Saturday, September 13, 2008

Our National Symbols

A couple of days back a friend blogged about how she nearly disrupted the screening of a movie because a man did not pay due respect to the national anthem when it was being played at the theater. Things did almost get sticky, but my friend’s stand was vindicated when the person who had not stood up while the national anthem was being played was asked to leave the hall.
Did I agree with what my friend did? Absolutely!
Would I do it myself? Unlikely.
Too many times in the past, I have stood up for what I thought was right, only to have people react so adversely that I have been left with no option but strategic retreat.
When you ask a person sitting on a seat reserved for women to get up so an elderly woman can sit down, you expect that the person would not even question you. If the person pretends not to have heard you, the conductor ignores you, you are subject to baleful looks for daring to attempt to upset the natural balance, and the person you are fighting for pretends not to be around, there are only so many options open to you.
People jump queues and when you complain, the rest of the people in the queue tell you to shut up because they would rather have a few extra people before them, than have the line held up because of an altercation.
I have learnt the hard way not to interfere, and I would not have dared take the stand that my friend did. And yet, I know she was absolutely right in doing so.

One of the biggest problems among Indians is that we just do not respect our national symbols. The national anthem is not a collection of words set to a catchy tune – the national anthem IS India.
I may personally prefer Iqbal’s ‘Sare Jahan se Accha’ to Tagore’s ‘Jana Gana Mana’, but I am moved to tears almost everytime I hear the song. When I sing the national anthem, I think of the Indians who have stood on victory podiums while the song is played, I think of Indians who have excelled in various fields and brought honour to the country, I also think of the millions of Indians who toil so hard just to make ends meet, but do it with a smile on their face. For the few minutes it takes for the song to be sung, I am proud to be an Indian.
It is that sense of pride that is so sadly absent in most people. Forget about average citizens who rarely need to examine their patriotic quotient, I have seen cricketers who are paid princely sums for representing their country chewing gum while the anthem is being played. Is it just a coincidence that the one cricketer who never fails to sing the anthem is also the most successful batsman in the history of the game?

You just have to mention the US invasion to Iraq for the average American to harangue you about not respecting ‘our brave boys fighting for cause of freedom’. Would any Indian do the same? Why talk about average citizens when none of the august leaders of the nation could make time to attend the funeral of the greatest Army Chief the nation has ever seen.

I can never be as brave as my friend and risk causing a riot for something that I believe in but which doesn’t directly concern me. But I do wish that we as a nation start giving ourselves the respect that we deserve.

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