I often wonder about patriotism. It is a concept I have defended, debated and doubted at various points in my life, but I have always been unashamedly patriotic.On Republic Day, as Nupur and me drove together to a party, we were trying to examine how our concepts have altered over time. Not only in the sense that we now see patriotism very differently as adults in our mid-30s, cynicism and facts crowding our judgement, but also we wondered about how children saw it today.
As a school going child in the ’80s, my consciousness was strongly influenced by adult discussions about Indo-Pak wars in the decades just gone by and we still indulged in a lot of role play that involved skirmishes with the neighboring country. I remember Gautam, my neighbor, would constantly ask stuff like: If you lost an arm fighting against Pakistan, would you want to die or live? I would never know how to even begin answering such a question and would find it hard to try and imagine myself bleeding and cut up in a war zone somewhere! At school, the Indian freedom movement that overthrew colonial suppression was a large part of what we were taught, through history lessons and every day in the songs we sang and the speeches made at Assembly time for the birth and death commemorations of various national leaders. The glory of our ancient past was yet another refrain that was relentlessly drilled into our impressionable minds.
So yes, my initial ideas of patriotism did involve a muscle flexing superior image of India as a large, powerful nation in the regional context. At the same time, I was also perceiving the image of my country as poor, backward, under-developed and highly inefficient as seen by the West through adult discussions when they returned from abroad or when the various NRI friends my parents had as well as relatives returned for visits. Their disparaging tone hurt me, scared me and baffled me as I struggled to understand the contradictions in the ideas I had about India.
Each year, when I watch the Republic Day Parade on TV, I wonder at the colossal amount of resources that go into that spectacle. I wonder why we need to, in this so-called post-modern era, show the world what missiles we own and how well our bands march and what culture flourishes in our States. This time, I went to see the spectacle for myself. And I was drawn into the old-style tear jerking, chest-swelling-with-pride experience of patriotic feeling. It is a superbly choreographed show indeed and even the cynic in me just decided to shut up and enjoy!
The kids were enthralled, each with their own perceptions. Udai loved the marching, Aadyaa liked the dances. They both practiced the National Anthem in the car, but I realized they are not too sure about which one is the Anthem and which one is the song. And they have no clue about the National Pledge! Those of you who remember the endless jokes about “All Indians are by brothers and sisters” would be having a good laugh. But yes, times have changed. Today’s youngsters have much less doubts about India’s capabilities and see themselves as citizens of this nation with undoubted pride. They associate the image of India with technology and competence, and are less obsessed about military or cultural superiority. In fact, at nearly nine, I think Udai is in more of a global citizen mind frame and is barely conscious of his identity as an ‘Indian’. Quite a contrast from how we were at the same age!
So do we consciously inculcate patriotism in young Indians? And how do we deal with the contradictions in the image we offer to them? I don’t subscribe going back to the hyped distorted way history was often presented to us, for instance. Or do we allow them to develop their own brand of patriotism as they grow, learn more, analyze what is happening around them?
As an unashamed patriot, I know I influence my children without even knowing it to take immense pride in their nation. For its achievements certainly, but also for its diversity and pluralism, and for the simple fact that it is our home.