Punjabi by nature: Fauji, Holi and JNU issue | punjab$regional-takes | Hindustan Times
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Punjabi by nature: Fauji, Holi and JNU issue

punjab Updated: Feb 21, 2016 12:11 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh
Hindustan Times
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Illustration by Daljeet Kaur Sandhu(HT Photo)

When Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad was rescued after being buried under 25 feet of snow for six days, the first thought that came to my mind was not ‘Oh, what a miracle’, but a prayer that said ‘God save him’.

Just like grief lightens the heart when people console, offering multiple prayers multiplies the chances of their being heard. I, to get as many prayers for the lance naik, wrote on my Facebook, ‘Praying for the Braveheart. Waheguru’, though there were thousands of fellow Indians who had already invoked their respective gods to save the soldier.

A little push from God, thought everyone, would not only save him but reinforce humanity’s faith and serve notice to mankind that ‘Jako rakhe Saiyaan, maar sake na koi’. If God wants to protect you, no one can harm you. Not even a wall of ice on top of you.

However, the episode made me introspect on two counts. That how a borderline atheist like me wrote what I wrote. And what was it that kept me up all night to keep track of the soldier’s health, as he deteriorated with every passing minute. Unfortunately, Koppad died, which saddened me further.

Perhaps the seed for such a strong emotion whenever a soldier dies is not due to any jingoism but lies in my upbringing. No, I am not an army brat or have any significant army influence. I am from a farming background and have grown up in a village in Hoshiarpur before my parents decided to shift to Chandigarh to educate their sons in better schools. So how did it all happen, I wondered, taking me into flashback mode of what happened about 37 years ago.

While growing up in the village, Holi used to be a big festival for us children. I remember pressing my parents into buying enough ‘rang’ so that the entire village children could play Holi with me. I would invite all village boys and play Holi by smearing everyone who came to our house or passed our entrance with gulaal. Old, young, men and women, we spared none. To our bad luck, along came Subedar saab.

I didn’t know why he was called the subedar. I thought it was his name. And since we had a ‘spare no one‘ policy, we smeared his face too with the Holi colours the moment he entered our gate to meet my grandfather. All hell broke loose after that. My grandfather summoned us immediately and asked us to apologise to the subedar. “Do you know who he is? He has retired from the fauj. A fauji is the most respected man in the country and never disrespect a fauji. By smearing his grey beard without his permission, you have not only insulted an elder but an honourable man,” he said.

With this lecture, he let us go and carry on with our Holi. But his lecture had sown in me the seeds of respect for a fauji.

Lance Naik Koppad is no more, but the death of a fauji should not go waste.

Now, since my patriotism has been sufficiently established, let’s have a critical look at the country we are creating. Aren’t we turning the narrative of this country towards intolerance, or, my way or the highway? Some might find using a fauji’s example to talk about the sedition charge against the young Kanhaiya Kumar ironic. But wouldn’t it good idea to create a nation that the soldiers feel prouder to defend?

With new facts emerging (morphed videos), it appears that the government has bungled up big time in handling the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) case. The Establishment turning jingoism as the central narrative might have just ruined it for the nation. Think again. Right has more than one meaning.