Happy Independence Day! The Republic of India is 59 today. An amazing experiment to see if a nation could be created from a people who speak 800 languages and dialects, have at least 5 different religions, and every 250 or so kilometres, the clothing, language, diet and customs are unrecognizable. Think of Europe and North and South America as one country and imagine the mind-boggling implications of that.
I went to school in Delhi, which did not encourage patriotism at all. Everyone always talked about what all the problems were without seeming to involve any solutions to it. We let these problems cover us like a blanket without once lifting it up to see the light. Once I left to go to Zambia, again, India was not really on the radar any more, it was mainly what was going on in African football and in the European leagues and so on.
In 1999 I happened to be in Delhi again, at the height of the Kargil war. While I was having dinner at a nice restaurant with a live band, boys my age were storming peaks and engaging in hand-to-hand combat and losing their lives for a few centimetres of land and the nation's pride. Nobody in the restaurant paid attention to the songs being played by the band until they started a particular song. Then everyone's eyes filled with tears... the song goes...
ए मेरे वतन के लोगों, ज़रा आँख मे भर लो पानी,
जो शहीद हुए हैं उनकी ज़रा याद करो क़ुर्बानी।
O the people of my country, just fill your eyes with water,
those who have martyred themselves for the country, just remember their sacrifice.
That was when it clicked in my head that 1 billion people who had banded together to form a country had done so because they could choose their representatives themselves and boot them out if they didn't perform. And this was what guys my age were trying to protect with their lives up on those mountains. So since then, Independence Day has had some meaning other than oh cool we kicked out the British empire without firing a single bullet. Everyone in the restaurant clapped after the song ended and the feelings that we had that evening were equivalent to a 1000 2-minute silences. India represents a microcosm of the world, having 1/6th of the world population and a lot of diversity, a land where buddhists, christians, hindus, jains, jews, muslims, sikhs, zoroastrians and a lot of as-yet-unnamed belief systems try to live with each other in harmony under one banner. Once this experiment succeeds (which I would define as ensuring that all citizens have food, clothing, shelter and access to education), it will be a great system for the rest of the world to emulate. India 2020 anyone?
So that's my little independence day speech, Jai Jawan, Jai Kisaan, Jai Hind.
(Victory to soldiers, Victory to farmers, Victory to India)