(Published in Sify.com, on 29 February 2012, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/patriotism-in-the-time-of-diplomatic-impasse-news-columns-mc3qnhhehde.html)
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To Indians, patriotism is an indefinable concept. We feel it in the quickening of our hearts when the national anthem is played, we sense it in the rage with which we read about colonisation and the freedom struggle, we salute it in the tears which fill our eyes when we spot the outline of our country while flying back from an alien land. But most often, it’s lost in anger at our government, ridicule at ourselves, and sometimes, disillusionment with what ‘being Indian’ constitutes. When our slogan goes ‘Unity in Diversity’, what is it that unifies us, and characterises nationality?
We’re indoctrinated with patriotism in our schools, supplied with application forms to foreign universities during our undergraduate studies, and then encouraged to trade in our passports once we escape to greener pastures. Some of us return, and find ourselves struggling with the idea of Indianness. Where can it be found, if not in language, region, religion, culture and skin tone?
For someone like me, who couldn’t speak the language unofficially considered the national language when I first moved to Delhi, coming to terms with nationality involves a preliminary step – the shock of alienation. It was so much easier to be Indian when I thought the entire country worked, looked, spoke, ate and felt like my neighbourhood.
Eventually, though, as we migrate to cities across the country, and make friends of various ethnicities, we find our nationhood in the recesses of our collective conscious. At some point in our self-involved search for our individual identities, we find ourselves speaking in chorus on certain issues. And when one’s milieu is the newsroom, and one’s social circle largely comprises journalists, one is bound to find a familiar refrain in the chorus.
We’ve been let down, we feel, let down by our leaders. Not just four hundred years ago, when conquerors were welcomed with red carpets, but every time India engages itself in diplomatic dialogue, usually to its detriment. We sharpen our scalpels and pour out a mix of scathing commentary and venomous witticism, berating the fools we placed in power.
It happened when the Centre allegedly smuggled Warren Anderson out to safety, even as generations of Indian citizens were affected by a single, poisonous leak. And even as the verdict in the case made a mockery of decades of protest, half the Parliament tried to shrug off the ignominy of asking for the extradition of a man it had hustled out.
It happens every time India is confronted by terror. From the day we saw off the militants who hijacked Flight IC 814 like honoured guests, to the day we failed to secure custody of most of the masterminds behind the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, to the fiasco over the Purulia arms drop case, we’ve humiliated ourselves every single time.
We deal with it by posting cartoons and sharing scenarios where Ajmal Amir Kasab dies of high cholesterol from OD-ing on chicken biryani. We roll our eyes at the sports bodies’ refusal to boycott the Olympics to protest against the sponsorship deal with Dow Chemicals – I mean, it’s not like we win enough gold to conduct a single wedding, anyway, we smirk. We’re surprised when the government decides to intervene in the child custody case in Norway.
And when we saw images of the Italian marines lounging in a guest house in Kerala, most of us thought they’d be treated like distinguished visitors – fed and lodged for a few days, and then sent off with apologies. We thought there would be hey-it-could-happen-to-anyone-
Indian-fishermen-Somali- pirates-what’s-the-difference shrugs, and a warm handshake.
That may still happen. But for the moment, two weeks have gone by, and the government has stayed firm, even as the other party tries to manipulate loopholes in laws regarding jurisdiction over international waters. Those fishermen will never come back. But their memories haven’t been sullied yet. Their relatives are fighting it out in court with the owners of the Italian oil tanker, and are likely to get most of the compensation they’re demanding.
Whatever turn the case takes over the next few days, for once, we can open the newspapers with a sense of pride – that we’ve actually taken swift action against an injustice, and that we’re not taking aggressive moves by a foreign government lying down. For once, we don’t have to desultorily turn to the sports pages in the hope that the much-gloried-much-rewarded-
much-overrated cricket team has ‘saved the nation’s pride’ or something like it, to feel good about our country. Perhaps that’s what patriotism amounts to – caring a little more for the people of our nation than for international relations.