“Stand up; It Is Jana Gana Mana”
Tag: Guest Column
There is a wonderful scene in the famous Bollywood sports film, Chak De! India where Shah Rukh Khan, the new coach of the Indian women’s hockey team, in his first ‘interaction with the players,’ asks each one of them, “What are you?”
The replies were:
“I am a Guajarati,”
“I am Bengali,”
“I am Marathi,”
“I am Kannadiga,”
“I am Punjabi,”
“I am Manipuri,” so on so forth.
Nobody replied, “I am Indian.”
The top priority of the Indian national team’s coach was to make them feel as Indians.
It was a difficult process. The legacy of the partition of the colonial empire of Indian territory, aided by the ethnic, linguistic and regional prejudices fostered by vested interests in political and social activism, actually tried their best to keep us from becoming Indians.
There is no India. Winston Churchill once remarked, “It is like the equator.”
It is true. The legends or history of India’s past is more fiction than facts. The geography is still worse. The internal and external boundaries of India were altered at will by more than 76 foreign invaders and 1000 times by local aspiring chieftains. They created boundaries by arms, sutras or ideas in all possible manners.
The India map changed almost every century and even the strongest never could hold on for more than a few generations. None from the legendary Ramayana or the Mahabharata times to the fairly historical Gupta or Moghal empire period.
India as we vaguely picture as a geographical entity never was under one ruler or government. The nearest it came into a homogenous form was under the British from 1857 and remained for just 100 years with a clear demarcation of more than 500 princely state territories inside. Then it all ended with the brutal halving of this colonial territory along with the native states when the British left in 1947.
But the idea of India was immortal. Till now, historians have discovered 49 pre-Christ civilizations worldwide. All these antiques and golden imageries, except one, are now unfortunately extinct and are preserved only in museums. Ours, the Indian civilization, is even now with us at least partially in real stone and much more in the villages in the purest form. Look at the 5000 year old Harappa stone carvings of our dear bullock cart. Even in 2017 AD, we made very little changes and use it with the same efficiency or inefficiency for the same purpose. Inter-village transportation, goods and humans, in the interior rural areas is still predominantly done by means of these bullock carts.
I was born and brought up in the erstwhile native state of Travancore where even now we may not like to accept or even try to face the facts boldly. We were more Travancoreans than Indians. There was nothing in our school curriculum, language, currency, flag, anthem or even police to inspire us to feel as an Indian. A criminal could just seek asylum in the Cochin state from Travancore by just crossing the Vembanad lake boat jetty border at Arookkutty or landmark mile stone at Edappally road locally known as Kothikkallu, one side with KO and the other side with THI, the short form of Cochin-and-Travancore in Malayalam script (Thiruvithamkoor). The travels even within the state were rare, because of the absence of a road system and the perennial rivers waiting with obstacles every 10 miles. Some occasional saga of travel outside the state was heard of, but they were for mainly religious purpose and the percentage of returnees from such pilgrims was normally very low.
Gradually, schools and education for all started picking up, mainly owing to the activities of Christian missionaries and active support and encouragement of the local rulers. The number of literates increased and the news of the world outside the state started pouring into the villages through the many small and big newspapers. The news about the World War I, the beginning of a sort of Independence Movement in the British India and the Communist Revolution in Russia spurred the emotional cocoon in which we remained in Travancore and gradually a common bond crept in.
But even Gandhiji, who visited Travancore four times and travelled to many places meeting various leaders, could not create an Indian awareness in my previous generation in Travancore simply because we were more concerned with granting temple entry to low caste people in Hindu religion, more government jobs to one’s own caste or religion and of course, to the youth, the attractive side effects of the Russian Revolution.
The regular news coming into the households through the Malayalam newspapers had slightly created a stir of some national calamity and when the communication system increased and travel outside the state even for non-religious purposes including higher education and employment, especially in the army, became common, we, children, started really thinking about some sort of India.
But the idea of India beyond political and religious divisions was becoming stronger only after Independence. The geographical clarity, the end of princely states, democratic system and, of course, the positive impact of the need of unity automatically forced on us by the Chinese and Pakistan wars automatically gave us a concept of India. The television, travel facilities and migration to urban living conditions became part of even our illiterate mass.
Now an Indian way of looking at it is gradually emerging. It is very difficult for the older generation to accept it. The legacy of separatism on account of religion, caste, language, heritage and half cooked bookish wisdom is very difficult to be subdued.
I had an experience a few months back.
It was a holiday. My last grandson, nine-year-old Adwaid, decided to take me to a film in one of the malls. He made everything including interval snacks pucca online. I was new to this modern cinematic experience and was trying to see the negative points as we all do unintentionally.
We were in our cosy seats. The lights dimmed. A few commercials and suddenly it was darkness. A split second. A beam on the screen.
Adwaid tapped me.
“Appooppa (grandpa), stand up. Janaganamana.”
A sudden flutter in all the seats.All stood up; the tri-colour national flag waved at us on the screen. The rendering of the national anthem. My grandson joined in low voice.
I also joined in, perhaps in the most emotional tone. It was proof to me that I was and am an Indian. I never had a similar experience. I felt proud that I am an Indian and I knew then what India is. My grandson had found it out in his childhood itself.