, they report that cops at Narkeldanga have refused to escort CESC people to disconnect hookings which lead to frequent power failures in east Cal, because they fear a ‘law and order situation’. Instead they have unofficially requested the CESC officials to restore the hooked connections to placate the local slum dwellers.

And I am not taking anyone’s side here, just in case you are wondering. If the majority had been reversed, these stories would have a reversed point of focus. If another party was in power, they would have protected illegal hookings too.

And that is what worries me sick — that these stories of reality, no pun intended, exist at all.

It’s just that, I sort of used to believe all that stuff on my country being a melting pot of cultures and languages, on being truly multi-ethnic and happy about it. Now I feel stupid, gullible, dumb and made a fool of. And I hate being made a fool of. So you see, I have a selfish, personal, spiteful axe to grind against the people who beat up a Muslim man in Mumbai for being a Muslim and reading a Bengali newspaper, a Hindu man in UP for pulling a Muslim girl away from an oncoming lorry (he touched her, see?), a Sikh for having a beard and wearing a turban (terrified Americans thought he was an Afghan terrorist. Like he would walk up to the friendly neighbourhood counter after 9/11 if he was), those who kill tiny little three bloody minute old girls, and force their children into marriage. Those who let ‘situations’ get out of hand and sit in AC rooms and calculate the benefits thereof. Who think if they ignore the problem of the seven sisters of the north-east long enough and fire enough rounds into the people, they’ll quit making a racket and behave like proper, docile Indian women.

So I am vindictive, you see. I am cold, angry, and unforgiving.

And all I can do about it is cry over ancient articles and write silly pieces on a blog. But then, what can I do? The nation that I belived my country was never really existed. I grew up within a ghost.

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32 comments

  1. True. We are brought up on a lot of spin. You totter when you get off. Our bapu and chacha had many fanciful notions. We inherit some of that mandatorily.

  2. There is much to be angry about Priyanka. Also there is much to be proud of. As a nation, India stands sui generis. A nation which has subverted every conception of political model despite the injustices and depredation. If you want to be a scoundrel in this country, you are free to be. If you want to be a seer, you are free as well. our ethics are cosmpolitan but many facets of our lives are. You read Amitav Ghosh in English and talk about Bollywood as if it is in your blood. yes it may be elitist of us but How many citizens of any country can imbibe the timeless lessons of tolerance ingrained in our daily existence. let me quote a few lines of Ghalib in closing, who on being asked in Kashi by another saint why the doomsday has not come to India despite the strife, uttered the following – The hoary old man of lucent ken/ pointed towards Kashi and gently smiled/ “The Architect”, he said, “is fond of this edifice/because of which there is color in life;He would not like it to perish and fall”. Liberation was a Janus in disguise. If we ever grew up in a ghost, it was a kindred spirit.Look at it, you will find happiness without giving up reason.

  3. Pathikritda, it’s a pity Tagore’s ideas on politics and reason are not similarly mandatory, eh?

    Anindya, kichhui bujhlam na clearly, except that you love your country and revel in its superiority. I’m happy for you.

  4. Bet you to come up with something like this on Independence Day.
    I was itching to write something angry and realistic today, then suddenly got tagged 🙂
    The bottom line is, even if you have many reasons in your heart to want to be happy and patriotic on I-Day, it’s no use. With the state everything is in, a good dose of anger will probably be more use.

    • Ami eta aaj likhi ni re, school e thakte likhechhilam, bhablam post kori. The point is, I was very angry then — I was just meeting reality, as it were, and realising very quickly the world was not my socially liberal, religiously tolerant, happy, well-intenioned bubble. I also realised how manipulative the ‘Unity in Diversity’ feel-good messages can be.

      It wasn’t a very pleasant realisation.

      But the anger, I think, was underscored with sadness. I wanted India to be more like its PR, but I also knew the powers that be wouldn’t allow it.

  5. Nirad C or somebody wrote about the limitation of bapu’s experience, the culture of his background and the limitations of his thought process. liberal and sane Robinthenut is still too much to contain into NCERT, may be.

    • Bapu had quite a few good ideas, but in essence, he was a Western-educated yet socially conservative man — the type still abounds today, Chetan Bhagat is an excellent example — who burrowed deeper within patriarchal folk culture for comfort and political leverage.

      Tagore was very well, if informally, educated. When he spoke of Hinduism, for example, he spoke of both practised faith and the ancient texts. His ideas on education and politics were status quo-challenging projects with long-term benefits, not chipper slogans. This made him an ‘elite’, which I understand is a cardinal social sin. If the choice is between a long, hard road to well-researched, well-considered solutions to our problems, and cheap popularity via insincere quoting of folk wisdom, public intellectuals and successful politicians must always pick the latter.

  6. LOl. I do not revel in anyone’s superiority least of all in a concept as jingoistic as nationalism. Nevermind. 🙂

    • Precisely, Dipali. I don’t know what it is about the idea of India that I love — probably it’s almost unparalleled history of diversity and co-existence — but I do regard it with hope, affection, and a small amount of pride.

      The trouble is, some of my fellow-citizens have come to re-define these feelings so comprehensively, that ‘pride’ almost inevitably means a jingoistic pissing contest. As Syyed Mujtaba Ali once wrote, we’ve come to be creatures who cannot praise our own fathers without shaming and ridiculing those of others’.

  7. I was about to send Independence Day felicitations, but it seems we share a common dissatisfaction. Here in the States, in less than ten years of egregious misrule, our own flag has become the symbol for right wing, gun slinging, mindless madness, war, and death while enriching a tiny minority as distant, in their own way, from the horrors their amorality perpetuates as they prepare to buy our next election. How to detach love of family and culture from the mess that is reality and the shame that informs every headline? You do your bit, your Tagore post was all about getting it right when so few seem to care about it..

  8. Priyanka, my throat constricted and my eyes stung reading this post. Yes, you made me cry. Because I too grew up believing that my multi-cultural secular country was just that. As I sit here in the US, I am filled with nostalgia, love and sheer unadulterated homesickness. Yet, I know that things are different now. Still, I love and miss it. Still, I want to be back no matter how bad it is.

    Oh, the way we view things- idhar, udhar, aar, paar. While we are all just lost in the majhdhaar…

    • “Oh, the way we view things- idhar, udhar, aar, paar. While we are all just lost in the majhdhaar…”

      Very nicely put, Rachna. I’m glad to have someone who empathises.

  9. You will, of course, bat your hands at me, Sunny, but while I personally feel we must all do whatever little (or lot) we can to make a difference — and not just for the obvious cause, ‘those poor people’, but whicever person or group needs help — there is a strong sociological argument against voluntary helping-outs.

    Apparently, a belief in personal effort deters a lot of people from taking part in larger political movements, demanding that state also do its duty. So these days, I’m careful to word my support for voluntary efforts or programmes so that I don’t give the impression it is the people’s sole responsibility to improve our lot. The admin we pay taxes to must be held accountable. And that is where India falls flat on its face 😦

  10. I am in the middle of India After Gandhi and just re-read Thy Hand, Great Anarch. I think the acrimonious relations between Bengal Pradesh Congress and National Congress during 30s and 40s correctly convinced INC thought leadership that as other states become more politically aware and assertive in an independent India like Bengal was in British India, the paradigm of strong-center-weak-state and hence INC’s ironclad contract with India’s political future would be seriously challenged, given how diverse India is and how precarious Hindu-Muslim relations are. Gandhi understood it intuitively and Nehru in a more abstract way. The ghost story was a necessary and convenient political construct.

    • Absolutely, and very succinctly put. I find it deeply ironic, of course, that the people who crafted this ‘anti-elite’ for-the-people political character for the nation (north of the Vindhyas anyway, I know very little about politics in the south) were socially and financially what one would these days refer to, slightly inaccurately, as the top 1%. But that was probably why it happened.

  11. For the last few years since we moved to this dumb building, I have noted the great fanfare with which independence/republic days are celebrated here. Aye mere watan ke logo starts off and songs continue to blast through the morning and then the residents cone up and shout out wordy speeches. And yet, these are all mostly crooks who have made it big and flout every rule in the book with impunity. I used to get stared at because sometimes I just did not feel like standing with my tub of popcorn and coke to sing the national anthem. I did not care, and if people thought I was less patriotic then to hell with them – I am not patriotic. I love this place because I live here and it gives me a sense of belonging which other places I have lived in did not. But I am not interested in jingoistic displays, I really cant be bothered to display the crisscrossed flag on my dashboard. But I serve my country better than those others shouting out speeches just cause they love their own voices and the sense of importance it gave them. I pay my taxes, work honestly and but feel our bureaucracy and politicians have failed us and I cant see the basic structure and ethos changing anytime soon. But then again, we get the politicians and leaders we deserve – self serving and corrupt to the core. And so despite the heterogeneous unity we flaunt as a model to the world, we remain those few steps away from providing the basics to our people. It is a mark of our collective moral depravity that we let this go on. Countries which have gone through much more have risen up from the proverbial ashes.

  12. Gau-tam, you’re the right person to talk of bovinization I guess :). Seriously though ewhile this has always been there in some sections of our people, I used to take heart in the fact that my own world, however parochial and narrow that worldview was, never actually collided with it – our friends and relatives were, we thought, different. Han, the delusions. I now can almost guarantee that many of our friends would have joined the Nazis had they been there then. There is so much animosity on the one hand and also a sense of entitlement on the other, and both are wrong. If sensible well -read people can have their views veered this way what hope is there for the majority of our people?

  13. …and the old hold a very big stick over the young – sompotti. In today’s uncertain economy very few young people are inclined to be rebellious. Most Indians are bureaucratic, pompous and very very old in their hearts. And it starts from a very early age, this reactionary conservatism.

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