Of patriotism and independence


Sundays are like the luxurious salad that I can afford once every week.

Well, to come to think of it, salad isn’t really a luxury. But when you live alone and cook for yourself, your laziness and procrastinating self will push a simple preparation like salad into the pitfalls of sophisticated meals.

Come last Sunday, I lazed myself around, prepared some time-taking, fancy dish (that turned out edible enough to be photographed and shown to the world) and sat in front of the idiot box, hoping to catch some nice, already-seen Bolllywood movie. This despite the fact that I have ample of novels, short stories and plays to read, write and absorb. But I blame the idiot box (apart from my inherent desire to sleep for long hours) for my break-up with the reading habit.

Thus, as the pressure cooker whistled itself to glory, I surfed the channels only to be disappointed by the collection of movies they were showcasing last Sunday. One day I get. And the cable guys can’t put up one decent movie? And that’s when I stumbled upon Gadar, Ek Prem Katha that was being shown on Zee TV.

Disclaimer: This post is not a critique of the movie, nor a eulogy of its content, but the source of what I am about to rant below.

I have some fond and not-so-fond memories associated with this movie. For those who are unfamiliar, Gadar is a 2001 Bollywood movie, directed by Anil Sharma, which narrates the love story of a Sikh truck-driver and an aristocrat Muslim woman set in the backdrop of Indo-Pak partition and the hatred that followed.

I was 12 when I saw this movie, too young to explore the meaning of partition beyond the fact that we (Indians) attained our freedom in the midnight of August 14, 1947, following which a large nation was divided into two—India and Pakistan. To be fair, that isn’t an incorrect understanding, especially at that age. With this knowledge, I saw the movie with my family in a cinema hall that was packed with Sikh viewers. I remember we saw the movie in the third week of its release and there was a mad rush for the tickets. We purchased tickets in black and got our seats amidst dozens of Sikhs, all dressed up traditionally, with their kirpans showing.

I also remember being terrified by Mr. Deol’s shouts. I couldn’t help but stare at the Sikhs sitting in the hall and their kirpans. Some of the dialogues were so provocative that I feared there might be riots in the hall itself.

Bottom-line: I was 12.

When I was pursuing my graduation in literature in English, we had a section of our course dedicated to Partition literature, with reference to the Indian sub-continent. We used to have debates and discussions with our able professors on the concept of a nation state, its pros and cons, and how Indo-Pak Partition had more than just historical significance. We also saw related movies, Satyajit Ray’s Ghare Baire, being one of them, followed by talks on the issue of Partition. That’s when Gadar came up to the surface once again. The movie was criticized for being anti-Pakistan, an argument I understood and realized only in my first year of college. That left me wondering if, to be pro-a country, one had to necessarily push oneself to be anti-another country.  I left my thoughts to wander, as usual.

A year later, in 2009, I visited Amritsar, Punjab with my family. It’s a beautiful city and I highly recommend the place to any traveler interested in great culture, cuisine and colour. Apart from visiting the famous Golden Temple and the Jallianwalah Bagh (again a flashback to the horrors of Partition), we also visited the Wagah Border.

Thirty-five kilometers from Amritsar is Wagaha, a road that leads to Lahore, Pakistan. This is known as “Attari(India)-“Wagah” (Pakistan) border. Every evening, there is a retreat ceremony wherein the gates between the two countries (which were once united) are opened and the Jawans (soldiers) of both the countries, i.e. Border Security Force of India and Sutlej Rangers of Pakistan, participate in a highly ferocious parade. I use the term ‘ferocious’ with a purpose.

The parade (which lasts for about 20 minutes) seems nothing short of a vulgar display of jingoism.

One of my family members had arranged for special seating so we have a better view of “the thrilling experience.” While I wondered what it would be, I couldn’t help but think how close I was sitting to another country altogether. If I walked ten steps further, I’d be crossing a country and land in another. Are border lines so fluid and arbitrary?

I didn’t have time to ponder because my thoughts were interrupted by the loudspeaker voice in the background that screamed: “Hindustan Zindabad.” I would have been unperturbed by this, until I heard a similar voice on the other side of the border, screaming with an equal amount of zeal and decibel: “Pakistan Zindabad.” While both the slogans sounded healthy, there seemed to be an unwanted competition between the crowd on both sides of the border to outdo each other in terms of the number, frequency and pitch of the aforementioned slogans.

It was so fierce that the Jawans on this side of the border were cheered simultaneously with the jeering of the Jawans on the other side. Again, it seemed that one had to come at the cost of the other. While I stood numb as the entire procession was in process, I was victim to multiple stares and glares that clearly dismissed my “anti-patriotic” attitude when I did not join in any of the slogan shouting. I was probably a betrayer to not open my mouth and participate in what was being seen as an open invitation to exhibit one’s “love” for one’s country.

I did open my mouth and participate duly when the national anthem was played. While I did so, I could hear murmurs from across the border. This was followed by the national anthem of Pakistan, during which I could hear similar, undecipherable murmurs on our side of the camp. It was as if two bickering neighbours were competing for something both unrequited and intangible. The ceremony ended and we clicked photographs with the Jawans (all of whom were over six feet tall). Photography made me forget all my ‘musings’.

Two years later, last Sunday, when I saw Gadar (after a gap of nearly 7 years) for the third fourth time, my thoughts went back to Partition, Patriotism and the Procession I witnessed at Amritsar.

For those who have never been or viewed the ceremony, here’s a video that showcases the parade. Madness aside, it’s a brilliant example of what would be called a disciplined procession.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vIWoiDk5Fg

Perhaps patriotism is as subjective as most of the –isms in the world. But let it not turn into some kind of a maniac contest between two or more countries. The newest country to join the list of independent nations, South Sudan,  admits that this freedom cost them a million lives. It was heartening to see Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with the new South Sudan President Salva Kiir at the swearing-in ceremony, given the history of conflict between the two nations that once prided themselves to be the single biggest country in Africa. One hopes the enmity ends and the two nations prosper in their own paths, individually and independently. Let it not be one at the cost of the other. Let there be no ‘other’.

For further reading on South Sudan, as a nation state, here are a few useful links:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14014083

http://kafila.org/2011/07/25/%E2%80%9Ci-never-knew-this-before-but-now-i-know-i-am-a-human-being%E2%80%9D-a-despatch-by-caelainn-hogan-from-a-new-country/

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