Thursday, August 19, 2004

The India I know - on our 57th Independence Day

Patriotism, to me, has always meant music.

And not the kind of music that comes from a traditional raga or an uplifting symphony. The concept of India – as a mother, as an ideal worth dying for, as a home – was taught to me by Hindi film music.

And the 15th of August means that time of the year when I allow myself to wallow in the soggy kind of jingoism crooned out by Bollywood’s best playback singers. I mean, I couldn’t seriously be expected to believe – seeing and reading all that we do – that Hindustan was really the best place in the whole wide world and that we were all bulbuls in a fragrant garden. But come Independence Day and it seemed alright to feel like a ‘bulbul’ in some sort of contemporary Eden, even if it is a wee bit overcrowded.

My earliest memories of Independence Day are redolent with warm, boondi-laddoos in brown paper packets, and a lot of songs. Most of these songs come from Hindi films, the only national obsession greater than cricket, and the only one cutting across all boundaries of state, caste and community.

Independence Day was about waking up to the sound of drumbeats, watching the Tiranga unfurl and a loudspeaker croaking out Mere Desh Ki Dharteeeee.

‘Mere desh ki dharti’ was ubiquitous. It was inevitable. It was the 15th of August. And I knew it by heart. I also knew all the others – ‘Ye Desh Hai Veer Jawaano Ka’ and ‘Kar Chale Hum Fida’ and ‘Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon’, which always brought a jagged-edged lump to my throat. I continue to bawl, discreetly, when I hear ‘Aye Mere Pyaare Watan’.

When our teachers ran out of classic, black-and-white era songs with which to stir our patriotic little souls, they brought in colour-celluloid ones like ‘Aapas mein prem karo, desh premiyon’ and ‘Bharat ka rehne wala hoon’. And when those were exhausted, they started banking on poems written by the progressive writers during the freedom movement.

So patriotism, for me, became inextricably linked with film songs. But post-seventies, Bollywood has been rather disappointing in the desh-bhakti department. There have been too many repetitious images of war-torn borders, bleeding soldiers and too little music. My whole generation, in fact, grew up without a single defining patriotic song.

Independence Day itself seemed to turn into an old woman, going senile, repeating tales of past glory and lost love, which she’s told everyone several times over. I wasn’t listening anymore...

And then I heard the title song from Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani.

Today, it defines what I think and feel about our country. It neither gloats, nor escapes into historical half-truths of being the Golden Bird of the East. It neither asks me to die, nor to return to a fading culture of khaddar dhotis and blood-red sindoor.

This song tells us who we are and refuses to be apologetic about it.

It says that we lie. But we also tell the truth. We sell old goods in new packages. But we could also offer an umbrella to a stranger, on a rainy day. We want love, but we also want money. A little innocence; a little fraud. Some tears; a few dreams. Some helplessness, some carelessness and lot of madness.

If that isn’t the India I know, I don’t know what is. And like the song rightly points out, for all our hurts and disappointments, we’ve still got hope on our side.

Happy 57th Independence Day!
(C) Annie Zaidi
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