Today is India’s 61st Independence Day and I feel compelled to write about something fitting the spirit of the day. There are so many things I can write about…what freedom means to me, what the flag signifies, how I get goose pimples whenever I hear the national anthem, how the plight of our national animal saddens me, how stories of our great fight for freedom and the heroics of our martyrs like Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Khudiram Bose make my chest swell up with pride…I can go on, because there is much to talk about, much to feel.
I’ve chosen to write about something close to my heart…patriotism. And at the outset, let me say that it is an emotion that I find lacking not just in today’s youth, but in my generation as well.
Did you guys know that I’m an American citizen? Yes, born and raised there for the first decade of my life. However, my soul is as triranga as can be. I can give up the citizenship that I was born into at a minute’s notice…goodness knows I’ve been here long enough to qualify, not to mention that I’ve married an Indian citizen and given birth to two children here in this country. Yet, what stops me? What is it that has me running from pillar to post trying to secure a dual-citizenship, rather than giving one up altogether so that I can embrace another?
Because, somewhere deep inside of me, there’s a strain, a memory, a single grey cell that still owes allegiance to the American flag. The Pledge of Allegiance is one of the first things that a child is taught upon entering school. Five minutes after we’d settle down in class, a bell would ring and all the children in each and every classroom would stand up, place his/her right hand over his/her heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Every school day without fail. There were even special days, once a week, where we would dress up in the colours of the Stars and Stripes, get together for assembly, recite the Pledge and sing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ in one voice and listen to speeches about how great ‘our’ country is. How much we understood at the ages of seven and eight, I don’t know, but they obviously made an impact for me to still hold on to mygolden, Bald Eagle embossed, bright blue-coloured passport.
Patriotism is not something that we are born with. It is not intrinsic to human nature and does not come to us innately. It is a feeling that has to be inculcated. Drilled in, driven in…gently and daily. And sadly, here in this country, it’s not.
The school I first studied in once we shifted base to India, one day woke up to the fact that we had not been taught the National Anthem. And shamefully this is almost two years after I had joined a school, which had already been in existence for three years before that. So for five years, a school carried on functioning without its children knowing the country’s most important song. Anyway, we were taught the song, rehearsed it a few times and then what? And then nothing. That was it. No weekly assemblies where the whole school got together to sing with pride, heck, we didn’t even sing it during special assemblies. We weren’t called in on 15th August for flag hoisting. We weren’t taught the words of our National Song or ‘Saare Jahan Se Achcha’.
And the distressing bit is, that I later found out that my school wasn’t the only one to blame. Many, many, many, most schools across the country don’t think it important to teach tomorrow’s generation the songs that once roused our Nation to stand up and take a stand against Her foreign oppressors. We don’t have a daily prayer or pledge to our country, which can plant the seed of nationalistic pride and patriotism in our bloods from a very young age.
No wonder our brothers and sisters can leave this country behind without so much as a backwards glance. They don’t agonize over their decision to stay on in a country, which they were not born in. They settle down there, make themselves at home and when the time comes, give up the citizenship of their birth to adopt a new one.
Many, from my father’s generation, sneer at the thought of going back to a “country that has no future” and that’s “gone to the dogs”. When Maa-Janani took the incredibly difficult and life-altering decision to move back to India, two young kids in tow, while Daddy Dearest stayed on so that he could provide for us, many of her ‘friends’ started placing bets on how long she would last. Well, it’s been two decades and counting…and neither she, nor her daughter (i.e., yours truly!) have gone back.
I’m happy here. I truly am. Corruption and poverty notwithstanding. Traffic situation worsening. Female equality still not happening in its truest sense. And regardless of so many other things that get my goat so much so that it makes me want to scream out loud in frustration, I am happy here.
Nowhere else will my right to ‘belong’ be questioned. I am not looked upon with mistrust or distaste when I cross the street or go to shop. I watch “Legend of Bhagat Singh”, “Chak De India!” and “Lagaan” and I weep during so many different scenes that I finish up a tissue box. I sing “Dhonno Dhann-ey Pushpey Bhora” loudly and with all the great gusto that I can muster. I proudly declare that the ‘Mahabharata’ is the world’s finest, greatest and most complete epic (of course I can totally understand why the Greeks feel the same way about the ‘Odyssey’, but that’s another argument altogether). My eyes eagerly seek out the Indian contingent at the Olympics and when Bindra wins India her firs ever individual gold, I cheer and clap and cry.
So it saddens me that we, as a generation, lack patriotism. We need to recite a daily reminder that helps us realise that we belong to a country with a great past and heritage and a shining future looming ahead. We need to feel proud.
And it is achievable. We just need something, a verse, an oath, a poem, pledge, piece of prose... something, to help us achieve it. And it’s out there. I know it is.
I’ve heard it.
I remember, before I was bound tightly and inescapably by the ties of motherhood, I was working for one of the premier edutainment industries in the country. My job description had me visiting schools and addressing assemblies or classrooms.
I was invited to address an assembly in one of the Kendriya Vidyalayas in good ol’ Beantown. There, I heard and saw something that stoked the patriotic embers of my spirit. An important part of the daily ritual was an oath that all the children took, hand stretched out in front, voices as one and seriousness and absolute conviction writ large upon each and every face. I felt chills run up and down my spine and goose pimples prick me all over as I heard the moving and oh-so stirring pledge recited in front of me. I wondered why more children were not privy to this.
This is what each and every school across the country should include in their daily routine. This is what each and every child across the country should learn to recite on a daily basis. One day, they will all ultimately feel the power and beauty of those words.
And it the poetry and intensity of those words that will ground our children to their country. Give them roots. Give them strength. And most importantly, place the fierce spark of nationalistic pride in their hearts, mind, blood and soul.
To a more patriotic future. Happy 61st Independence Day!
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