Friday, August 19, 2005

Independence Day unvisited

There's been something I've been wanting to say about independence for a week now. But I could not put it into words. Perhaps, because for me, patriotism has always been about music.

I could not explain what it was that made me want to turn off the radio when they played the same songs about this wonderful cuntery and our unbending, unending, unrelenting love for our 'Mother'land.

This year, the high-pitched squeal of 'Nanha munna rahi hoon; desh ka sipahi hoon' on the radio, made me want to throw up my daal-chawal, achaar and all.

Each chest-thumping melody was played no fewer than three times, on every radio station.
When they ran out of 'mere desh ki dharti', and 'Maa tujhe salaam', they resorted to digging up the tombs of long-buried raggedly tunes about villages, culture and soldiers.

Independence Day 'culture' and 'soldier' don't do anything for me.

And I don't suppose it's okay to say so, but I don't particularly think there's much of a difference between 'the' army and a hired group of mercenaries - ours or anyone else's.

I've been wanting to say that I don't feel jubilant about August 15th any more.

That, finally, the ogre of cynicism has eaten up that little scurrying mouse of patriotism, which used to feed off the memories of boondi-in-brown-paper-packets-in-marigold-layered-bamboo-baskets.

That loudspeaker-ed filmi songs and the reluctantly unfurling sunrise of the Tiranga no longer make my heart swell up with that undefinable soaring mixture of identity and adventure.

I'd been wanting to say why.

I hadn't been able to explain that this country - somewhere, somehow, over the last year, especially - has lost claims on my pride. Lost claim to being the best, ever.

I really believed that, you know... I believed in 'saare jahaan se achha'. I believed in '...parbat vo sabse ooncha, hamsaya aasmaan ka'

Until I realised what an idiotic claim it was - Mt Everest is in Nepal!

And Nepal is not India, though many of my countrymen like to think it is, potentially... I've heard 'why don't we just march in and take over?' from perfectly well-intentioned people. I've even heard, 'It's a Hindu country; they wouldn't have any problems with us.'

In fact, Nepal's biggest fear is that one day, India will decide to open her mouth really wide and swallow up the tiny kingdom - mountains, maoists, mists and all.

I really believed in that nonsense about unity in diversity. About hindu-muslim-sikh-isaai-bhai-bhai.

I've seen enough bhaichaara.

'Bhaiyya-Bihari bhagao' in Bombay; the 'Saale, Madrasi... kaale' in Delhi; I'd heard too many men refer to north-eastern girls are whores; I'd heard too many Bengalis say that the rest of the population is a moron, and deserved to be cheated of all the money that could be siphoned off them; too many south-Indians say 'the South should cede and become another country: the real India; the cow-belt is a strain on us.'

Bhaichaara, eh?

I've read too many reports about our bhaichaara - 1965. 1984. 1992. 1993. 2002....
we like manifesting our unity by employing more or less the same tactics when it comes to organised rioting.

I really liked to think that our men were the bravest, our women the most beautiful... remember, 'yahaan chaudi chhaati veeron ki; yahaan bholi shaklein Heeron ki; yahaan gaate hain Ranjhe masti mein...'.

But then, I remember what they did to the lovely Heer... andto Raanjha

'yahaan hansta hai sawaan baalon mein; khilti hain kaliyaan gaalon mein...' -

Here, we have too many innocent faces splashed with acid. Too many lovers killed for honour. Too many old women burnt as witches. Too many paraded naked; too many gang-raped....
not one; not two... year after year, after 58th year.

They tell me we're free.

I wonder - what am I free from? What did we win - midnight, August 15, 1947?
What did I gain? The ability to say I am a subject of India, and not a subject of Queen Elizabeth II? Was that all?

Or did I win the right to walk into a club that wasn't marked 'whites only'?

What about Goa, then? What about the whites-only parties there? What about the 'rights of admission reserved' joints. What about clubs where you get thrown out for wearing salwars?

What about the pubs I can't walk into, because there will still be violence of a certain kind? What about the places I can't get admission into, unless I have a 'domicile' certificate? Which 'soil' am I the daughter of? Or does that not matter... is it only about sons, whatever the soil?

Did we win a whole country, or did we only win a corner in a flat in a city in a state?

Yesterday, I attended a dharna by a group of people campaigning for a full-fleged employment guarantee law in this country - possibly the only one of it's kind in the 'third world', at least.

The government has sneaked in a clause, in this yet-to-be-passed bill: if corruption is revealed in any project funded through this law, the government will stop sending funds to the village.

Which means, for instance, that if a village panchayat does manage to expose irregularities, they will be punished by the government, who will stop funding the project that is supposed to provide a livelihood to the poor.
Fancy, eh?

I can't think of a more effective way of undermining the Right to Information Act.

Who will bother to expose irregularities if the first head to roll is your own - the corrupt officials will be thrown out later, if at all - inquiries will be held... suspensions will happen, though the suspended officials will continue to draw a salary... paperwork will happen, cases will be filed...
and you?

You will sit on your bony haunches, in your (possibly drought-hit) village, twiddling your thumbs, waiting for the law to take it's course.

Yet, strangely enough, it was at this dharna, that I found music, once again, to define my attitude to Independence Day - a deep mistrust.

A simmering anger. An impatience. A need to appeal to the long-dead Father of the Nation, to come and take a look at the mess we've got ourselves into...

I heard them sing 'Gandhi, tere desh mein'

"Gali-gali mein phailaa danga; Gandhi, tere desh mein
har koi bhooka, har koi nanga; Gandhi tere desh mein
.... har daftar mein chor, o bhaiyya; ye dil maange more...
jaisa-taisa, aisa-vaisa; paisa-paisa-paisa-paisa...
ye dil maange more, bhaiyya, ye dil maange more."

A deep mistrust.... That, was my definitive 58th Independence Day song.


Anonymous said...

nana munha rahi hoon - made me squirm even 20 years ago on television. much more interesting was Mukesh singing Chino Arab Hamara, Hindoostan Hamara, rehne ko ghar nahin hai - sara jahan hamara. a parody on sare jahan se achcha. and so much more evocative.

this independence day i simply couldn't bring myself to join in the celebrations. Does that make me less Indian? There are years that i can't bring my self to celebrate Diwali - does that make me less hindu or less a family person. It is just a state of mind - hopefully - and it too will come to pass!

Anonymous said...

cynicism and hope is something we all yo-yo between...

"ghar me tha kya jo tera gham use garaat karta
woh jo rakhte the hum ek hasrat e taamir, so hai..."

- ghalib

Anonymous said...

Annie, ouch. "Did we win a whole country, or did we only win a corner in a flat in a city in a state?" Also, is that state where you were born or where you went in search of livelihood / a better life? but why sudden cynicism this year

Annie Zaidi said...

harini, I hope it will pass. More, I hope this whole state of affairs will pass. If not in my lifetime, at least, afterwards...
and Ghalib has said everything that was worth the saying.... Why do any of us bother to touch the keyboard?
Charu, this year, I've working closer to the ground than ever before...

Anonymous said...

I agree.
But I would still like to see a smile on your face.
And a party on your birthday.

Anonymous said...

Hi, the last post was mine

R. said... what changed from the time when you believed in 'the Independence day culture' to now? My guess is it's only you. This is true for a lot of us.

The country of our dreams is an idealistic country and the country in reality is far from it. But if it weren't for our ideals and visions of perfection, we would give in to the elements that corrupt, that segregate and politicise. As much as you are disillusioned, you fight for this idealism with your words, as do many others in their own ways.

Anonymous said...

"...I don't particularly think there's much of a difference between 'the' army and a hired group of mercenaries..." I wonder!

You take your freedom too lightly, what little you say you have. It is very different in many places on this planet.
These soldiers you have such disdain for, are young men largely from villages and small towns all over the country who spend most of their working lives at the most inhospitable places in the country,paid a pittance for their sweat. They try to do a tough job with meagre resources as dictated to them by their political masters...the same government which you elected...or did you forget to vote?
Cynicism is fine and the internet is free. But please remember that you are free to insult those soldiers only because they uncomplainingly go about doing their jobs every day.

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