When I was a little kid, 15th August, like for any other kids, was just another holiday which I didn’t know much about, and didn’t really care. We were made to stand in formation on the grounds of our primary school, and wave little tricolor flags above our heads while our parents and other onlookers cheered and clapped.
As I grew up a little, I was educated about the day. It is our Independence Day, I was told, it is the day on which we won our freedom from the wretched British Empire, which had colonised us for no less than 200 years. I still remember a little me being indignant and angry when I learned this. Strange white people from a faraway land had all but enslaved us? How dare they! To me, it was a comic-book or fantasy television series like scenario : where bad guys attack the timid and peace-loving good guys simply because they are the bad guys. I also learnt about our valiant freedom fighters, the masses as well as the legends: Netaji, Mahatma Gandhi and Khudiram Bose. I read and heard the stories that described how terrible a price they had paid with their own blood and sweat and often lives, so that we could have our freedom. I was taught, like every Indian kid is, that it was only the bravery and patriotism of our men that made the British bullies finally turn tail and run away. This sounded good to me. It seemed that we taught the British a lesson for their acts. They had absolutely no business invading and occupying my country, and could have just lived in peace in their own.
Before we go any further, let me clarify that as I have grown up, that animosity has mostly worn off. I will never forget or forgive the worst atrocities, Jallianwalabag and the Bengal Famine and the rest, but I do not hate the British anymore just because their forefathers had the courage and strength to build an empire. They were a race at the pinnacle of their power, and they chose to exercise that power, it’s that simple. So did the Mughals, the Greek, the Romans, the Turks, the Germans, the French, not to mention quite a few Indians and dozens of others. Besides, if we were to hate the British now because of what happened a hundred years ago, we should forever hate the Germans just because there was once an Adolf Hitler.
Anyways, after this period of fiery patriotism came another brand of enlightenment. Year after year, one luminary after another started lamenting during the course of their Independence Day speeches how my country was not actually free after all. How almost half the people in the country still live without access to clean drinking water, how millions of children are denied an education and instead put to work at a young age, how corruption is everywhere, how social security and responsibility has eroded. They all used to conclude by saying that this is not the freedom thousands of patriots had died for, that India will never become truly free until we somehow make every imperfection magically vanish from our country. “Er…excuse me, aren’t you kinda missing the point here?” I wanted to tell them. Sure, we have problems. Let Independence Day be celebrated for what it is, for God’s sake.
And then, when I delved a little deeper into history, a different realisation came. Sure, our freedom fighters played a large part, but one cannot deny the fact that post WWII, England simply did not have the resources left to hold on to all its colonies, and that was one of the real reasons why they gave up on India, the crown jewel of their empire. I learned the less-publicized facts, and personal agendas of the champions of our struggle for liberation, and sadly realised in the process that our freedom had not come through the straight-forward good vs evil battle like my childhood had taught me.
The point, of all the above, is not to give you lessons in history. Like everything else in this blog, the point of this is something personal. I am not one of those super patriots. Someone had once asked me what my order of priorities are, and I had responded truthfully, “Self, family, country.” However, I am not one of those either for whom India means just a cricket team, or Madhuri Dixit, or an entity that Pakistan tries its best to blow up every other day. No, India means something more, something real to me. I don’t know exactly what. But I can tell you something that I have noticed since as far back in my life as I can remember, and this has not been limited only to 15th Augusts or 26th Januarys : Every time I have seen that tricolor fluttering in the air, I have stood a little straighter. I have stood tall and proud, with shoulders squared and my head held high. Every time I have caught the opening strains of Jana-Gana-Mana, my beautiful National Anthem, I have had goosebumps all over my skin.
In those moments I have known, that no mater how much I love KFC and Pink Floyd and Manchester United, no matter how sick I might be of all the cheap politics and endless corruption, I still am, and I will always be goddamn proud to be an Indian.
Happy 67th Independence Day to you all !!
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