Saturday, August 14, 2010

Excuse me, Are you Indian ?

India is 63 years old today. Well, India is several millennia old, but also only 63 years young. It is Independence Day for India the country, as it exists today. Bits and pieces have gone away – Pakistan, Bangladesh and so on. But a large part came together, as it never had had all through its history. People with different cultures, different languages, different religions, and even with wildly different looks, came together as one nation this day 63 years ago. At midnight on that momentous day, as the Union Flag came down and the Indian tricolor came up, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister made the famous Tryst with Destiny speech. You can even view a small portion of the speech here.
India’s independence heroes came from all parts of the country – as diverse as the land itself. There wasn’t even a common language they could speak in. And yet, they came as Indians, first and foremost. Not as Punjabis or Bengalis or Maharashtrians or Tamilians. But as Indians.
To my mind, that spirit of Indianness is going away. We are reverting back to first being a Punjabi or Bengali or Maharashtrian or Tamilian, before we are Indian. States fight with states on boundary disputes or sharing of river waters. Misguided regional parties taunt “outsiders”. In Kashmir and in the North Eastern States, separatists want to secede altogether. People die demanding creation of a separate sub state. A Central Minister hobnobs with terrorists because that might fetch her the Chief Ministership of a state – to hell with the country as a whole. 
You only have to look at the erstwhile Yugoslavia to see where this madness can lead to.

With some sadness, I searched for people who were Indian, who were seen by the countrymen as Indian and who would be respected across the country as Indian – not narrowly only in their community or state. Here’s my list of seven living Indians who truly unite us as Indians, one symbolically for each decade of independence.Counting down from 7 to 1

7. APJ Abdul Kalam - Former President of India and a brilliant scientist. He stands for the scientific community of whom India has produced many illustrious sons. They are Indian - Abdul Kalam was not a Tamilian scientist.
6. Captain Bana Singh PVC - One of the only 21 Indians to receive the Param Vir Chakra, the highest military decoration, equivalent to the Victoria Cross or the Medal of Honour. Bana Singh, the hero of Siachen, so much so that the peak he captured is named after him - Bana Top. He symbolises the Armed Forces a truly Indian institution. Despite the regiments in the Army being local (Sikh Regiment, Gorkha Regiment, etc), they are a national force, perhaps an example for us civilians to follow.

5. Ratan Tata - From the illustrious house of Tatas, standing for the business houses, a truly great Indian. Businesses run pan India and employ Indians. Do we call Ratan Tata a Maharashtrian ??

4. Atal Bihari Vajpayee - The only truly national leader living today. Respected even by his opponents. Power and responsibility came to him late in life - who knows what might have happened if it had come to him when he was at his prime. Indira Gandhi and he were the only ones who could have sold a Kashmir solution to the people of India.

3. Lata Mangeshkar - When she sang, every Indian's heart beat faster. Actually every heart who appreciates Hindi music, Indian or otherwise. Even the terrorists will bow to Lata.

2. Amitabh Bachchan - There can only be one Amitabh. If you walk even today in Egypt and look Indian , shopkeepers will call out to you "Amitabh Bachchan". Such is the appeal of this man. Hindi films has done more to unite India and make non Hindi speaking people take to Hindi than any other aspect of life. And nobody has as universal an appeal everywhere than Amitabh. When Kaun Banega Crorepati  (a wildly popular Indian TV program) ruled the waves, India came to a halt , even in households that spoke not a word of Hindi. Such is the magnetism, and Indianness, of this man.

1. Sachin Tendulkar - He has to be numero uno. Every Indian identifies with him. Its easy for sport to unite a country, but cricket does this to India in a very special way. Everybody rejoices when Tendulkar shines, everybody groans when he gets out. The nation holds its breath when he bats. Everybody rises as one  to applaud when he scores a century. To everybody in the land, he is the quintessential hero. He is truly Indian.

We, the post independence generation, must recapture the spirit in which freedom was won.  As Indians and for India. Indians first and everything else next.

Yes, I know, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, as Samuel Johnson famously said. But I prefer patriotism any day to parochialism.