Thursday, August 16, 2007

And I(ndia) would like to thank...

Lookie, lookie. It's a blog award that Sandeepa has bestowed on me! And it's pink and pretty too. I put it up on my sidebar at first as a perpetual reminder of my greatness, but then decided to be modest and do a post, so that with time and blogging it slips down, further down on the page, and I come across it with a sudden quickening of the heart when I'm visiting my page in an attempt to push up the visitor count!

I've been wanting to do a post on Independence Day, and what it means to me, to us, to the country, to the world. But no words of earth-shattering significance that will make bloghoppers stop to listen come to mind. I shall carry on regardless.

Probably the most patriotic thing I did yesterday was to stand for the national anthem when it played on TV. We didn't need to. So what if the words can be outdated and Sindh is no longer a part of India? I see the song as a symbol that makes us unite, just like our flag. And whatever issues one has with the lyrics or the genesis, aside, the song stands for something, and so, I am happy to stand for it.
60 years since the magical 'tryst with destiny', and news channels spent most of yesterday trying to quantify India's achievements, create top-5 lists, share the results of polls that declared 'the best sportsman', 'the best film', and so on. What does any of that accomplish? This was not a closing ceremony where awards could be given out. Formalising such ratings does not validate or take stock of where we stand now. Can you seriously say that India today is 60% good and 40% bad? Or that our successes outweigh our failures? Whose perspective are we looking at things from?
For if you ask the same questions of an educated youngster from a bustling metropolis and a hrshly realistic youngster from a starving village, you cannot expect the same answers. And how can you possibly buy one answer rather than another?
What does it mean to be Indian today?
I notice that we are all very quick to defend India against outsiders, specially from Pakistanis. A blogger friend's comments section on an innocuous post turned into a battleground recently. It was a simple post that had nothing to do with Indianness or nationalism, just a rant against idiocy of a particular person. One of her commenters---a regular visitor---is a Pakistani man with a dry sense of humour. He came up in this case with a comment that used the phrase 'You Indians are no better than us, and still the pretensions.' And you should have seen the machine-guns come out! The battle lines were drawn instantly and there was a barrage of comments asking him what the hell he meant by what he said! It was rather alarming to see how quickly the matter turned unpleasant. And yet, it was nice to see so many people alert to a slur on India. I wish that meant something good. Unfortunately, I don't think it's that easy---or that these people would be that motivated---to protect India from the problems caused from within.

It's nice to be Indian when the Taj Mahal is chosen one of the Seven Wonders. It's nice to be Indian when you see that Laxmi Mittal's making the rich Westerners look shabby by contrast. It's nice to be Indian when you see people lapping up Bollywood and curry and yoga (in changeable order) outside our borders. But what about when there are reports on female foeticide in India? When disease figures are revealed? When there are communal riots and the 'secular' government doesn't necessarily do as much as it can?

One category of people whose criticism of India irks me no end are the NRIs. The ones who have decided that life is better elsewhere and lived abroad for years on end. The ones who decide never to return. I can't and won't fault them for what they have done. It is a practical choice, I suppose. I have close relatives and friends who have done the same. But if you've opted out, then, my friend, I feel you no longer have the right to laugh at and criticise India. Sending back lots of foreign exchange doesn't buy you the right to complain. Come and enjoy it, and more importantly, come and suffer it with the rest of us, and you can say what you like. But do not sit at a distance and point fingers!

India is a human being. An organic entity you can't quantify and classify. She is multi-faceted, does bad things when no one's looking, puts on a pretty face to greet the world while the pimples fester, is guilty of hypocrisy on occasion, appreciates admiration of her superficial beauty while pushing the ugliness under the carpet, has a heart that thinks of good and evil, and is guilty of both from time to time. She is unpredictable, she is a character! She is unmistakably alive. And hard to tame. To be sat down and kept clean. And educated. And rich. And healthy. She will wander off and get into troubl because there are more than a billion people pulling her in different directions and playing mind games in her head.

I see India in little things, like the slightly crazed looking woman in a stained and rumpled frock who decided to direct traffic, whistle and all, in a traffic jam at rush hour on the eve of Independence Day. No waiting for the traffic police. She took charge and everyone---buses to scooters---listened, obeyed and followed her directions. She was, that day, literally one in a billion. And she made a difference. That's what I call taking your country into your own hands and making it better. Bit by painstaking bit.

And people who do that are the ones I would like to thank, not just today, but everday.


The Weekend Blogger said...

I loved this post. I always believe that instead of waiting for things to happen or for others to get things should step forward, take responsibilty and make the effort to get something done. Carpe Diem !

Anonymous said...

Very Nice Post Anamika.

But have you noticed how NRI's always praise India and criticise the country they have chose live in and inspite of that are lethargic when it comes to move back.

--sandeepa (Bong Mom's CookBook)

A Muser said...

Pretty cool post. Loved the "India is a human being" graf -- that was just fantastic. Agree with you regarding NRIs criticizing India, even though I am one. But also believe that Resident Indians have no right to criticize India's dirt when they're the first to throw garbage on the streets. Where's their sense of social responsibility? How often do you see a crazed woman directing traffic? Another point, mostly NRIs go the other extreme -- praising their culture and heritage to the skies while putting down the country they've decided to stay in. It seems we are unable to praise someone without pulling down someone else. Like that makes us look better.

A Muser said...

P.S. And about Sindh not being a part of India anymore, tell that to the Sindhis -- and duck the brickbats that follow. :)) I am half-Sindhi.

Akshay said...

lovely post, it is true you can can't quantify India in ways you could other countries she always escapes definition and yes like you that is what I love most about her.

Anamika said...

TWB: Could not agree more! I wish I was also more of a doer than a sayer.

Sandeepa: Why are you being anonymous? :) I know, NRIs always see the extremes of India from a distance. It's easy to miss the happy stuff and build it up in imagination and memory, but I'm talking of NRI comments like "The country is going to the dogs" that I have heard that bother me. Come bck and fight off the dogs, damnit!

A Muser: Thought you said you were from Bandra! Guess you moved some time back. Yes, we should really not be throwing stones at our own glass houses! And, am typing this with a helmet on to duck the brickbats! :)

Akshay: Thanks!

eve's lungs said...

Anamika - i love your idea of drawing a parallel with a person - it becomes that much easier to rationalise the cracks and flaws . Oh and I saw the rocking blogger award in Sandeepa's blog and followed it through ! Congratulations !!

A Muser said...

Hey, I spent the first 21 years of my life in Bandra, so that qualifies as being a Bandraite, right? :) Your post really got me thinking about NRIs. I should do a follow-up on it. Am so full of thoughts about their opinions!

A Muser said...

Hey, Anamika: mission accomplished. :) Check it out and let me know what you think.

Anamika said...

Eve's Lungs: Thanks!

A Muser: Nice to see I got you thinking too :)

Nithya said...

Hi there - thanks for your comment on my post on Chak De. You should definitely read the book! You'll like it ( of course now I'm acting like I know all about you)
Great blog, fun to read. I will keep coming back. To chime in here about the NRI comment, I have not lived in the US for ever and ever but it upsets me when we are stereotyped. It's the same sort of upset when Indians in India get stereotyped. When you get mad about communal riots or fmelae foeticide, is it a crime that I get mad about the same thing? Don't Indians criticise American's position on Iraq? Or facets of other countries? I am not happy not living at home, but my circumstances are such. When a bomb blasts in Bombay and I am worried sick about a parents' whereabouts, is it a crime for me an NRI to be mad at the government? Do I have the right only if I live there?
I agree with the types of comments that irk. The "oh, the roads are dirty and there's corruption" etc. Then I want to tell those people to shut up and never visit India. But for those of us who care, must we always shut up about our concerns becuase we have no right?
I hope you understand where I'm coming from. It's easy to impose one's life choice on one's outlook but for me, getting away gave me a perspective and compassion for my country that I never had.
Sorry for the ridiculously long post. I have made the same anti-NRI comments myself but look around me and see a lot of people who genuinely care for India even though they live in an alien country.

Anamika said...

Hi Nithya, and welcome to my blog. I just received a mailer from Crossword saying there's 1000 Rupees off on it, but I'm not sure I'll go for it. If only I could BORROW it instead!

Regarding NRIs, I see your point, and after I had got it out of my system by blogging about it, as always, I began to see the other side of the argument. I too have lived abroad and missed India, and perhaps the distance and the contrast with the more 'developed' countries shows up the dirt etc more than it normally would. I guess mine is an "It's my mess and I love it" mentality! If you've opted out --- and I'm talking greencard holders, not-been-back-except-annual-trips-with-lots-of-gifts, who find it very easy to slip into the new ways --- then I feel that you can no longer critcise. You are not having to live with it, are you! If I dig deep I think it's the life choice of a close relative to remain there, leaving his parents here, and who has this "will-India-improve?"philosophy that this attitude of mine stems from!

Phew..I'm normally much more easy going, do come back for the happier posts! :)