The Year of the Patriot

The Chinese missed this animal – the patriot in their zodiac. And the lion. But they got the monkey and the rabbit and the horse.They got the tiger,too. But let’s not talk about that! Slightly disturbing though, because we are so fond of the Chinese.

If the Chinese had the patriot in their zodiac it would be an animal with many avatars. It would be more potent than the dragon, with human and beastly manifestations.

The avatar we see most these days is an animal with claws and fangs. In its human form it could be armed with swords or bionettes. It may or may not have a tail or stripes, but it has a heart wont to provocation and irrational fear, suspicion and jealousy. This patriot suffers from inferiority and superiority complexes simultaneously.

I confess, I too have been under the shadow of the patriot. In my younger days, I have given in to the wonton joy of patriotic jingoism. The odd thing is that I have never felt it for Sri Lanka. Don’t kill me now. The truth is I am glad I never felt that sort of patriotism for Sri Lanka.

Hey, hold on, you are saying now. If it wasn’t for Sri Lanka, then where? To cut a long story short, I’d say India. I can clearly recall the exact moment when I felt that raw cheap feeling. I was at Wagha, the border between India and Pakistan. At six o’clock every morning and evening, there’s a parade. A performance.

It’s worth checking out.

So I have been part of that mass euphoria. I have screamed Hindustan Zindabad! I am guilty of patriotism for a place that is not even my country of birth.

But I am glad to say that it was the only moment. I lived through the Gujarat massacre, albeit at a safe distance. It was an unnerving experience. And when I saw the mobs, I immediately recalled the mobs at the Wagha border. I knew I had felt it myself.

So I know how it feels like. It’s a sort of reckless blindness. A feeling so powerful due to the mass of people around you who are feeling equally blind and reckless and destructive. anything is possible in these moments. You can mock, hate, humiliate, de-robe the other. You can rape and kill.

So I am not here to talk like a saint who never sinned. Patriotism is an overwhelming feeling. I know it. But fortunately, I grew up. I travelled and I saw. When I read about how women were raped in Gujarat, I was so shocked I wanted to leave India. I couldn’t believe that I had loved India more than my own country at times. It was depressing.

Gihan got it right when he drew this cartoon on our independence day. Flags. Aren’t they all just fake? Didn’t Roy once say that governments use flags to shrink-wrap people’s brains?

There was a period in my life when I belonged to Sweden. Heart and Soul. Most Swedish homes display their national flag in their garden and it’s there throughout the year, unlike ours that come out on independence day, after a war or cricket victory. The flags are there throughout. But I have never seen a Swede given into cheap patriotic jingoism. At least not among my friends. As I travelled around I saw a more or less equal society. I saw men and women on an equal footing. I saw respect for the state. I saw intolerance to the slightest injustice. I saw city squares with rock bands singing for the rights of the migrants.

The Swedes love their country. They love their state. We used to joke in our South Asia study class that a Swedish woman trusts her state than her husband. And that is the truth. No Swedish woman has to tolerate an abusive husband. No Swedish kid has to take a beating from parents. the state is the safety net for all citizens to fall back on. No wonder the Swedes love their country. If it wasn’t for that harsh winter I would have never left the place.

So this is the other avatar of patriotism. And I believe it is present not only in the cold Scandinavia but in also in our warm tropical quarters. I have seen it in India too. When I sing the Indian national anthem, I feel my heart filling up with many vibrant colours. When it calls out for the Punjabi, Sindhi, Gujarati, Marati, Dravidian, Oriya and Bengali people, I feel I am also somehow included. The island i come from could be just another one the Indian states. When India gained independence, they decided to scrap the national anthem under the British Raj “Vandai Mataram” and adopted Tagore’s ‘Jana Ghana Mana’. The reason was that Tagore’s lyrics, originally written in highly Sanskritized Bengali, was far more inclusive than Vandai Mataram.   (Weerawansa lied when he said the Indian national anthem is in Hindi! Click here to read more!)

The Indian national anthem can include even a foreigner like me. I know the words by heart. When the fiasco about our own national anthem came up, I wished someone would highlight how India, despite all its failures, managed to build national identity that transcended its narrow ethnic barriers.

The truth is that a country just doesn’t belong to a government. The government belongs to the people. And people can come from and belong to many lands.

Is that possible, you ask me. Is it possible to belong to more than one country? Can someone write national anthems for two countries? Is it possible to love more than one person within a lifetime?  Is it possible for our national flag to be made in China? I can give you  clear-cut truthful answers to all.

Yes, it is all possible!

Tagore wrote national anthems for India and Bangladesh. He proposed internationalism in place of nationalism. There’s a chapter in Amartya Sen’s book The Argumentative Indian  called Tagore and his India that I propose you read. It’s about how India went about creating a national identity that included all. Not that this Tagorian tradition is unrivalled in India, but it is still strong.

For instance, look at our performance in ICC Opening Ceremony yesterday. What are we projecting to the world as a nation? And when are we going to get over this obsession on ‘Sinha Seyyawa’. When are we going to find the human form of love for our country?

Just check out the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games and see how India depicts itself in “The Indian Train sequence”

Yes, it is as Bollywoodish and funky as Bhathiya Santhush dreams to be, but it also depicts India as it is. It is the show of the common man. It depicts the coolies, the bicycle man, the politicians seeking votes, the women balancing water pots…the colour and beauty of the common Indian.

Here’s creativity for our artists!

We should be proud of our land, not because of the harbours and auditoriums the chinese build for us. Or because of the fabricated history we claim as ours taught in our schools. We should be proud of who we are, a people who come from everywhere, and belong too, to many places.

So please, let’s get over this lion and silly patriotism. Stop repeating history in this warped fashion. Check your sources, and you’ll find that it is not history but myth.

Let’s find a new way to articulate who we are as we are. Let’s find a way to love our country in a human way.

And its not only upto the politicians. It is up to singers and cartoonists and writers and simple folks like you and me.

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