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Republic Day – 2018

Today is Jan 26th, 2018. It is India’s Republic Day. The day, India effected its new and declared itself a “sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic Republic”.

For many years, Republic Day to me meant, “march past”. During my school days at Asan Memorial, i used to be a member of the Scouts (Digbe Beste Sea Scouts). And when the new year begins, we scouts and whole of lot of others begin our annual marching parade at the Marina, in preparation for the Republic Day. It was a profound honor, at least to me, to march with my battalion on that day, salute to the Governor, who would be stationed at the Gandhi Statue, to receive the guard of honour.

I also used to be enamoured by a similar parade, that is held in Delhi, on the Rajpath. Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 3.16.05 PM.pngAnd to be selected to participate in that parade was the ultimate honour for any scout or cadet. For me, that always has remained but a dream. And so every Republic Day, when i was older, i would wake up and wait to witness the parade telecast live on TV. It was always special if only to rekindle memories, and to bask in the glory of the nation i was born in, and to celebrate freedom we fought so hard.

Over the past few years, irrespective of the government that as ruled the country or the many different states and territories, their respect for the rule of the law has been scant to say the least. And since the emergence of the hindutva party, what little of such law was left, has been dumped on the wayside. Today unless you are rich, belonged to the upper class, or part of the ruling party, you had no rights worth protecting. If you belonged to the ‘other’ religion, which included Hindus, Muslims and some others, and if you raised your voice against this atrocious behaviour, you were treated as an anti-national, and showered with choicest blessings in foul language at best, or beaten up.

My misgiving of today didn’t happen in a day. It took a couple of years of constant eroding, of our constitutional values. A slow but steady, erosion of the value systems that were encoded in the constitution, which was developed after learning from our own past, and the many democracies that were established already. Fundamental rights, Human rights, Civil liberties, and many more were adopted from teachings and philosophies in human social advancement that were already in place. The Indian constitution also went further than most its times, for example making it one of the few, if not the only one that granted Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 3.16.05 PM.png universal franchise from the very first day. And yet today all of these are being questioned, and whittled away. All in the name of hindutva, and taking the country back a few decades or even centuries. The post of contention was effectively moved from the middle, to a point, which would lead one to believe that one half of the country marched to a different band altogether. A religious hate mongering and terrorizing one at that. Where they wished the other half didn’t exist, and were ready to go to any extent to eliminate, remove or simply silence their voices.

I should be celebrating. Yet i contemplate. I worry of what we have made ourselves today. How much we have progressed, and yet how far backward we have regressed? I worry about the legacy we leave behind for our children.

I hold a prayer in my heart, as i close this. It is poem written by Rabindranath Tagore. It was also the very first blog i wrote in my life. We can pray, we can hope and we can fight to make them true.

Where the mind is without fear and the head held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

Then they came for me..

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

– Martin Niemöller

Since 2014, when Narendra Modi and his BJP came to power, they have steadily worked towards eroding the ethos of a democratic society. Freedom of speech and expression, Freedom of religion and Right to equality, all guarnteed as part of the our own Constitution have been challenged, and with its Executive power and support of State machinery, these have been reduced to mere words on an old parchment in a library.

In this age of WWW, ie Whole Wide World, where nothing is a secret anymore, and where citizens are no longer bound by a geography, ideas circle faster than the speed of light, emotions unite classes, thoughts break language barriers, and it in this new brave world people have to expect different. Today basic human and civil rights are considered as important, if not more important than food and water. In this era, it is therefore impossible to accept and live with rules and norms as expounded by regressive governments and or their followers.

Followers? Yes! Through out history, no one has been able to impose restrictions or upsurp rights without support from a section of the populace. These people are common folk like me, lured by an idea, swooned by charisma or spurred by simple hate. If by hate, there is usually a personal bias that allows this emotion to gain an edge over empathy. Some people are influenced by past experiences, and probably justified in their actions, because of the private imprints on them. But many others are simply swayed by emotions, of fear of the unknown, what if the worst that happened to them, happens to me. Collective conscience imparts the most heaviest burden on most average folks. It is easier to succumb to this, and be at peace, rather than try to revolt and rationalise feelings.

But protest we must. Rationalise we must. We are humans only because we possess a sense, a unique sense of intellect that would allow us to discriminate; as in allow us to analyze a situation and take different action, that is required based on all information that is immediately available and those that can be discerned. It is important for sanity to speak, and must not be suppressed in all the din. Narendra Modi and his Bhakts (as they have come to be known on social media), may attempt to hijack prudence, but there is a duty upon those who are not influenced to stand up and speak up.

I am writing this, because many of my friends and family are in this realm of influence. Thankfully in varying degree. And so when i speak up, if it causes even one to stop and reflect, i have probably served humanity. I have felt intimidated by the overwhelming support sometimes, but more often it is the nagging question, of “why do you have to question everything?”. Then there is the narrative to compare and equate wrongs, and thereby silence my voice. People who oppose these thoughts are even branded, tagged and name-called. Subtly by friends, but with blatant abuse on the anonymous social media.

Wake up! Speak up! Let it not be too late!

Ekla Chalo Re

One’s journey in life is incomplete, rather a nonstarter, if you havent been influenced by other lives born before, with and after you. A person’s life, actions and deeds, can be very important effects. But sometimes even words can have lasting impacts. Eka, written by Rabindranath Tagore is one such song.

I started blogging on the erstwhile Yahoo360, with a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, Heaven of Freedom. I had read and studied that during my school days, and so it was not a difficult choice to pick it up as a topic for a blog. And for me, it even made excellent choice for a first blog post. Ekla Chalo Re, i dont quite recall when i had first come across this song or poem. But any lasting impression must be credited to AR Rahman for setting this to tune for the movie, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero. But the real reason to blog, comes from my second encounter when i heard the song in the movie Kahaani.

I spend a bit more time and effort to understand the lyrics and the meaning of the full song, and not just the first two lines. What i, at first, thought was walk alone, now meant a lot more. While, ‘walk alone’ is still the shortest way to describe the song, one must not look at those words in isolation.

Bengali Lyrics (romanized, as best possible by me, with a lot of www help)

Jodi tor daak shune keu naa ashe tobe ekla chalo re
Tobe ekla chalo, ekla chalo, ekla chalo, ekla chalo re

Jodi keu kothaa naa koye, ore ore o abhaagaa,
Jodi shobai thaake mukha phiraaye shobai kore bhoye
Tobe poraana khule o tui mukha phute tur monera kothaa, eklaa bolo re

Jodi shobai phire jaaye, ore ore o abhaagaa,
Jodi gohana pothe jaabaara kaale keu phire naa chaaye
Tobe pothera kaataa o tui rokto maakhaa choronatole eklaa dolo re

Jodi aalo naa dhore, ore ore o abhaagaa,
Jodi jhora-baadole aadhaara raate duyaara deye ghore
Tobe bajraanole aapon bukera paajora jbaaliye niye ekalaa jbalo re

Rabindranath Tagore’s transalation of the song, written in Bengali. (courtsey wikipedia).

If they answer not to thy call walk alone,
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O thou unlucky one,
open thy mind and speak out alone.

If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O thou unlucky one,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track travel alone.

If they do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou unlucky one,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite thy own heart
and let it burn alone

Walk alone, speak alone, tread alone, burn alone, these words exalt you to be the first if required and the last as required, to speak and do the right things. Many times in life, you are often required to the make these small choices. In those times, lets hope these words inspire you to make the right choice, Ekla Chalo Re.

History – Truth or Fiction

During my school days, when we had to study history as a subject, i used to wonder ‘why we needed to know so much of detail of what, why, how, when things happened’? The boredom only increased manifold, in trying to track names and dates, the before and after etc. Appreciation for this subject didnt hit me till i actually started working and i guess when i felt i will never have to study this or another subject again. Another facet of this study started intriguing me, that facts changed. Well, it appeared that geography was not the only thing that changed in a land, its history too changed, based on who wrote it and when it was written.

For almost 20+ years in my life, just like many others, i believed that Christopher Columbus, discovered America, by accident, in his attempt to find a different sea route to India. Well, thats a load of humbug now. And just like the facts sorrounding Columbus, many other factoids continue to be changed and rewritten every single day. The white man, specially the english speaking variety, was quick to pass judgements that resulted in his superiority over any others. Thanks, to english being the most widely spoken language on the planet, people tend to believe everything written in english is closer to truth, than in any other language. This alone contributed to the largest amount of ‘history’ being crafted to the taste of particular sect of people.

Recently though, things have begun to change, several things for that matter. The internet, even though it is again dominated by the same language, has helped in playing a role of an equalizer. The global economy has changed, shifting power center, even though not fully, but atleast balancing it out. And a new set of numbers have rocked the very foundation of many people across the globe, like 9/11, 3/7, 26/11, 13/12, 7/7 etc.

source - The Hindu

source - The Hindu

Inspite of all the facts and findings before, newer revelations, shifting powers, history continues to be a victim, suffering from truth vs fiction more than ever. It is becoming even more difficult to believe something, because it is bound to change soon or some important fact or theory was overlooked. It is important to look at the source of the information, which will then help you understand their perception of this history. Yes, unfortunately it appears,  history belongs predominantly to the creator, taking on the shape of a fiction novel more than ever. I wonder if the usual disclaimer is appropriate ‘any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental’.

Further reading: “Mohammad Ali Jinnah as The Hindu saw him

Gandhi and his message

I have debated and discussed about the effects of Gandhiji and his teachings, philosphy, life and message with many of my friends and family. There are many in India, while acknowledging his message about ahimsa, do question if that was the way to accomplish freedom from the British, or more importantly the role he played immediately after independence with regards to Pakistan. While there could be a lot introspection there, and as the years roll by, history will unravel itself and we will know more.

Gandhiji, the freedom struggle, ahimsa, non-volience and the British and Pakistan are all connected and a very integral part of his message. The struggle to throw the British did take a long time, if you consider that Gandhi began the Salt Satyagraha (Dandi March) in 1930. The independence movement started catching steam only in 1942, with the Quit India movement. However, even then, there is a lot of questions about whether the British finally sucumbed to the constant riff-raff with Gandhi and his million and millions of satyagrahis, or did they (british) wake up, after just about scraping themselves thru’ the WorldWarII, and finding an invigorated Indian Army, that had begun revolting thanks more in part to Subash Chandra Bose’s INA.

While these dictate and show us some insights into how the freedom struggle may have played out. I think, it doesnt in anyway dampen the message of ahimsa. The reason is manyfold. I believe our country, is what it is today, primarily because of Gandhiji and his legacy in the Congress party. For good or bad, the thoughts of many who came before him and after him, simply didnt stand the test of time and didnt measure up to the people’s will. This is not measured against any economic scale, but from a more egalitarian scale, the ram rajya that Gandhi wanted. I think we are closer to that state, than any other country in the world. Again i am not attempting to measure this in terms of wealth.

And, the concept of non-voilence has something poetic about it, that the courage required to sit and recieve a blow from your oppressor seems, and is, far more superior than the will and ability to strike back harder and faster. We can see today, how this is playing out in Iraq, Israel, Palestine and even in our own J&K etc. And there-in lies the tragedy too, that no one, even in our country completely believes that the concept can actually work. However, time and again, events and history prove that might can only control things for a moment, before they soon get out of hand.

Yesterday’s call for bandh (work stoppage) by the Govt of TamilNadu (rather by the party that runs it), the contrarian view held-up by the Supreme Court, the tough message sent later to the Chief Minister in Tamil Nadu, to stop or face consequences, the message from the leaders accusing the judiciary for evangelising, all of which are signs of a vibrant democracy in action. Not at any time, did the Police, army reserve or the military step in to control this chaos. Compare this to all the sorrounding neighbours that are facing a run-in with their military day in and day out. I think this too is a legacy of the same ahimsa that Gandhi propogated. So while this causes a lot of unnecessary strikes and other satyagrahas which may not ring the same the ones called by Gandhi. Each of those are a sign that his concept is slightly better than to have a discussions through the barrel of a gun.

But then, one wonders whether anyone is really interested in accepting his message or living by it. We believe it is justice done, if we think about Gandhi today, on his b’day and again 3 other times in the year, on Indepdence and Republic days and his death anniversary. There was a time, when the country would have all the liquour shops close down on 2nd Oct, as a sign of solidarity to his teachings. I think there was no bigger mockery than that. All politicians reject it publicily, only to consume them in a more private space. And the annual importance given to spinning and buying kadhi. Gandhi invented the concept to take on english cotton mills, not to fight our own.

I am no different from everyone, as i too believed i have done my duty by writing this blog, and getting it off my concsience. But then again, its not easy to be a Gandhi, and if we can be him, even if for one day, we have done ourselves a great favour.

Heaven of Freedom

Heaven of Freedom
 by Rabindranath Tagore

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where Knowledge is free,
Where the world has not been broken by narrow domestic walls,
Where Words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary sand of dead habit,
Where the mind is lead forward by thee into ever widening thought and action,

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, Let my country awake.

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