Problem with nationalism is that it’s foreign and imported

It must smell of our soil, our air, our water, our imagination, our spirit. And when I look for things of that sort, it is very little that comes to mind or to hand.

 |  5-minute read |   29-07-2017
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There’s nothing I’d like better than being a diehard nationalist. I have a little problem with the genesis and genius of nationalism, but it’s not something over which I’d make a fuss.  

I do have a problem, though! That problem is that nationalism isn’t really Indian. It is, hence, not national to us! 

Like our cellphones, cars, consumer electronics, cosmetics, fashions and fads, nationalism too is imported. It is somebody else’s cocktail. Being very patriotic, I find it rather difficult to get drunk on that sort of dish water. Please help!

Nationalism, I am told, has something to do with “national”.  And national is the adjective of “nation”.  Nation means a people. So, the elixir of nationalism, in my simple understanding, must ooze naturally from the nature, spirit and genius of the people that we are.

It must smell of our soil, our air, our water, our imagination, our spirit. And when I look for things of that sort, it is very little that comes to mind or to hand. Please help!

I think the government, to begin with, ought to appoint a commission, fully and generously funded, to create an inventory of the ideas, insights, paradigms, and so on, that we have created - and to which no one else can lay any claim - in the last quarter century. No harm, if the list runs into thousands of pages.

We must ensure that a most comprehensive publication listing all of these national treasures is produced in quantities sufficient for every household to have a copy each. It should be made mandatory for all Indian homes, including those of illiterates, below poverty-line unfortunates, and the lesser citizens who languish in the backyard of development, to buy and own a copy of the same.

The book should be complete with a reading scheme that covers its terrain of treasures in a year’s time. Vigilantes in their tens and thousands should be commissioned and let loose - fortunately none of our vigilantes of any kind need any training - to ensure that those who do not fall in line are duly and comprehensively lynched.

When I compare my present predicament with what it was half a century ago, my nationalism goes into a tailspin. I had a solid sense of living in a well-defined, authentic geo-political-cultural space called India in those days.

mods_072917080314.jpgGovernments did not belong, in those days, to parties and corporates, but to the people.   

My leaders looked and smelt Indian. They moved in an ambience that was Indian. There are times now-a-days I wonder - seeing what I see, watching, smelling and tasting what I do - whether it is really in India that I live. So, when I try to whip myself up into nationalistic frenzy, it fails to take off.

In those days when we were not lectured on nationalism, my kitchen knife, for example, used to be forged by a blacksmith next door. Oh, the knives he used to make! Now our blacksmiths have disappeared.

So, I go to the super bazar, looking for kitchen knives. I don’t find any good enough. I ask around. I am told that the good old country knives are still made by adivasis in the northern-eastern border of Kerala. I go all the way - travelling some 300 km - to buy a good kitchen knife. The knife’s really good; like old times, you know?

My children don’t speak their mother’s tongue. They think that only the white man’s mother can have a tongue! So, what they say their Indian mother can’t understand. Their tongue does not match their mother’s; especially when they speak in their mother tongue, which is not her tongue.  

How come? I did not marry a white woman. My children are not white. How can English be their mother tongue, when their mother speaks Malayalam? My wife and I are so native that we speak even English like Malayalam. Fortunately, our children have learned to translate our English into their English. But the pain of mother tongue remains.

In olden days, we used to be told, the national motto is as important as the national flag and national anthem. That they must go together, and should not be separated. We were told too that the saffron colour in the Tricolour had reference to truth; for sacrifice and truth are akin to each other. 

That, surely, was a national idea. It was our idea. I don’t know what has happened to that idea. Now no one talks about the national motto -truth alone triumphs! Truth triumphs; but that does not mean that you will look smart today if you tell the truth. 

Truth is gone. The flag is left. So, we are ordered to stand when the flag flutters to the accompaniment of the anthem. When the flag fluttered with truth, we didn’t have to be ordered to stand for the anthem. We could not but stand!

Our hearts leapt and our legs straightened, unawares. Now we have to be coerced to stand up. But that is not a national idea! (It’s not even a good idea!) Does it sound more German than Indian; what do you think?

There was something “national” about Gandhi, about Patel, about Nehru, about Lal Bahadur Shastri… They were all quite content to keep their monies, such as they had, in Indian banks. They even cared for the people.

Governments did not belong, in those days, to parties and corporates, but to the people. Fundamental rights did not swing with ideologies. Parties are all that matter now. Is that what nationalism is? I’m all confused. Please help.

I wake up in the morning to a Japanese alarm. I put on some cheap Chinese clothes. I go out for my morning walk wearing a pair of sneakers made in Thailand. I take a quick bite of an apple. The label on it says it’s from New Zealand.

I get into my car which is not Indian. I use my credit card, which does not look Indian at all. My cell phone buzzes. It is Chinese again. (They are not only at the border, man; they are everywhere. Wake up.) I try to read books. They look Indian; but I hardly come across an Idea that I recognise as Indian!

Whichever way I turn, my nationalism takes a beating. It’s sad. Please help!

Also read: Beware of Hindu-Muslim hate-mongering by 'nationalists' on WhatsApp groups

Writer

Valson Thampu Valson Thampu

The writer is former principal of St Stephen's College, Delhi and former member of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI).

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