August 15, 2012

Independence Day!

For many years now, most of them spent in India, this particular day held no importance to me. Which day you might ask. This day, the Fifteenth day of the Eighth month of any year since 1947. August 15, Indian Independence Day. 

If you have ever read post of mine, such as this one (Concept called Country), one might be forgiven for thinking that this is going to be a post deriding this day. However, this is nothing of that sort. 

This morning, when I reached out to turn the alarm off on my phone, and probably would have headed back to sleep, the date caught my eye. There was something in the formation of the numbers which caught my eye. Today, if I were in India, I would not have to wake up early and would have not given it a second thought. 

But, I did give it a second thought. And these are the things that came to my head

I did not have a choice to be born; neither did I get to choose my parents, nor my religion, nor the country. My birth was a fortunate accident. However, once born, I was handed a heritage that I did not get to choose, but have come to embrace. The more I interact with people around the world, the more I realize that whatever I am today, I am because I am an Indian. This could be a variety of things, from the comfort food, to the comfort music, to the fact that I still tear up when I hear MSS croon Nanati Baduku.

This could range from the mundane such as the kind of colors that one prefers their clothes, the amount of spice that one needs before the food is palatable, to the more spiritual like thoughts on what everything actually means. I realize that everything that I am, my country has played a role. It has had a very big influence the person I am today.

It is in the light of this admission that I wanted to touch what Independence Day has begun to mean to me. 

Today is a day I thank people, not the Gandhis or Nehrus, not the Boses or Tilaks. These people did play a big part no less, but then to me personally, a bigger part was played by the common man, the man who went through strife, the man who even when he did no have much clothes to wear, burnt those from Manchester (if he had them on himself). That man, who despite the fact he was tempted with food when hunger was the norm, chose to stay hungry in protest. The man who did not know what freedom actually meant, but was wiling to fight for it. The man who was ready to, and more often than not did, lay down his life in the pursuit of an ideal, which he hoped could change the way his life was played out for him. That ideal was freedom. I might have never seen this man, but I cannot ignore his sacrifices. I thank that faceless man on my Independence Day.

Today I thank the centuries that passed before me, which shaped the identity of every Indian. Be it the epics, the Vedas, the Hindu school of thought, be it the Quran, the Islamic belief system, be it the Bible, the Christian thought, be it the Granth Sahib, the Khalsa, be it Buddhism or the Bodhi Tree, be it the Jains and their naked deity, everything had a part to play. I might have been born Hindu, but by being Indian, I cannot ignore the scores of other religions that reside in me. I might choose not to believe in a God, but cannot ignore the fact that others do with fervor. The fact that i have the freedom to do that, without fear of oppression, or subjugation under a different god one that is not mine, I cannot ignore my Independence Day.

Today I might have savored a thousand different delicacies from different parts of the world, from the pastas and pizzas of Italy, to the sushi of Japan. But I shall have always have a special place in my heart for that simple curd rice, or for a well made dal makhni. The fact that I have the ability to decide what I want to eat and go out there and eat it, makes my every morsel a celebration of my freedom, a celebration of my Independence Day.

Today I pay homage to the Aryabhattas, to the scholars of yore, to  R K Narayans, to the Valmikis, to Vyaasas, to the Bharathis, to the Kabirs, and in fact to the British. I thank all those who used to write their thoughts for giving me a bedrock, a foundation upon which I spin my tales. I thank the British, for giving me a language to express myself in. Even though I will never forgive myself for not being able to write in my own native language, but I still have the freedom to express my views in speech or thought. My every word is a homage to that freedom, on my Independence Day

Today as I walk around in a foreign city, a different country, I am tempted to rech out and grab every Indian on the street and shake him out of a slumber. I wish to yell into people's ears, today I am free, as my country has been for 65 years. I am not perfect, but I am me and it feels damn good to be me. 

My country is but an extension of me. It is nowhere close to being perfect, but it is mine. As much as it is yours.

Even though my views on a country and what it should constitute have not changed, the last few years have shown me what is independence, what is freedom. Something about not being in India has made me value it more, treasure it more. Something about not being in India has made being Indian a matter of pride. 

It is to that pride I pay respects on my Independence Day.