Honestly, like honestly, I'm not much of a patriot. Or a nationalist. Someone once explained to me the difference between the two. And as far as I remember, a nationalist loves his nation while a patriot loves his pat.
Which is fine by me. Some people I know are not only serious about loving the concept of India but to remind themselves that they are serious about it, they also keep proclaiming what a grand place it is to be in and how it's the best and most brilliantest country in the world. Which is quite cute and serves everyone just fine.
But frankly, I wouldn't get into a terrible blue funk if India is dismembered while everything else pretty much remains the same. Or if Malta decides to occupy Sir Creek. Or if someone decides to cover the dodgy bits of her body with the national flag — upside down. My geographical loyalty, a particular emotion that's a significant by-product of love, extends in radiating concentric circles to my neighbourhood, city and, for nostalgic reasons, the village (of Calcutta) that I came from — all of which I hate with a passion when the mood takes me there.
Yes, there are enough reasons to hate places one is fond of. So it's only natural for all of us to take it as it comes — loving the wonderful things about, say, Delhi roads lined with trees, while hating how people refuse to wait for passengers to come out of the Delhi metro preferring instead to push and gnaw their way in.
And then, there are particular moments of pride that burst through when a fellow countryman does something great. It's like the pride one feels when, say, your nephew gets into an IIT or your niece finally gets married to Rahul Gandhi (or to one of the members of his security entourage). The subliminal happiness that my brain (often mistaken to be my heart) feels when India wins a cricket match stems from the belief that the players are closer to me personally than, say, the Australian or Pakistani players. Technically, I can go up to Dhoni and give him a high five. Something that I would think twice about with the not-too-familial Alastair Cook.
But to be honestly honest again, I'd give the title of saare jahan se achcha — to which perfectly non-seditious kids in schools even today add the rhyming line in Hindi which, translated into English, means ‘I am a son of a pig’ — to various geographical locations depending on my mood, my comfort levels and other such hard-to-pin-down parameters.
This week, for instance, I have been physically missing the interiors of the Café Lipp in Paris and so I've anointed that particular establishment as being the best place in the whole world. Last week, my saare jahan se achcha vote went to my bedroom in Mayur Vihar Phase 1, from where I shut out the world (which was being a bit too hostile than usual) and slept for 72 consecutive hours without being deemed unproductive by society.
But I guess there's more to loyalty and love than just liking a place and its people. That would have made me patriotic about Winterthur in Switzerland. Atavistic bonds develop by which one becomes part of an umma. If loving India was once a part of the grand post-colonial narrative, today it's about a grand post-economic reforms narrative where we're a rich nation even before we are one.
So while the government's announcement of major FDI reforms is wonderful news, for me it's less about Bharat getting socio-sexually active again, and more about me and people I share my neighbourhood, city and visible socio-economic-psychological terrain with getting better opportunities, working less for more money and living a better life .
I can hear the scraping sound of you rolling your eyes at my airy-fairy description of the trickle-down economy. And yes, what lies at the bottom of patriotism is the pride of living the best life possible in the here and now in this way. But what makes me smile my patent leather smile is when nationalism, patriotism or faith in the umma is blindly trotted out.
So when someone gets hauled up for a cartoon depicting the State as a bunch of wolves, some guy gets mighty upset about the dishonour shown to the nation and files a complaint that sends the cartoonist to three days of jail. Others, with a more liberal bent of mind, complain about the cartoon being rubbish, as if quality-control is to determine which 'free expression' is to be defended and which to be left to the, well, wolves.
Patriotism isn't the last refuge of the scoundrel; it's usually the first. But with perfectly nice, sweet people in love with the concept of the nation, who am I to not applaud this form of mysticism?
Sometimes when I'm crossing the Yamuna on the train or in one of those lovely big-windowed red DTC buses, I look out and see the stunning green flatlands and the white kaash (feather reed) fields swaying in the breeze below. Next week, this stretch will be my saare jahan se achcha place. But this week, I'm sticking to Café Lipp in Paris.