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Footloose and fancy-free

india Updated: Aug 10, 2011 20:17 IST

Do you have to love your nation to love your country?

That may sound like a trick question. But it isn't. We tend to forget that a country is a geographical region, while a nation is an idea in which geography only plays a part (however important that part may be).

The notion of nationalism binds people who may or may not have ever met each other in their own backyards or have much in common. As a concept imported from 17th-18th century Europe, it has its virtues, especially to bind disparate people together for comfort, support and strength. When faced with a hostile force, nothing provides a stronger glue than the idea of nationhood. (Which explains our 'undiluted' nationalism as spectators in sporting encounters, marked most lustfully in cricket matches involving the national Indian side.)

Most people want to belong. So whether it's belonging to a religion, a sports club or a nation, the idea of being part of a collective has provided an overwhelming number of people with the comfort of numbers.

Nationalism is a strong outlet for our 'herd instinct'.

But loving one's way of life, or the place one was born in, or the regular surroundings one is familiar with - these are a more natural set of emotions that are not part of any '-ism' of ideology.

And without the freedom to live it, valuing one's way of life makes little sense.

As a nation, India today exists stronger than ever before. If the generation of our parents and grandparents seem to value freedom more than us, it is understandable. They experienced, first hand, a great transition -- from living under a people who had no desire to share the destiny of the people they ruled to experiencing the joys of living unfettered, no matter what the travails of being responsible for oneself may be. For the post-Independence generation, freedom was essentially a 'freedom from', a great relief.

The scenario is different for us today. Along with the sense of the nation binding us together, there's now a sense of pride arising from our achievements over the decades. This pride is related to the way of life improving for so many of us who live in India - thus diminishing the urge to cross the seas for a better way of life.

The modern equivalent of calendar art venerating freedom fighters and busts of Mahatma-Netaji are the 8%-9% growth figures and Indian corporate heroes on magazine covers. 'Chak de India!' is a more spontaneous brand cry than the still-stirring yet sepia-tinged 'Jai Hind'.

And this is the natural order of things as we travel from the 'freedom from' to 'freedom to' variety of being unhindered. Ask our writers, sportsmen, artists, musicians and entrepreneurs: even the ideology of a nation - our nation -- is no longer a restriction.

Rabindranath Tagore, who knew the difference between 'freedom from' and 'freedom to' all too well, wrote about nationalism: "It is my conviction that my countrymen will truly gain their India by fighting against the education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity."

So as we celebrate the 64th Independence Day of India, the real patriot is the guy next door who has taken his family out for a long weekend vacation. Because what he's saying is: I love life here and I'm free to love it.