Monday, 6 October 2014

A Naive Retracing Of Patriotism

By all standards, Ganda Singh Border is a very peaceful and serene place. Located at the outskirts of Kasoor, city of the famous poet Baba Bulleh Shah, this international border line is between Pakistan and India. A solitary road amidst the lush green fields spread as far as eyes can go, with occasional trees in the middle, gives you a hiss of peace of which you become afraid of at first blush. You become afraid of losing it, for you have been missing it if you have lived long enough in a metropolitan city like Lahore.

You go ahead on that road and what you encounter is a huge amphitheater divided by a white line on the road. That line,with two flag posts on either side, is what marks the people sitting on my side as Pakistanis and the people sitting on the other side as Indians.


And I am thus far fine with it. Who can disagree that there were a whole host of problems back then when the line was drawn? We all know that when you eliminate tolerance in such a plural society as that of the sub-continent, the minority had to suffer in one way or another. That tolerance was eliminated by the colonialists in the two centuries that they spent there for their own gains, and the saga that resulted was a natural consequence. Yes, you can debate about whether this was the best way to protect the minorities or not, but that is not my assertion in this essay. Partition, either good or bad, was an event no one can reverse.

The question that really bothered me was, what we, the people and the authorities on both sides of the border are doing now?

Back to my narrative, and it’s time to add a lot of Pakistanis on my side and a lot of Indians on the other side. You might as well add some slogans. ‘Quaid e Azam Zindabad’ on my side, and ‘Bapu Ji ki Jay’ on the other side. And both of these slogans were going on in retaliation of each other, and how loud you cheered was a mark of how patriotic you were. I wondered if both Jinnah and Gandhi were to see this 'magnificent' display of patriotism today and what would have been their reaction? Both people, of imminent intellect and a respect for pacifism and plurality would have found this display rather less appealing.

And that might as well be the collective tragedy on both sides of the border. Neither of us had the courage and the wisdom to really implement the vision of our ideologues. We found hating each other most convenient and we did that. And we did it with such efficiency and intensity that even though millions of people on either side are still living below the poverty line, our arms are always up to date, always expanding. Both the nations lost the two individuals in the picture in the same year, and may be, the real vision behind India and Pakistan was also lost in that year.

But anyways, now was the time for the most awaited event, one for which people on both sides were particularly excited about. The parade.

Let me explain that parade to you in most simple terms. Six soldiers on either side, with bayonets in their hands and an intense expression of determination and contempt on their faces for the other side, march around the space between the amphitheater and hit their feet as hard as they can on the ground and then raise their bayonets. This single act receives huge applause from one side of the theater while the other side jeers on the soldier who has just performed the act. This goes on and on for quite some time, and it’s kind of funny how each side believes that they have the better set of soldiers. And by that they assume that they are better than the other side. And that the other side owes to be hated, for they identify themselves completely with the soldier on the stage for he is representing them, and when they see the expression of extreme contempt on the face of that soldier for his counter parts on the other side, they are led to believe that the only way to be patriotic is to have such contempt for the other side and to show that contempt in their slogans.

I sat there as an impartial observer and honestly, I was rendered speechless and sad at the same time.
Is this what loving your country means? That you hate the other side?
And if I don’t hate the other side, if those men marching on that stage don’t incite love for my country but rather the futility of what they have been trained and asked to do, then do I not love my country?
If the acts of those men don’t seem to represent me, then do I not respect my institutions or do I not care for the lives sacrificed by men in similar uniforms?

I pondered upon these questions the way back from Kasoor to Lahore. I scrutinized every answer that I already knew of these questions, of which the state-narrative syllabus and the people around me were too keen to tell. I had to go through all the India-Pakistan matches where I just wished that an Indian player playing well would get injured by a delivery from Shoib Akhter and return to the pavilion so that we can win or that Indian team should lose every match it is playing because, well they are Indians,right? I had to go through the state version of 1965 and 1971 wars, of Indians attacking the land of pure in the middle of night and we repelling them with a mighty force. I had to go through the pamphlets of the extreme right winged parties that found the doorstep of my home, that basically proclaimed that the root of all of our problems is India and that the rulers who tried to make peace with them were in fact betraying the blood of countless martyrs.

I am pretty sure that the other side had been taught similar narratives about Pakistan and Pakistanis. It was clearly evident by their slogans and chants.

My question is, can you base your national identity and your association with that identity on the basis of hating the other identity?  I agree that atrocities were committed but no such affair was one sided. No one nation was a holy angel of peace and piety and fairness.   Let’s say it was, now when is the time to move on? When is the time to get out of that hate and go on to love? Not loving the other side, but at least love yourself for who you are, not against who you are.

And let me be very clear about one thing at this point, I have utmost respect in my heart for my soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the protection of my homeland and who are still doing that. I don't question their faith or their courage or bravery. My point of contention is this, arms may be a way to defend yourself but it should never be the way to represent yourself. Those who are defending us are patriotic, but it is not the only patriotism that there is.

Patriotism for me is knowing your own motherland. It means you search for your culture and literature and music and embrace it. It means you explore your motherland and come to know of its beauty. It means you know what black spots are there on that beauty and what you can do to nullify them. Imperfection further enhances the beauty for it gives you a chance to make it more beautiful, to make your own contribution, to have your say and to enrich it further. It even gives you the reverence for your own motherland. 

It is in witnessing that beauty in its entirety, with its perfections and imperfections that you’ll get a real sense of reverence and respect and honor for your country. You’ll never get to know it by comparing the sound of footsteps of soldiers of the other nation, and thinking that, because your soldier had more strength, your country is better. For your country to be better, the other country does not have to be worse.

The sun was setting and as is the tradition, the flags were lowered and the ceremony was officially concluded. I saw the sun set over the green fields, behind a distant tree. It was such a peaceful and serene vision that I could not contain myself from dreaming far-fetched. 

 I wished that someday, instead of jeering at the parade and at each other, we, both Indians and Pakistanis, would gather everyday and discuss things right here in this serene place. We would discuss our culture, our art, our music, our poetry and our literature.We would discuss Bulleh Shah for instance,whose shrine is in this very city, and we would admire the spirit of that free soul that said;

Bullay Nu Samjhawan Aaian Bheynaan Tay Bharjaiyaan,
Man Lay Bulleya Sada Kena, Chad Day Palla Raaiyan
Aal Nabi Ullad Ali,
Nu Tu Kyun Lee-kaan Laiyaan.
Jeyra Saanoun Syed Saday Dozakh Milay Sazaiyaan.
Jo Koi Saanu Raie Aakhe, Bhisti Peenghaan Paian.

(Sisters and Sisters in law of Bulleh Shah came to talk sense in to him,
That please listen to us and leave the hand of Arien (Peer of Bulleh Shah)
Why are you staining the name of the heirs of the Holy Prophet (Syeds)
(Bulleh Shah) Those who'll call me a Syed would rot in hell,
Those who'll call me Arien (associate me with that name) would enjoy the swings of heaven) 

We would discuss, how in the pursuit of his Yar( best friend), he didn't care about his higher caste. We would discuss how Bulleh Shah learned to dance to make his Yar happy, against all conventions and odds (Bulleh nuch ke yar manana ae). We would discuss that spirit that overcame all odds for his love, that danced to the music of love, and that now resided in this very city where that spirit has a following in every group that you can think of. Or, we would discuss the poetry of the great Punjabi poet Kabir, who roamed in the same villages of Punjab and who preached oneness and unity. Who proclaimed as Baba Bulleh Shah proclaimed; 

'Bulleh Shah, aasmaanian udthiyan pharonan ae,
We jheera ghr bhetha unhun pharya nahin'
(Bulleh Shah, you go for the one, flying in the sky,
You don't care for the sitting right beside you)

and Kabir would say the same thing, sometimes back as;

“I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty.

You don't grasp the fact that what is most alive of all is inside your own house;
and you walk from one holy city to the next with a confused look!

Kabir will tell you the truth: go wherever you like, to Calcutta or Tibet;
if you can't find where your soul is hidden,
for you the world will never be real!” 

Or better still, we can always discuss Heer Ranjha. We can always discuss the spirit of heer who stood before the court in a patriarchal society and spoke for her love for Ranjha and defied all conventions for her Ishq. Imagine the sense of awe and admiration and reverence we'll have for ourselves when we'll discuss all of these tales that teach the lesson of oneness, of following your heart, of facing troubles in that following and working even though everything around you, conventions, friends, family proclaim your voice to be false but in your heart, you know it to be true, for it makes you go at any length, it makes you learn to dance to make your Yaar happy, it makes you stand in the courts, as fearless as one could be, and ultimately, it makes you eternal if you become its embodiment.

And one step further from that, we'll discuss our problems, our obstacles and hurdles in realizing who we really are, and that we will be able say that to each other with humility and respect that;

'Come, my friends.
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are -
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.'
(Alfred Lord Tennyson)

And then perhaps, we won't need to fight anymore, or to be hostile towards each other. For we'll be able to relate with each other on a deeper level, a level centuries deep. And with the recognition of that depth would come harmony and peace and serenity, the spirit that a place like Ganda Singh Border truly deserves. 

I know I was being naive. But then, it was a beautiful sunset.