Monday, August 08, 2016

The argumentative Indian

It may be the Olympics that got me thinking about patriotism. I like the Olympics for the obvious attractions of watching the world's best athletes perform at their peak, make records, overcome odds, etc., etc. It seems to be the only arena on a worldwide level that lacks obvious cynicism.

But watching the parade of nations at the opening ceremony, I cannot honestly say I was particularly eager to watch any one country. Sure, I waited until India arrived. And I was enthused for the U.S. contingent as well. However, Espana had me going too. (Nadal was the flag bearer!) So was I elated to see Jamaica. And for some absurd reason, Cameroon. 

What does this rather random observation mean? I think the older I get, the more I realize I am not particularly patriotic in the flag-waving sense. Sure, I am happy for India to do well at the Olympics. I want our all our space missions to go flawlessly. I hope for the better distribution of wealth, less ransacking of our natural resources, more education. I want the best for India. 

But as for pride, I don't know. I have never been able to identify myself as a 'proud' Indian. I did nothing to bring about my Indianness. Am I proud of our ancient heritage? Sure. But, and I am treading a fine line here, often I find that national pride presupposes just a sight hint of chauvinism. Indeed, one of our patriotic songs "Saare jahaan se accha" literally translates to "Our country is the best in the world." A beautiful song, but this line vaguely unsettled me when I first heard it as a child. Besides, the song actually talks about India when it included Burma, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

Maybe I am missing the point as usual. To me the whole world is wonderful. I cannot equate patriotism with anything more than being comfortable with the nationality you were born into, with the recognition that we're all cut from the same cloth and the concept of nations is essentially just another form of identity. 

Those ancient Indians though, were on to something when they said "vasudhaiva kutumbakam" i.e. the whole world is a family. Now that, I can get on board with. There should be a flag for the likes of me, rather like the wonderful Refugee contingent that we saw this time in Rio.

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