A mindless patriotic muddle
RABINDRANATH Tagore wrote a poem in praise of the British monarch. It was adopted as the national anthem of free India, and the irony of it persists. He wrote a poem in praise of his beautiful land of Bengal. It was adopted as the anthem by Bangladesh. According to Tissa Abeysekera, Sri Lanka's celebrated filmmaker, it was a Tagore composition that formed the basis of Sri Lanka's national anthem - - probably the most lyrical of Tagore's songs reverberating across South Asia everyday.
Allama Iqbal's poem applauding Hindustan as a matchless wonder might seem a bit conceited if seen from the perspective of India's smaller and not infrequently worried neighbours. That Iqbal was an early supporter of the idea of Pakistan has not deterred his poem from forming the core of Indian nationhood as reflected in the composition being played out in school assemblies and military bands across the country.
As is the case with Tagore's anthem with most Indians, Pakistan's national song is composed in such an arcane language that it clearly can't be understood by a majority of Pakistanis. Why did Hafeez Jullundhri who wrote it make it so difficult for people to understand something meant to stir the patriotic sentiments of Pakistanis? Abhi to main jawan hoon
Why could he not have written it simply, like his more famous song for instance about the exuberance of youth ? Malika Pukhraj made the song by the writer of Pakistan's national anthem a household name in much of north India though most Indians would not know the link.
A similar extraterritorial affinity for South Asia's patriotic muddle extends to its armies. Just look at the spot where the fallen soldier is remembered on Indian Republic Day each year. Delhi's imposing India Gate was built as a war memorial to Indian troops who died fighting colonial wars in Crimea and Afghanistan. The army's regiments still carry the ethnic nomenclature of former rival 'races' - Sikh, Marathas, Rajputs, Gorkhas, Dogras and so on.
While much of South Asia sees the 1857 uprising against British rule as a war of independence, their armies have studiously toned down and occasionally shunned the narrative of a revolution that failed.
History holds amazing ironies in its folds that mock the evolving culture of a narrower nationalism in South Asia. As I write this from the island of Sri Lanka, which is a short flight away from my home in Delhi, I can't help marvel at the absurdity of its Sinhalese and Tamil people being assigned the status of foreigners in my indoctrinated Indian consciousness.
Nagas and Manipuris, whose language and culture I am as unfamiliar with (as they are with mine) are Indian but Sri Lankans and Nepalese who share far more with 'mainstream' India are aliens. For years, quite insensitively of course, the Delhi administration would help stage the burning of Ravana's effigy on Dussehra right outside the Sri Lankan embassy in Delhi. The view that the mythical Ravana was a Lankan king was taken literally and the ensuing prejudices inflicted. mulk mulk muluk
Fortunately, a rival 'restrictiveness' may also be the antidote for the bizarre nationalist fervour that Indian and Pakistani patriots like to wrap themselves in. In Dubai, Indians or Pakistanis going home for a break would refer to their destinations as ". The word usually means nation or country. But our travellers from Dubai referred to a village or a kasbah they belonged to. An Indian returning to his or could be heading for a village in the Najibabad district off Moradabad.
I saw a shocking display of an Indian diplomat's narrow-mindedness in Sharjah during a cricket match between India and Pakistan. The late Indian film comedian Mehmood was watching the Indian team's batting with particular attention when a young Pakistani fan thrust her country's national flag in his unsuspecting hands. Khaleej Times
A photograph of Mehmood with a Pakistani flag in Dubai's prompted the Indian embassy to make him pose with an Indian flag the next day. How the publishing of that picture saved India's endangered honour still intrigues me. Khaleej Times
The editorial team of the used to have a good mix of Indian and Pakistani journalists, apart from several excellent scribes from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It was a painfully ridiculous experience for the team to have Indian and Pakistani envoys breathing down the editor's neck because the published map of Kashmir did not depict their national perspective.
That their citizens were periodically harassed or jailed and were usually among the most exploited and underpaid workers in Dubai was not a major issue for these diplomats, the innocent and ill-defined map of Kashmir was. It was sad that the editor entertained silly petitions by Indian and Pakistani diplomats. Under the circumstances, it was a relief recently to see the Delhi Police, not the most intellectually gifted of state institutions in India, taking a most agreeable view about the strife in Kashmir.