Sometimes your moment of epiphany comes in the most unlikely of places. And things are never the same again.
It was November 2012. I had just gotten married and booked tickets to Andamans. On day 2 , we had gone to the Cellular Jail. Little did I know that the night would mark a tectonic shift in my world view. They had arranged a light and sound show to show the tourists about the struggles of countless men incarcerated there during India’s darkest years. The sheer impossibility of escape and the brutal conditions of the jail would break even the strongest men.
I was transfixed and with great respect visited Savarkar’s cell. Veer Savarkar was kept in a cell (strategically) just opposite the gallows – so that he can see the prisoners getting hanged. The man had written – in Hindi – a poem to the birds,
“I don’t know your language, but If I did, I would teach you the Indian National anthem”
Even now, it’s hard for me to say in any language,including my own, what I felt at that moment. Perhaps a gush or respect , a wave of pride,love for the nation all mixed in intoxicating proportions, that I almost lost balance. It was then that the unthinkable happened.
Several people behind me had been making noises, smoking and making fools of themselves generally. In spite of admonition from the guide, they paid little heed to the sanctity of the ground they were treading. It was a generation that didn’t have to deal with British atrocities. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me – that they were able to do that in Cellular jail only because of the sacrifice of thousands of freedom fighters. Sometimes when you get something, without toiling for it, you hardly understand its value. These ungrateful brats had the temerity to go to gallows and make some stupid jokes!
Life had come a full circle. From the time when we were united and used every means to wrest freedom from a cold empire, we had become a nation with no pride or self respect. I,Me and Myself had become the dominant personal ideology. The government had embraced a politics of anything goes and by natural progression, scams rocked the country. The regularity of these scams would put any Swiss watch maker to shame.
I had little idea of Modi or BJP then. Nor was I particularly aware that nationalism was an antidote to the plague I was witnessing. I was one of those happy go lucky guys whose life revolves around a book, a laptop and a cup of coffee. I was decidedly apolitical. Of course, just because we don’t take interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take interest in us.
The questions kept haunting me through out my honeymoon – just like the rhythmic waves that hit the beautiful beaches of Andamans. Why did these people feel no respect or love for the freedom fighters? Why were they not proud of their heritage? Where did we lose the plot? More importantly, what is the solution?
Of course, it was apparent that in a vast and diverse country like India, it is juvenile to expect a knight in shining armor to come and change things. It was also clear that we were at cross roads in history – a decisive moment – when things can only change for the better, if there is a thorough overhaul of the dominant narrative. The political discourse needed some shaking up. We needed to find some way to unite the country – the sleeping giant – and gear up to take a larger role in the world stage.
It was then that Modi happened. The social media powered campaign was a blitzkrieg. Like so many of my country men, I came under his spell. We see only what we want to see, and believe someone who says what we want to hear. He was a master orator and I cursed myself for not knowing enough Hindi to understand his speeches.
Three years on – when I look around – I am happy that things have finally started to change.But sometimes it’s hard to shake off the feeling that we might have gone overboard. The duality has become quite stark – not that is always bad – after all , if you looking at good and bad, you can’t complain of them being totally different. The media has become more polarised – so much so that it’s hard to tell what is true these days. The quality of public discourse is laughably poor – incessant fights on language, religion and caste continue to plague us.
As India has become a global power to reckon with, our vulnerability to external threat has diminished substantially. To put it in our PM’s words, India of 2017 is not the same as India of 1962. The standoff in Doklam and China’s cautious approach is ample testimony to this fact. Our growing clout is undeniable.
Unfortunately we are quite vulnerable to ourselves and our folly. We may have become more divided nation – or so it seems. The very drug of nationalism which was intended to treat the apathy has now reached militant heights. The shrill cry of hypernationalism is threatening to tear the fabric of our cherished diversity. After all, our flag is a tricolor, not some monochrome.
I was and still remain a subclinical sanghi. I do wonder if my political pendulum is beginning to swing towards the centre. On this glorious Independence day, we must realize that our differences don’t matter as much as our shared history and bonds. We need to tell our kids that we take great pride in our Indian identity- the primary identity of all of us.Just like our forefathers who toiled hoping that their children and grandchildren would one day live in a free India, we need to work hard to ensure that we don’t drop the baton. We owe it to those brave souls who shed their blood and sweat in cellular jail.
Happy Independence day!