I hope you’re getting ready to do what you need to do with your flagpole; getting choked at the thought of India gaining independence from the original owners and the inventors of the Land Rover and the lawn mower respectively; have already watched Manoj Kumar movies yesterday a.k.a. Pakistan Day and then moved on to actually more cheesy depictions of patriotism in Chak De! Incredible !ndia by dawn. (Pran in Manoj Kumar’s Upkar is a far more sophisticated actor than SRK in the unofficial national film of India.)
You must be either getting ready now to go for one of those ‘Independence Day eat all you can for R888, taxes extra’ meal deal (sorry, it’s a dry day) at some Konkani-Korean restaurant near you. Or perhaps you’re simply planning to soak in the glory of some American celebrity mentioning the word ‘India’ twice in two sentences in the last one year (“Child labour is still widely prevalent in India” and “For protection, I always use India rubber.”).
In whatever manner you may deem it fit to celebrate this special day today — ‘Damn, we could have gone on a weekend trip if 15th August was on Monday!’ — as a well-wisher with a reputation for using contorted language and words that may or may not be there in the dictionary, here’s a simple Independence Day advice:
Don’t ask what you can do for your country. Ask what your country can do for you.
I know, at first glance, you think that that’s such an awful thing to say. What kind of unpatriotic potato would say such a thing just to get cheap attention and practically free thrills? (Answer: One with a chip on his shoulder. Get it? Potato. Chip.) But if one thing that the old framed photo of Bapu in my study — that’s long been replaced by a laminated one of Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars — taught me was to look at a truth from different angles and see what I find. Yes, sometimes what one gets is mind-opening falsity. But sometimes you do get something so precious that you just have to share it with the world. And since I’ve paid my rent for at least another month for this newspaper dorm space that you’re gazing at so lovingly, I just had to tell you that ‘as a nation’ — a popular phrase coined much before the advent of Facebook — we’re so obsessed about what the country is doing or not doing that we forget about those atom-sized building blocks of a country: ourselves.
A cricketing metaphor should suffice. Of course the whole point is for the team to win. But if Virender Sehwag doesn’t click that day, whom do you fall back on? The team? Nope. It’s Sachin. And if he fails? Laxman if it’s a Test, Dhoni if it’s a shorter variety of the game. It’s only after the match that the captain gets all ‘teamly’ and starts talking about ‘the boys’ as one paunchy entity for reasons related to psychology.
We are able to cream-and-two-sugar in our pants about Lakshmi Mittal being a global topdog because he didn’t ask what he could do for the country, but jumped country of operations so that he could do what he thought he could do well elsewhere. And the next time a desi wins an Oscar, we should peg him to A.R. Rahman, not to ‘quickly-remember-the-name-of-the-Indian-guy-who-won-last-year’s-Best Sound Engineering Oscar’. (Clue: his first name is Resul; his second name is Pookutty.)
For far too long, Indians have been held back of what they can do by wanting to make their country proud and then trying to get their job done. The switch is happening, if it hasn’t already, and it’s the next best thing to happen to India since Indian artists and sculptors started signing their works instead of ending up as unknowns from some school of art and folk tradition or of the Gupta period.
And if you do become a success and that success can be measured in the still most dependable yardstick known to man — the amount of money you earn — what you could do if you get all patriotic today is not bang on about India and our founding fathers and confounding mothers, but make a hefty donation to an educational institution of your choice. Because, India needs enterprising individuals; not an idea of India which is here to stay anyway.