It is March and I am already walking around with an umbrella, not to stay dry in case April showers show up a few weeks early, but because everywhere you go these days it’s raining slogans and sound bites, and one does need something to duck under while waiting for the storm to pass by.
One could be leisurely drinking a glass of orange juice on the lawns of Calcutta Club and up pops Mr Anupam Kher and out comes a roaring ‘Vande Mataram’ or walking around south Delhi when a group of JNU students call out ‘Lal salaam’, and you panic wondering how the hell did they know you have your periods before you realise it’s a Communist salute. You could be prancing around in Connaught Place when suddenly Mr Shashi Tharoor may appear announcing a new mathematical equation — e=mc2 and Kanhaiya Kumar=Bhagat Singh — or just as you are strolling around in Nagpur’s Reshimbagh, Mr Mohan Bhagwat may show up behind you, making you drop your camera as he bellows out, ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’.
In the never ending debate on tolerance, intolerance, national, anti-national and even aunty-national, Bharat Mata Ki Jai has become the phrase du jour. As MIM MLA Waris Pathan found out when a BJP legislator told him to validate his patriotism by saying, ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. Pathan refused, saying he would only say ‘Jai Hind’. He was suspended from the legislature as his ‘Jai Hind’, ‘Jai Maharashtra’ and even ‘Jai Bharat’ were all out of sync with the only password that can currently get you access to the Patriots’ Club.
In a country where everyone is sent scrambling to take their seats in the stadium of nationalism, slogans and paying lip service have taken over true nationalist pride.
Now, admittedly I am one of those barmy women who gets misty-eyed watching the tricolour fluttering in the wind, or the one you notice at the movie hall, singing away the national anthem, terribly off-key and terribly embarrassing to her family. Well, except for the times people pretend they are not promoting their movie by pretending to be army chiefs and police officers, and sing the national anthem with spooky unblinking eyes like it’s a funeral march. During those zombie versions, I just want to sit down. But these days, I dare not for sheer fear that if I do, then I will be publicly harangued or even arrested, unless, like poor Ameesha Patel I also trot out this defence: ‘Milord, ladies problem please! I could not stand up because the dog ate my sanitary napkin!’
Alright, now I have popped open my umbrella so I am shielded against all the probable aunty-national slurs that may pour down on my head after this piece, but hear me out till the end before you vomit all your vitriol, friends, Indians and countrymen!
I am a proud Indian, and I love my country not for anything it has done or not done for me, but on the principle by which one truly loves anything — by a sense of belonging, that this is my culture, my people, my history, my land.
And as a proud Indian I also have the right to wonder about the strange things I see around me. So I wonder why patriotism is judged by words and not deeds? Why are slogans more important than solutions? Why is parroting one phrase more important than any other? I wonder why we are not asked to display our nationalism by being told to harvest rain water, use less plastic, and recycle so that we actually nurture our land, instead of just paying lip service and bandying a few words around.
And you see there lies another mammoth problem —anything we are forced to pay lip service to, we first grudge, then mock and finally loathe. And so I wonder, is this loathing what our leaders truly want, as they seek endlessly to turn an instinctive emotion into a rancorous obligation?
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but if I have to only call out Rosa Berberifolia each time I spot one, then the time to stop and smell the roses has gone by. We need to wake up and smell the coffee instead.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.