Dear India, chill the fuck out.

Friends, Indians, countrymen,

I see that there is much hullabaloo over the statements Aamir Khan, the eminent Bollywood actor, made recently. But before we can actually talk about his words, we must acknowledge the Dadri lynching episode first. For those who are unaware of this, this incident refers to the mob attacks made on a Muslim family in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. The family consisted of 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi, his son Danish, his elderly mother and wife. On the night of 28th September, 2015, the mob dragged the family outside, repeatedly kicked and stabbed them, and hit them with bricks. This led to the death of Mohammad Akhlaq and seriously injured his son Danish. Oh, I almost forgot to mention why the mob was so upset that it felt compelled to end another man’s life: because there were rumours that the family had consumed beef. Yes. They decided to eat beef in the privacy of their own house, which, I guess, is completely unacceptable. What is totally acceptable is getting KILLED for it. *slow clap*

One would think that would be the end of it. But no. The story grows even more unbelievable. After the people involved in the attacks were arrested, the locals decided to PROTEST. Yes. And by protest I don’t mean the peaceful kind; hell no, we love Gandhi, but what’s the fun in a non-violent protest? You can’t possibly have an impact unless you burn a good ol’ car or two. So that’s what they did. The locals torched vehicles and vandalized shops- yes, they destroyed property belonging to civilians who were completely uninvolved in this entire argument.

Consider the following scenario: There was a poor shopkeeper, let’s call him X (I can’t even name a damn hypothetical guy for fear of people immediately classifying him as Hindu or Muslim and then factoring in that into the argument). X didn’t give a shit about whether Akhlaq ate beef or not. But a whole bunch of insane Hindu zealots did. Let’s call them J (for jobless). J went and killed Akhlaq, and then got arrested. Now the relatives R of J will, by definition, be Hindu zealots too (seems to be true in this case, at least). They couldn’t possibly stay quiet: R had to show the government their displeasure! So R went and destroyed X’s shop. See what happened there?

As India never shies away from a good debate (meaning tuning into Arnab Goswami every night and letting him do all the shouting for us), the topic “Is India growing intolerant?” was hotly discussed by every academic, non-academic, and person-who-must-speak-for-the-sake-of-fighting. So when Aamir Khan was asked what he felt about this, he said:

“(Wife) Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers everyday. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet.”

Let’s analyze his answer sentence by sentence:

  •  Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India: True.
  • For the first time, she said, should we move out of India?: Just a thought, nothing written in stone. Guess what, people have thoughts all the time. Are you saying you haven’t had ONE thought EVER in your life that was disloyal towards your country?
  • That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me.: He expresses his disbelief over his wife’s thoughts.
  • She fears for her child.: I would too if my child could be murdered for eating beef. Wouldn’t you?
  • She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers everyday.: This was in the context of Muslim safety, and I’d like to direct you to this article: Violence against Muslims in India. The page says that there have been over 10,000 deaths in Hindu-Muslim communal violence since 1950. Let that register. 10,000 only in communal violence: an average of 1861 deaths over religion every year. Of course, this line was entirely hyperbolic- a superstar’s family obviously has no need to worry about safety.
  • That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet.: This was Aamir Khan’s conclusion- mind you, it was Aamir Khan’s conclusion, HIS opinion, entirely HIS own, not yours, not your wife’s or your dog’s. It’s like the Khap panchayat saying: “Eating chow mein leads to rape!“. Or me saying: “I feel like all the elephants in the world should be painted purple!An opinion is an opinion is an opinion. It can be wrong, stupid, based on unverified facts, irrelevant or even true. But you know, it is entirely possible that… drumroll please… it is NOT the same as yours! Whoaaaaaa!

I apologize for the heavy sarcasm in this article. I cannot believe just how strongly we feel about things without good reason to do so. Consider the following tweets to Aamir Khan (by Anupam Kher, Ram Gopal Verma, and Paresh Rawal, and some other regular people):

@AnupamPKher: Dear @aamir_khan. Did you ask Kiran which country would she like to move out to? Did you tell her that this country has made you AAMIR KHAN.

@RGVZoomin: Isn’t Aamir,Sharuk,Salman,3 Muslims becoming biggest stars of a Hindu country proof enough that india is tolerant?

@SirPareshRawal: If I believe this is my motherland then I will never talk about leaving it ….but I would if I had believed otherwise …

@rageshjagasia: 6.5 lakh customers uninstall @snapdeal app until 7 pm. @aamir_khan let’s down his sponsors and the whole of India. #AamirKhan

@BJPRaniganj: Hello @snapdeal and @godrejgroup deleting you since Ur brand ambassador #AamirKhan opened my eyes #BoycotSnapdelGodrej

Phew. The amount of emotion we have pent up inside is clearly evident. Celebs coming into chime about this issue, people asking Aamir Khan to leave India for good, and others doing their bit to uphold India’s pride by deleting Snapdeal’s app (I am not even going to get started on the ridiculousness of acting out against Snapdeal for this).

For everyone saying “India has MADE Aamir Khan”… yes, he has been blessed with adulation from the masses for a long time now- but it’s not some sort of pity love or charity. Aamir Khan has consistently made good movies (except Dhoom 3, what a bummer that was) and entertained you all. He is the only Bollywood actor with some respect for stuff like dialogues, script, and acting in a movie. So all of you who say “Oh, we made you Aamir Khan, without us you would be nothing!” can go suck it. He is a talented man and would have had his success anywhere.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Even the guy who felt that by deleting Snapdeal’s app, Aamir Khan would regret his unfortunate words. But if you must make a comeback, make it a good one- look at the facts, look at what he said, analyze it. And whatever you do, keep anger out of it. Anger blinds reason. Anger blinds logic. I feel like whenever something like this happens, our reactions are completely churlish and inane. From the seven lines in his statement, all our ears heard was: “Should we move out of India?“, and this is what we reacted to by saying: “You want to leave India? Fine. We don’t need you anyway. Go to Pakistan!” That’s the summary of it all- something a 5-year-old would say.

India’s reaction towards Aamir’s words only drove his point further home- they couldn’t tolerate his views on intolerance. Funny how things go, huh? A country’s maturity is reflected by its attitude towards the criticism it receives. And we can either shout ourselves hoarse about our awesomeness or we can face the fact that we are not perfect. We are not incredible. And it’ll be a while before we can be everything we tout ourselves to be. Till then, everybody needs to just chill the fuck out.

I’ll leave you with the funniest tweet I’ve seen over far over this matter-

Fuck This Shit, Bro.

I went to the screening of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello the other day. It was my first time watching an opera, and I was reminded of Richard Gere’s dialogue in Pretty Woman: “People’s reactions to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic; they either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.” I was in tears in the final act when Othello accuses Desdemona of adultery, calls her a whore repeatedly, and finally smothers her to death. I walked out of NCPA, overwhelmed by the experience, happy to have been introduced to the world of opera (thanks Gayatree!), and snobbishly declared: “While others watch stuff like Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya, we watch Verdi’s Otello!”

The next day I dragged my brother with me to watch Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya.

As awful as the title may be, the movie was umm… awful-er, but who cares as long as I get to stare at the pretty Alia Bhatt for two hours (it’s a fascination thing, not lesbianism). So a huge chunk of the movie involves Alia running around Delhi, making MMS videos and what not, all to buy the perfect “designer lehenga” for her wedding. Because “local lehengas” are boring. And towards the end, when her Dad asks why she stuck to the fifty grand local one instead of the 2.5 lacs imported one (#FirstWorldProblems), she says, “Mere liye local hi accha hai. Designer suit nahi karta.” Aww.

And this finally brings me to the point of this entire rambling: To all my friends packing their bags to go off for their Masters degree at fancy Amreekan universities, let us vow not to become pretentious assholes.

In my four years at college, I had the dubitable joy of meeting several obnoxious faux Amreekan Indians- some didn’t have any Hindi songs on their iPods, some never spoke Hindi, some didn’t eat street food, and some didn’t watch Bollywood movies. If you’re one of these, and if it’s a matter of personal preference, fine, no problem. But if you’re doing it purely out of disdain for all that’s Indian… *read with an accent* You got problems, bruh.

A friend of mine told me: “If you become a pretentious douchebag after moving to New York, I will not only troll you, I will unfriend you.” Right. Keeping that in mind, I came up with a few random rules to follow while in the States:
1. Thou shalt not get an accent and start rolling your r’s within six months.
2. Thou shalt not start using words like YOLO, swag, bro, motherfucker, fuck this shit, etc. incessantly (or at all).
3. Thou shalt not look at Bollywood fans condescendingly.
4. Thou shalt not cringe or go “God, so vulgar!” on hearing a fellow Indian say “Kya ch****a hai, yaar.” It’s the Hindi equivalent of “What a fucking moron.” and you say it all the time.
5. On returning to India, thou shalt not say anything that starts with: “This country is so…” (It’s your country. Don’t talk like an effing tourist.)
6. Thou shalt not Americanize your name into a cool, short something and introduce yourself with that.

If you have any more, feel free to add. And if you are in America right now, guilty of any of these, go listen to some Honey Singh immediately. Or call up your Mum. Whatever.

Because no matter where you go, America or the Bora Bora islands, you’ll always be Indian. With all your little quirks like talking loudly and loving a good hackneyed Bollywood movie and always, always preferring hot and spicy food and wildly colourful clothes. Remember: Local hi accha hai, designer suit nahi karta.

An Open Letter To Mr. Arnab Goswami

Dear Mr. Goswami,

I know that this has been done to death, that you probably receive a few thousand letters such as these every week, but I still wanted my thoughts out there. This is about the Newshour Debate (Part 1, Part 2) over the state government sponsored trip to the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Brazil for six Goa MLAs that aired on 12th June, 2014. Now the purported reason behind this trip was that this was to be a “study tour”, that the MLAs would go and “study traffic management” in Brazil and put this knowledge to good use in Goa. I use double quotes over certain words because anyone with half a brain can tell that this reason is utter bullshit. We all know and agree with you that this is an enormous waste of the exchequer’s money, yes, and we all watched in utter glee as you ripped apart Mr. Benjamin Silva (an independent MLA) over national television for being a part of this “study tour”. However, I’d like to point out that your behavior on the show was completely out of line… you, (currently) the most well-known journalist in India, were arrogant, churlish, patronizing and more a nagging, taunting, hateful wife than an intelligent journalist overseeing a debate, trying to get the facts right from both the sides.

You introduced Mr. Benjamin Silva with a “BENJAMIN SILVA! PUT HIM FULL FRAME ON THE SCREEN, PLEASE!…”, your voice dripping with condescension. You then proceeded to tell him how lucky he was, and if it were really true about the trip and that you had to pinch yourself to believe it (at this point, you really pinched yourself… wow.) These are a few other lines spouted by you during the entire hour-long debate:

“By sitting and watching a game, what will you learn?”

“Why have you been chosen? What kind of an answer is that? Use common sense, Sir.”

“Benjamin Silva is not a politician. Benjamin Silva is a prodigy and a magician rolled into one! Because Mr. Silva will walk into a match and with his prodigious abilities, he will look around the stadium once and he will immediately understand what is required for us to build a world class stadium!”

“Mr. Silva is not a normal human being! He is an absolute prodigy in the world of politics!”

“Benjamin Silva… you played football? What level? Junior National level? … Mr. Silva, we should get everyone who is like you then, including people who played school-level football… maybe you’ll end up representing the country in the next World Cup.”

“Mr. Silva is not answering… every time I ask him a question, his earpiece mysteriously falls off.”

“I am not warning you… I am telling you that if you go on this trip, you will be the laughing stock of the entire country, Mr. Silva.”

“Mr. Patra… no, don’t make three points. I have not allowed you to make three points. You’re not at an election rally, don’t make a speech.”

“Mr. Silva, if you have any sense of shame, you will pay for your own ticket!”

Sir, we all knew the reason given by the government was stupid; sending those MLAs on that trip on taxpayers’ money was wrong. That being said, there really was no need to be rude to Silva. I am not siding with him, nor do I have any particular reason to do so. However, as a journalist on one of the top news channels of India, I think one should follow a certain etiquette and decorum. When you yell and shout and make clever jokes like that, people laugh, sure, they even love you for it, but they lose the point you’re trying to make. Your show is highly entertaining, don’t get me wrong. My Dad still hobbles upstairs every night at 9 and sits glued to the television set, watching you nail politicians, party spokespersons, bureaucrats. And he loves your blunt style, the way you scream yourself hoarse day after day after day, the sheaf of papers in your hand waved indignantly all the time. And that is why you are popular, I guess. Because you make the debate an enjoyable watch. Because it is more about incessantly taunting and cursing India’s politicians, demanding that they resign, saying they are shameless fools right to their faces- something all Indians wish they could do. But where is the debate in all this? Where are the facts? Where are the reasons? It is all lost in the inane and loud bickering you and your panelists resort to every single time, making the viewers think “What the f*** is going on?” and chuckle and shake their heads at the futility of the entire charade.

You’re losing your credibility, Mr. Goswami. Or perhaps, you lost it a long time ago. I am not sure which is true. People are watching the debate only for your daily histrionics. If we are going to continue with that, why call it a debate at all? If being against you on the debate as a panelist means being berated with innumerable accusations and unnecessary name-calling, why should one be a part at all? Everyone should get a chance to speak their view- however wrong- without being railroaded under your opinion before they can open their mouths. Only then can we call it a debate, right?

It is entirely too possible that you may never read this. It is even more possible that you already know exactly what I am talking about… which makes me hope that your show will be more than just that someday. Until then, I really don’t think Times Now should be parading their new found tag of  “India’s Best News Channel” using you as their foreman.

A bored and tired viewer.

Look Ma, No IIT background!

So this morning, I am sitting at the dining table, sipping chai from my favorite yellow cup, half-asleep, dreading work, when my phone rings. It was Dad. This was the conversation-

Dad: “Shrijee! Did you read the newspaper today?”
Me: “No. I get my news online at work.”
Dad: “You know that Nadella guy… the CEO of Microsoft?”
Me: “Uhuh.”
Dad: “Do you know his salary?”
Me: “Erm. No?”
Dad: “It’s 100 crores.”
Me (almost dropping my cup, eyes wide open): “WHAT?”
Dad (laughing like a mad man): “Nice na?!”
Me: “That’s like the net worth of a small company!”
Dad: “YEAH!”
Me: “Par sala itne paise ka karega kya?

When Bill Gates announced Hyderabad-born Satya Nadella as the new CEO of Microsoft, all of India felt emotions ranging from joy and pride to jealousy and “Look at him! You also have to be like him!” (the latter being felt by our dear Indian parents, of course). I am pretty sure the 100-crore figure caused at least a few thousand (read: lac) parents to say “You have to work hard and crack the JEE!” or “If only you had worked hard and cracked the JEE!”. My own parents are guilty of the latter.

Incidentally, I couldn’t believe the salary amount. So I checked, and guess what. It IS a fucking 108 crores a year!

This is all well and good, but the catch is that Satya Nadella never went to an IIT. Yes, that’s right. He got his BE in Electronics and Telecommunications from the Manipal Insititute of Technology, and later did an MS in Computer Science from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. What’s that? So a person who did NOT have a degree from one of the IITs (and did not even have an undergrad degree in Computer Science, for that matter) became the CEO of the world’s biggest software company? Yup. Suck on that, crazy-competitive Indian education system and overly ambitious, pushy parents.

Dad really pissed me off this morning by saying “If only you had worked a little harder in 11th… blah blah blah”. As if the only way to succeed in life is by getting an admission into the IIT. Granted, it’ll remain one of my biggest regrets- not because an IIT-education guarantees (or almost guarantees) a ticket to ‘the good life’ (a seven-figure starting salary), but because I  missed out on the whole “IIT-experience”. Okay, I don’t exactly know what I mean by that, but I have two very good friends who’ve passed out from there, and from what they’ve told me and/or put up oh-so-modestly on their Facebook timelines, their four years of college seemed pretty damning good to me.

I don’t think my blog is read by any adults (read: people with teenage kids), I think it’s mostly 20-somethings (read: my bored college friends who are nice enough to humour my little blogging habit), but if you’re reading this, and you’re a parent with a kid in 8th/9th/10th std, please, please don’t bully him into studying for the JEE. Let him decide. IITs are not the only way to succeed in life. And how do you even measure success? My mum is 50 years old, works in a bank and earns a modest salary of 45k per month. And she’s happy. Sure, the 100-crore sum made her eyeballs pop out for a second, but she wouldn’t trade her quiet life with one loving husband and one sweet (and a little cranky) mother-in-law for it. So the question is, how do you measure success? Is it by the number of loved ones around you or by the number of crores saved up in your bank account?

Like I said, sala itne paise ka karega kya?

Of Grades, Laddoos, and Life

So a popular educational website’s advertisement on national television goes something like this: A harried father (let’s call him Dad 1) trails his finger down an exam result notice to find that his son has scored 90 percent, thanks God in an obligatory namaste, yells “YEAH!” and rushes over to feed his son a motichoorladdoo. The son, happy with his score, his mouth wide open with an ‘Aaaaaa…’ is shocked when the same laddoo is pulled right out of his mouth (cue ‘Naaaaa…’ in the background) by Dad 2 and given to his eager nerdy kid, who with a deft robot-like move opens up his mouth. Dad 2 now looks at Dad 1 and says haughtily, “92 percent!”, while wiggling his eyebrows in an extremely non-creepy manner. Dad 1 is absolutely crushed and casts a dark, disappointed look at his harrowed son who hangs his neck in shame- obviously… what is 90 percent aaj ke zamane mein?  However, the laddoo trail doesn’t end here.

The bichara nerdy kid also loses the damn laddoo as it is grabbed by a lady- let’s call her Mom 1- and given to her nonchalant yawning son, who stands up straight with almost military-like discipline on seeing the approaching laddoo, while Mom 1 says with thinly veiled contempt, “94 percent!”, leaving Dad 2 traumatized. Of course, you’d think at least the 94 percent walawill get to eat the laddoo– which has by now seen the insides on two other mouths (ew)- but heck, no! Indians are overachievers, na? The laddoo again makes a move and goes to Mom 2, whose driver pitches in from behind her with a, “96 percent!” Mom 1 smiles with an axe-murderer look in her eyes, and her son looks down, probably thinking, “Shit yaar. Kash aur padhai kia hota!” The laddoo finally goes to Mom 2’s daughter, who rolls her eyes in a not-so-subtle manner, and the ad goes to featuring the website content. Of course, the Kaun Banega Laddoopati winner is revealed towards the end: a kid with a giant-ass trophy in his hand, who munches on the laddoo with such happiness on his face, one would think he achieved nirvana.

So I’m going to list down the things I learnt from this ever-so-enlightening advertisement:

a) If you score anything less than 95 percent in your exams, you don’t get the laddoo… But what does the laddoo stand for? We’ll come to that later.
b) Indian moms and dads LOVE to compare their kid’s scores with their sister’s/neighbour’s/ kitty-party aunty’s/ colleague’s/ random-parent-they-run-into-in-school-corridor’s kid’s scores.
c) If you spend thousands on your kid’s future and make sure he scores 95-percent plus, life toh set hai, boss. Nothing can go wrong after that!

Note: The score has to be above 95 percent. Anything below that and he is doomed to a life of ignominy.

These aren’t my views, of course. Like I said, this is what I’ve learnt from the advertisement.

So what does this laddoo stand for? Why does everyone want it, and why does that stupid kid in the end look so happy on having it? I think it means different things for different people. For a low income, middle-class family, it stands for the prospect of a better college, and consequently, a better paying job. For a rich family with plenty of equally rich friends to prove a point to, it stands for an opportunity to show-off. Besides, parents do tend to use kids as trophies for flaunting purposes. What else can that silly laddoo stand for? The fact that your parents are happy, that you haven’t disappointed them? Whatever it may be, the laddoo stands for all the good things in life, which you aren’t entitled to, or will not get if you do not score well.

I’d have no issues with this rather bizarre advertisement if it did not promote the corrupt ideology that good marks lead to a good life, while bad marks lead to a bad one. While the first statement might be somewhat true, the second is fallacious on so many levels. I am done with my basic education. 10th, 12th, IIT, AIEEE, CET, BITS, and college. I’ve jumped all the hoops there are to jump, and I can tell you there’s absolutely no relation between marks and success. Hardwork and success, hell yes. But marks don’t mean a damn thing, especially in the backdrop of our Indian education system. Being the class topper in all my school years, my smug, overconfidence-bubble burst when I failed to clear the IIT, while those who used to score way below me in school led a glorious four years at IIT-B. Right there. That’s proof enough to negate everything this ad stands for.

Let’s think of what the last kid does in life-

Since he’s scored like 96 or 98 or whatever overachieving score, he’s forced into taking up Science in 11thand 12th. Of course, post 12th, he’s told he has to take up engineering since the degree stands for great job prospects after four years of college. There’s a little part of him that would rather pursue a degree in English maybe, since he enjoys writing enormously, but come on, that won’t pay the bills, right? Let’s say he gets into a good college. He enjoys the course and does well.  He later goes for Masters abroad, scores a good job, sticks to it for 20-25 years, and thinks he’s made it in life. But of course, there’s a tiny vestige of disappointment that he could never truly pursue what he really wanted to: writing.

No points for guessing who the kid stands for.

United we stand. Or not.

My friend and I went to see the 5:15 pm show of The Wolverine today. We reached the theatre at 5:10 on the nose- I, for one, was really looking forward to 120 minutes of uninterrupted staring at the unbelievably handsome Hugh Jackman. So there we were, standing in an unruly queue, waiting for our 3D glasses, when the national anthem started. Like the rest of the people there, we stood straight, arms to our sides, looking straight ahead, and mouthing the anthem, trying to think about India, pride in our nation, responsibility as a citizen, et cetera, et cetera. There was this one particular guy who stood huffily, with his arms crossed over his chest, really unhappy about having to wait for that one extra minute in the corridor; he grabbed his glasses in the last five seconds of the anthem (when the Jai hey part trails off) and strode over to his seat. I was particularly amused by this behavior, especially because of the recent Deepali-Issar-goes-nuts case. 

For those who don’t know, Deepali Issar (wife of TV actor Puneet Issar- any B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharata fans here?), seemingly donning the patriotic-Aunty-against-disrespectful-youth guise, recently whacked an NRI real hard on his head for not standing up during the anthem, and choosing instead to, umm, “canoodle” (as Times of India put it ever-so-delicately) with his girlfriend.

This practice of playing the Indian national anthem before every movie screening was mandated in the state of Maharashtra on Republic Day 2003. It spread to the rest of the nation, but was scrapped later for God-knows-what-reason (I Googled it, really, but nothing much came up). Now our proud state of Maharashtra is the only one to follow this suit. Why? Pata nahi

Standing up for that one minute during the anthem garners any one of the following reactions:
1. Nostalgia: especially on part of teens, because it reminds them that they used to sing their hearts out to the anthem during early morning school assemblies. 
2. Mild annoyance: experienced by slightly older people, say in their 40s, who’ve just sat down with their full tray of samosas, large Pepsi, and caramel-and-cheese popcorn, and must stand up again.
3. Complete disregard: shown by even older people, and sometimes by the youth, too. Kaun khada rahega yaar, baith ja. This class must bear the brunt of glares, pokes, jabs and apparently, whacks on heads too.

Now, really, what is the point of playing the national anthem in the theatre? Is it to remind us of our responsibility as citizens of this great nation? Or is it just silly excessive patriotism on part of the lawmakers enforced upon the general public? Do you like standing up for the anthem? Or do you ‘don’t mind it’? What about the older crowd, for whom it is painful to stand up? Do they deserve an out? 

One remembers the famous Laloo Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi sitting during the national anthem during the Republic Day celebration in 2002. This photo was pretty famous then and was attached in all those Look-At-India’s-Leaders chain emails that used to circle the Internet then:

The Prevention of Insults to the National Honour Act of 1971 says, “Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.” Huh. So does this mean that Deepali Issar was the one insulting the anthem by causing a ruckus over one person sitting during it- who, technically, was causing no disturbance whatsoever?  Whatever it may be, this display of jingoism obviously made the man leave thinking very little of India. 

Indians are proud of all that their country has achieved. However, somehow over time, this pride has morphed into blind self-righteousness and excessive patriotism over everything Indian. Our culture. Our principles. Our morals. Our religions. Our diversity. Our manners. Our people. We can do no wrong, we’re perfect. “Hamari sanskriti” is more about others lacking culture, and us having it. What we forget is that ‘culture’ is a relative term and means different things to different people. When we think of America, all we can think of is a wild, crazy lifestyle, with endless parties and alcohol and pretty girls in mini-skirts. That is not what America is. Of course that’s beside the point, but I hope I am getting through to you.

Patriotism isn’t standing up during anthems. Or joining candle marches when something terrible happens. Or changing your Facebook profile picture to something an inane Whatsapp forward urges you to do. It is the sum of little things done here and there- not throwing a Dairy Milk wrapper on the tracks when travelling in a local, or urging a fellow passenger to not do so, watching the Republic day parade with mum and dad on Doordarshan, or cheering for India during the World Cup… these are silly, fleeting moments that don’t quite register with us. This is the kind of Indian-ness that comes from within us. Easily and freely. And this is exactly something in which we should stand together. United. 

A More Courageous Time

My grandmother was ten when India got its freedom. If you ask her what happened on 15th August, 1947, she’ll tell you about the festive mood India was in then, about how schools declared a three-day holiday, how people crammed motichoor laddoos in each other’s mouths- friends or strangers alike- all one in their joyous pride over their country’s independence. She’ll tell you each detail with a childlike excitement- so proud to have been there to see her country finally breathe on its own.

Bangladeshis gather around a flag of Bangladesh made out of flowers- at Shahbagh square.

This is what happens when people come together to fight for a common dream. They are proud to be a part of something that sparked a change in the country, proud that they belonged to a revolution- however small or large it may be. And this is exactly why the recent mass protests in Bangladesh against war crimes are admirable, to say the least. For those who haven’t been following the news lately, these protests are against the life sentence given to Opposition Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah- popularly nicknamed the “Butcher of Bengalis” for mass murdering several Bengalis during the 1971 civil war. The protests demand a death sentence for Mollah and also demand a ban on Jamaat altogether, which incidentally, called for abolition of war crime trials and sided with Pakistan during the 1971 war. The protests have already claimed a life- and a prominent one at that- of one Ahmed Rajib Haider, an avid blogger who targeted Islamic groups; he was brutally stabbed to death for his writings. But his murder only intensified the uprising, with crowds all over the country clamouring for justice. Following the protests, the Sheikh Hasina government passed an amendment to the International Crimes Act, 1973 making two critical changes: 1) An appeal against the life sentence handed to Mollah is now possible; 2) An entire party (i.e., Jamaat-e-Islaami) can be dragged to court now for their atrocities during the war. Two very radical and smart changes- taken without fear or hesitation.

India has had its share of protests, too. More than its share, in fact. Two recent ones that come in mind are the ones against the two girls in Palghar, and of course, the Nirbhaya case. Although the case is officially closed now, the men involved in ransacking the Palghar girl’s uncle’s hospital were never convicted of anything- I guess the whole matter was smoothly hushed up as is expertly done by anyone in power in our country. The Nirbhaya case was bigger, and engulfed all of India, and forced the government to make a change in our archaic rape laws.

The Arab Spring that started on 2010 saw the people of one country after another pouring out on streets, protesting, demanding what they wanted, what they deserved. Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Syria, Libya have all been a part of this. People are shedding their fear of their rulers, of getting beaten or killed, shunning the safety of normal lives, and going out onto the streets to protest- protest for days, months, years, however long it may take to achieve their cause. And no, the situation in these countries is far from rosy even now, but these revolutionary demonstrations depict that there is still hope for us, for mankind to be better, for all of us to be a better person.

Change isn’t easy. Especially when a country is ruled by corruption and a thriving greed for power. But when third-world countries like the Arab states show such fine courage, one understands that the underdog has won. That we, as human beings, are not weak by nature or character. That our virtues will not be stifled by money, harassment, or even death. Our independence came at a huge cost. And even though every new day sees India in the throes of a new scam, a new corrupt politician, a new murder scandal, we should realize that we have struggled a long time to be called a ‘democracy’, to achieve the right to speech, to protest, to demand change. Like Madhavan rightly said in Rang De Basanti, “Koi bhi desh perfect nai hota… use perfect banana pada hai.

So let us not give up on India just yet.