6 April 2009

On Patriotism

So, one of the things Oxford does to you is to throw you in a cauldron with great thinkers. They question everything. Force you to go through the logic and premises that lead to your opinions. You often realize that you didn't really think xyz through. That there's a lot more to it than 'conventional wisdom', or 'widely held opinion' would suggest.

And so inevitably someone tries telling me that there is no one India. And succeeds up to a point. After all, there is no such thing as an 'Indian culture'. Or Indian architecture. What we have is the collection of all regional cultures that happen to fall in the geographical area that in 1947 was deleniated the nation-state of 'India'. I was told that it was justified if a person said things like 'I am a Bihari first, and an Indian later.' And I understand the argument - what does it mean to be Indian when the only concept of India is that of man-made boundaries?

Then I question myself. Why is it that every time I hear the National Anthem, an overwhelming surge of patriotism sweeps over me? Is there something that makes me Indian, as opposed to just a Delhi boy with Punjabi heritage? I think so. And I think it is precisely the idea of the modern nation-state of India. It's like a bunch of people, who may be very different, come together to found a city. Eventually, that city develops, and acquires a character of its own. It was pure chance that these people were thrown together and others left out. Some people in this group will have less in common with someone else in the group and more in common with someone in the next city. But that doesn't matter. The city as a whole acts as a mixing pot. These people, now together, interact with one another, and while each retains his individuality, they give rise to a community unique in character. If nothing else, this is the only city with that particular unique blend of individuals. It would be different if one more person came in, or one less. But eventually, a communiy develops, and the 'feel' of the city develops. I have been branded a Delhi boy. There must be something about Delhi in me for that to have happened.

Now just extend this analogy. For whatever reason, a bunch of people are chosen to live together in a certain geographical area. If the western border had been drawn slightly more to the west, there would have been a few more people. And they formed India. They do have stuff in common. Lots of people fought for them to be free from foreign rule. They are all subject to the same set of laws and enjoy the same rights given to them by one document (in theory at least).

Sure, they are all different. There are many groups that a person belongs to. But I would argue that the basic rights afforded to them by the nation-state of India are synonymous with basic human rights. They are a bare minimum for any hope of a fruitful existence. But how is India different in this respect from most other modern nation-states? I dont think it is. What is different is the physical piece of land associated with it. And the cultures and histories associated with all the people that live in it.

So now I've decided. India for me is the piece of land demarcated by modern physical boundaries, and all the culture, history, etc. associated with it. And the way these histories, etc. interact with one another to develop a 'feel'. The often cited analogy of cooking isn't irrelevant. You put long, dalchini, hing, elaichi, rai, jeera, pyaaz, tamatar, lasun and adrak into a dish. Each ingredient retains its flavour, yet the dish as a whole has an identity too. You could have chosen a different set of ingredients, and got a different dish.

SD Burman said 'phool hum hazaroon lekin khushboo ek suhaani', and my textbook said 'unity in diversity'. I've made up my mind that they aren't just misleading pieces of propoganda. Whoever wrote them must have thought long and hard.


  1. After a long time! You write well but are not frequent enough.

  2. Hind desh ki niwaasi sabhi jan ek hain
    rang room vesh bhasha chahe anek hain

    I think we all get goosebumps when sing the National Anthem or even hear it.

    But the different spices of Indian curry really.. that was very well put.

  3. lovely post saattvic!!
    so are u gonna be more regyular on teh blog now??

  4. Austria will invade India within 5 years.

  5. Excellent! I can imagine how it feels wen a sudden somewhere "yeh jo des hai tera" or the Nation Anthem would start playing...! Isnt that The India we brings us all together?
    Plus i dun think its bad to zoom in to being a Delhiite first and then being an Indian. Extending this analogy, its wrong to call urself an Indian.. just call urself a Global citizen! There is always a sense of identity associated wif the roots! I would love it if sum1 would brand me as a Delhiite (which I am) but unfortunately ppl fail 2 c it! :P
    nevertheless, an excellent post! :)