Patriotism, My Son

Dear Son,

Today is August 15. Indian Independence Day.

This year, being 4 years old, you started participating in the Independence Day celebrations for the first time in your life. Naturally, you were very excited. You went to your school with a flag stapled to your shirt, and waiving the Tricolour. You wished a ‘Happy Independence Day’ to everyone you saw.

You were happy. You were enjoying. And I was happy to see you happy.

Like you, I sent greetings to all my friends too. However, I wonder if our motives were similar. It seems to me that while you were wishing everyone with a sense of joy, I was wishing more as part of custom and tradition.

Witnessing your innocent celebrations, I feel like admitting something today. I am not a patriot. If you question me after you grow up, I may deny this. My ego, maybe thoughts like what you will think of me, etc. may prevent me from admitting this. But the fact is I am not a patriot. I want to confess. I want you to know this, when you are ready. So that you would never ask me that question.

True, I celebrate when the Indian Cricket team wins. I feel bad when they lose. I am happy seeing Indian sportsmen excel. I am happy when Tata acquires Corus, when Obama says Namaste. When Russia falls in love with Raj Kapoor, when Japan honors Rajinikanth. When Tagore wins the Noble, when Rahman wins the Oscars. On many more such occasions, I proudly claim to be an Indian. I also voice my opinion against corruption. I vote. I pay my taxes.

But don’t be misled. I do all the above only because it suits me. Only because it benefits me. Only because I get something from it.

Every man desires to be successful. All want to be winners. While you may not understand much today when you hear people say that success has many fathers, and failure none, you will surely appreciate its wisdom one day after you grow up. And my situation is no different.

So I celebrate when fellow Indians excel because it gives me an excuse to indulge in an illusion that I am part of a winning team. So, I rejoice upon hearing about India’s growth story, when my own growth is hardly proportional to it. While I have never seen Vishy Anand, Saina Nehwal, Vijay Mallya, Ratan Tata, Narayanmurthy, I always imagine that I am part of their winning team whenever they succeed. That I too, have contributed to their individual achievements. That I too, am an Indian just like them, and that I am entitled to rejoice in their glory.

Does that make me a patriot?

I believe patriots act in the interest of the nation. Their interests, and their nation’s interests are aligned in the same direction. They don’t harm the nation’s interest, they don’t cheat or exploit the nation for their own benefit. They stand up for their nation. When they see their nation being exploited, they raise to defend it, irrespective of who is causing such destruction – outsiders, fellow citizens, even loved ones.

Also, a patriot must be ready to sacrifice. Centuries ago, you couldn’t claim to be a patriot unless you would be willing to sacrifice your life in the interest of the nation. Thankfully though, the same yardstick does not apply today. In fact, no one attempts to define the term any longer. It is easier to declare that one is a ‘Proud Indian’. If that is not enough, some are ‘Very Proud Indians’.

So, where does that leave me? What sacrifices can I make? You may not enjoy hearing my honest answers. And that is about as honest as I can get.

The purpose of this communication is not to be cynical or sarcastic. I am being candid with you, just letting you know of an obvious fact about me.

My confession may serve a purpose if it makes you think and makes you try to define who a real patriot is. Then, if you ever come across such a person, you won’t miss him in the crowd. Instead, you would reach out to him, embrace him and offer him at least your respects, if not your assistance.

And in the meanwhile, if you find someone not fitting into the definition of a patriot, don’t think badly of him. Just remember, your father too was just like him.

Love

-vijven

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