Last week, I found myself at Teen Murti House in the heart of New Delhi. This is where the Nehru Planetarium and the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library are located. I was here to attend a talk, a couple of hours too early. On impulse, I decided to stroll through the museum, a great alternative I though to sitting under a tree and scrolling through my phone!
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, lived and died in this house. The grand building witnessed not only many important moments of a young nation’s history, but also absorbed the vibrations and echoes of many meaningful debates and reveries, I am sure. I had heard terrible things about the museum, of how badly the great photographic collections was displayed, how much more is possible, etc. But I am a sucker for museums and I set that sort of negativity aside during my time there.
I walked through pictures from Nehru’s early life without much interest, but the fascinating perspective of the freedom struggle that the display offered got me thinking. Few of us realize what a long way we have come and how precious our freedom is! I read the names of hundreds of people on those walls, brave people I didn’t even know about who had dedicated their lives to a cause, because of whom we can dream the dreams we have today.
Even fewer question what we are doing with this freedom? Are we choosing to reinforce prejudices and stereotypes that our colonial masters reinforced for political and economic gain or are we working to create institutions and processes that set our nation on a new path of change (Historian Romila Thapar talks about this)? In fact, are we really free?
Isn’t that a great question to ponder over today, as our nation goes to polls. India is the largest democracy in the world and its relatively high voter turnout astounds the West repeatedly. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, this puts a great responsibility on each of us to vote intelligently and to vote for change and NOT vote for people who reinforce the old stereotypes and continue to play us against each other for narrow political gains.
I’m not even getting into how we abuse our freedom everyday (break traffic rules, bribe the cop, have differential rules for others and none for ourselves!). I’m not going to ramble about how we need to become better citizens and better people, find ways to work with each other, contribute to our own community and neighborhood, etc. To me, these are no-brainers! We know all of that, but we choose to ignore it because we believe the future of our country is in the hands of THEM, corrupt politicians, stupid egoistic bureaucrats. Perhaps it’s time to think differently and take that future in our hands, in whatever way we can!
We are fortunate to live in a democracy. The wise men (and some women) who wrote our Constitution and set up our democratic processes gifted us many powers we don’t bother to use. I’ve been reading up and thinking deeply about these issues and only beginning to understand what these powers are. I’ve made many friends in Gurgaon (you know who you are!) because I’ve been curious about these issues and I laud the dedication of those who take up citizen activism at sometimes great cost to themselves. And I see great hope for a country that has people like these as its citizens. I’m learning everyday that citizenship is as much about GIVE as it is about TAKE; it is as much about our relations with EACH OTHER as our relations with THE STATE.
I got a call from a childhood friend last evening. We are particularly close and talk often, especially when we need to share something that we hesitate to even tell our own selves.
She asked me a strange question; in fact, it was a strange conversation:
Her: “Is it ok for me to borrow money from my parents or my brother?”
Me: “What do you need the money for?”
Her: “Just like that, I want to keep it with me. I have no savings.”
My friend is married, with two children. Her younger one will start school soon. She is a trained nursery school teacher and immensely talent with children. She used to teach, but has given up her career for the last three years to bring up her children.
Me: “I would not borrow unless I needed the money for something specific. And how will you pay it back?”
Her: “I don’t know. I don’t have a job right now. When I start working, I will repay I suppose.”
Me: “Would your parents not get worried if you ask them for money just like that? Is everything well at home? Did you have a fight with <husband’s name>?”
Her: “No, no. Nothing like that. But yea, I need money for myself, for small expenses. I have been spending from my savings from when I was teaching and now I have run out of money. I am not used to not having anything in my bank account.”
By now, she is sounding really distraught and confused. We talk things through and then agree that it would be best to talk this out with her parents when she visits them next and just ask them for some money to tide her over instead of taking a loan.
I also ended up urging her to look more aggressively for work and not feel guilty about leaving her young ones at home or in daycare. I reminded her that the decision to have a second baby was a joint one and that her husband is also responsible for her decision to be a home maker till the children grow up a little.
I was upset that she hesitated to ask him for expense money. That she felt guilty about wanting little pleasures in life. That she was so conflicted between her duties as a mother to her children and her need to be financially independent.
So many of us women are in this boat. Why do we accept the taunts and jeers, seemingly harmless but actually potent, that our husbands and others dish out to us, about decisions that are perfectly rational- like not going to work for a few years OR choosing to remain working even when our children are small? An individual has her own reasons to take these decisions. There is no formula here. Everyone is entitled to do what makes her a happy and satisfied person. And it is binding on a woman’s partner to support her just as he would expect his wife to stand behind him through the trials of life.
Marriages, relationships are so complex and intertwined, and so so fragile. Communication (especially about aspirations) and financial transparency are key pillars that both partners need to work on together. This is what I would say to the men of this world: If your partner’s happiness is not important to you, if seeing her smiling and confident does not make you proud, if you find yourself unable to respect what she wants and expect her to always pay heed to your needs over hers, then you are not cut out to have a woman in your life! Let her go and let her lead her own life. Whatever that life may be, it will be better than wasting her talents and love and energy with you!
A bit radical, but that is what I really think! I know the black and white options do not work in reality. Many of us struggle desperately to make things work against many odds. And whether to hang in there or make a clean break is also, in the end, an individual decision that we must respect.
Related blog post, also interesting!
Yes it is cliched to write a blog post on independence on the eve of our country’s Independence Day. What is the sort of independence we aspire to, as individuals, as groups within society, as a nation?
Personally, independence has always been a struggle. While I have strong opinions and can be quite self centred, I know I am far from independent. I live the stereotypes I have been fed, like most of us, since we were children. I thrive on relationships, the typical ones- spouse, mother, kids, grand mums, mother in law, close friends, extended family. I think I derive the most satisfaction in life from these. Every so often I find myself holding back from something I love to do, for instance, because I perceive this as being in conflict with these relationships and the person I am in their context. I sacrifice independence for peace.
Independence, therefore, is not a point won. It’s not the annihilation of dependence. It is far more nuanced. It is about balance, about the right amount of compromise, about weighing options, prioritising and taking chances.
Interdependence among citizens and our ability to come to reasonable means to live in harmony is therefore the main goal for an independent nation like ours. We have no higher power to tell us what to do, who we must listen to because we don’t have a choice. We do. But we must choose to exercise reason, build relationships, accept the dependence in order to truly enjoy independence.
I woke up this morning to glance down from the balcony at the community flag hoisting ceremony happening down in the park. On a rather chilly morning, a dedicated bunch of residents were assembled, singing the usual patriotic songs and releasing balloons in the colors of our national flag. It didn’t seem a particularly moving ceremony from my perch high up on the 14th floor.
Later, as I caught glimpses of the Republic Day parade on TV and was idly wondering about the relevance of such an imperial sort of display in the current post-modern context, I was surprised to find my eyes wet with tears of emotion! ‘Aah, patriotism!’ I said to myself.
Now, of course we are all patriotic deep inside. But the sharp, militant form of patriotism of our childhood, of those times when every young child dreamt of fighting a war for the country (when in our make-believe games, the boys were soldiers in imaginary Indo-Pak wars and the girls nursed the wounded!), can hardly be seen anymore. In today’s context, the threats have changed in nature. No longer is the country potentially under attack from outside elements, but insiders seem more threatening to the tenuous structure of our young and still immature democracy.
This 63rd Republic Day in our 65th year of independence, patriotism is no longer something we wear on our sleeve. As so-called global citizens, we the educated middle classes, express love for India in our desire to see higher GDP growth, industrial productivity, sectoral growth, rising sensex figures, increasing employment figures. We are patriotic in how we would like to see India beat China hollow (in your dreams, I hear the cynics say!) in terms of economic growth, exports, etc. I wish we’d get more competitive and patriotic and make efforts to improve our basic indices like health, infant mortality, sex ratio, literacy…we’re so far behind in trying to meet the Millenium Development Goals, we should, as a nation, hang our head in shame!
But coming back to the point, for all our professed love for India, are we really patriotic and does patriotism still mean something to us?
Patriotism, by definition, is about love for one’s country and loyalty to its central institution, the state. A large part of patriotism is about defending one’s nation against others and in the context of India’s current situation, against moves to destroy the nation’s democratic foundations and institutions as well. Which means we need to speak up and stand against all elements that want to divide Indians and those who want to take away any of the freedoms granted to us by the constitution.
To sum things up, shedding a tear or clapping in delight at the Republic Day parade simply isn’t enough! We’d need to do more to save our nation from its true enemies and then we’d be patriots for real!