Patriotism Version 20.13

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Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

Like an uncanny construal of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland the world seems like an absurd farcical place to me. Everything and everyone seems to be neatly sorted out as ‘mine’ and ‘yours’, and as we cling on to what we believe we own we turn more distrustful of others’ intent as our mind refuses to accept anything beyond what is tagged as ‘ours’. We have begun to shrink as human beings to an unbelievably petty size.

I suddenly find myself in a situation where most people look so pitifully small that I can barely pass through their tiny doors that have been fashioned to shut out their self-absorbed niggling minds. A few walls I manage to break as I attempt to squirm into the shrinking space, while for others I am unable to manoeuver my way through their rigid partitions that refuse to bend or budge. Every brick on every wall has the name of its owner inscribed on it, and that is all that seems to matter.

I walk through the walled world troubled by these attenuating minds and wondering if some words have turned obsolete or even lethal in the modern context. It is, perhaps, time for certain words to redeem their worth and re-establish themselves in a new light. One such word is ‘patriotism’ that means ‘cultural attachment or devotion to one’s motherland’. There used to be an era when this word seemed less lame and unconvincing when it was used less in a divisive context and more for the purpose of liberating a nation from her oppressors. But soon enough this word joined others of its ilk with extremist sentiments that seemed to overwhelm our senses and tickle our emotions generously, making us perfect pawns for a conniving political ploy to serve the self-interests of a handful of power hungry people. Thus started the steep decline of the word…

Even today, in the name of ‘patriotism’ and other nationalistic sentiments people are violated, unending stretches of land and nature are torn asunder with barbed wires, and we hold on to and viciously guard the tiny patch of land that has been thrown to us. Countries and even states are falling apart due to linguistic differences and other parochial considerations of a small community. At any point, on any piece of land, we are either ‘locals’ or ‘outsiders’, and despicable acts resulting from this intolerant narrow mindset are shamelessly justified in the name of religion or nationalistic sentiments. We seem to have lost out to the power hungry. Perhaps, to truly free a country from hatred and violence we need to free the concept of patriotism from political agendas. Or maybe, what we need to do is to rid ourselves of these misleading concepts that only create animosity and draw a divide between people and communities. The more the walls, the more the wars!

Besides, in today’s global world where most of us stay away from our birthplace to pursue our occupations, and a nation thrives on the tax and services of several non-residents and foreign nationals, such words seem redundant. In fact this senseless obsession with one’s state and country has become a reason for looking at other natives or even fellow residents with suspicion and aggression. What we need now is a handful of new words (since clearly, we can’t do without that dope) that teach us ‘acceptance’ and ‘mutual respect’ regardless of differences! We need to take the concept of ‘unity in diversity’ to an entirely new level as we must also count ourselves first as citizens of a global village. Just like a Mac software we should now discard or at least update such time-specific jargons to their latest versions.

I remember the pride my grandfather felt every time he narrated bits about India’s struggle for freedom that he had witnessed as a child. His words dripped with a deep sense of patriotism. It always made me wonder at how nationalistic sentiments accentuated a discrepant part of our personality. There would be excitement, pride, even anger and bigotry in his tone and words. He told me about Tagore’s efforts to stop the partition of Bengal and promote universal brotherhood, and also about his renunciation of his Knighthood after the barbaric killing of his countrymen at Jallianwala Bagh. But as Tagore pleaded against the idea of splitting his nation and his people, in another part of India, Nehru and Gandhi discussed the proposition of forming a separate nation for Muslims. How could such great leaders take a distressing decision of such historical magnitude whose repercussions the world suffers even today?

I am yet to understand how a day like August 15 is celebrated without a twitch of remorse for those millions of innocent lives that were rendered homeless and who lost their families even as India and the newly formed Pakistan proudly rejoiced in their political independence. Many Muslim families, who had called India their home for several generations and had, perhaps, even fought for the freedom struggle, had suddenly been robbed of their motherland, while several Hindu families had found themselves overnight in a newborn Pakistan! They either had to change their religion to show their loyalty to this new nation or move to the other side of the border. Under such insubstantial requirements, how does one install faith in concepts like ‘motherland’ and ‘patriotism’ that may change overnight? Hence my suspicions for such nationalistic sentiments, as an unfortunate descendant of this political heritage and as a witness of the Gujarat riots, are perhaps justified.

Yes, I might have had the privilege to be born into free India and to enjoy the fruits of this hard won freedom, but like many others of my generation I long for a world that is free from war and violence. History bears witness to our insatiable need for conquest and plunder that have wiped off races and civilisations from the face of the earth! Therefore I question every sentiment or alleged devotion to a principle or ideal that goes against humanitarian values, and wonder how such ‘lofty’ sentiments and ideals can possibly justify resentment and violence against other living beings and nations. How can a concept that places sacrileges before sacrifice ever bring peace? Are we not liable for humanity first?

Thankfully, history has also shown us great leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, to name a few, who have endured great agonies only to win freedom and dignity for their country and their people. Yet, they stand as people who are known essentially for their sense of compassion; they would inevitably stand up for the oppressed irrespective of their colour or creed.

These are men and women of great power who never felt the need for using brutal force. Their unbending strength lay in their deep sense of humanity and justice and their level of tolerance and compassion that rose above the narrow walls of patriotism and even lent the word a greater benchmark for their successors to follow. They stood up against oppressors for the allegiance they felt towards every human being who deserved dignity and respect. Yet, sadly, it is the diminution of the word ‘patriotism’ that lives on instead of the strength of the human heart that brought it to life and then rose far above it. It was the respect for life and not the love for their land to the exclusion of all else that made these men and women attain great stature as world leaders.

And yet, we foolishly assume conquest just as a child plays with sticks and imagines himself to be a warrior. Just that, unlike children, we are eluded by the farce. We refuse to acknowledge the absolute insignificance of our mortal existence before the unyielding magnitude of Nature, and even the human mind, that we keep battling to conquer with guns and swords. Perhaps we should give every person in the world a tiny space to dig a well and call it his own little country where no light or person can reach. Should we continue at this rate, such a day shouldn’t be very far off.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

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6 responses »

  1. Sigh!

    I feel that the word inherent in ‘patriotism’ is ‘pride’. When a nation has reason to feel that pride, like in the stories your grandfather narrated about Tagore, patriotism is a beautiful thing. When there isn’t any reason, like in version 20.13, it is just jingoism. Sadly, we can’t tell the difference between those two anymore!

    One observation – I always thought that Gandhi was abjectly against the idea of division of India. He did not celebrate August 14 or 15 because he was devastated by the partition. Nehru, of course, had a different point of view.

    • I partly agree with you on the Gandhi part. I feel, Gandhi has always been an obscure (perhaps intentionally) or even a controversial part of the partition. I have friends who believe the same as you do, while a few others believe him to be a king-maker of sorts ad even the unofficial adviser to Nehru…and a little more cunning than what he seemed or said…

      • I think the ‘trouble’ with Gandhi is that 60 years ago, he was God. Now, when you start humanizing a God, you are bound to run into trouble because you are bound to find details over time that do not fit well with the godlike narrative.
        My respect for the man is due to two reasons – one, that he has been the only real leader India has ever known, and two, the label of Mahatma was something that was thrust on him, it was not his own creation. Unlike many, many lesser humans who self tag themselves as saints.

  2. There’s ‘us’. There’s ‘them’. An in-between word would be nice.

    I remember thinking nationalism meant, “I like my country” and not “Every other country is bad.” The gentler definition works so much better.

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