27 August 2010

Serving My Country & Countrymen

Of all three of my alma maters, I am most proud of my school i.e. Kendriya Vidyalaya, Kribhco. This pride is not because K.V. has higher brand equity as compared to my engineering or MBA institutes or of the friendships I developed during my school years. Contrary to that, I am in more close touch with my undergrad friends than any of my school friends. It is more because of the value system which the K.V. system of schooling instills in you than anything else. There are some commonalities across the 1000+ KVs across the globe which goes beyond the school uniforms and school prayers. Schools are by definition crucibles where young minds are forged for a lifetime of learning. Schools should instill some sound values, foremost of them is an openness of mind – to ideas.

The cosmopolitan culture of KVs imbibes in you sense of pluralism, an increasingly rare thing in these intolerant times. ‘Being an Indian first’ comes naturally from studying in a K.V. When I see the display of jingoism which even the urban, English educated, 'liberal background' people of different states display about their mother culture and all the regional chauvinism associated with it, I feel grateful that my foundations have not imbibed in me such parochial attitudes. It is sad to see that many educated Indians don’t know the basic facts about India, her history, her geography, her culture and her heritage. Their knowledge about India is restricted to their knowledge of their home state. As I have written elsewhere, our diversity and heterogeneity is the cause of so many fault lines, which only breed more regionalism and ‘Us’ vs. ‘Them’ attitudes. Pluralism is a wonderful thing enshrined by the founding fathers of our Constitution (the credit of preventing Balkanization of India, of course goes to their foresight) but are we, as people, equipped to handle that pluralism?
Ram Guha says in ‘India After Gandhi’ that it is perfectly possible for somebody to be a Brahmin & an Indian, a Bengali & an Indian, a Parsee and an Indian at the same time. I doubt this, simply because ‘being Indian’ itself is such an abstract concept.

During a recent trip to my home, I visited my school. Since, my parents will soon be moving out from the township where my family spent past 27 years, I wanted to visit my school more out of nostalgia than anything else. It was a Sunday and the school was closed. So, I just took some snaps of the playground and then I came across this message painted on one of the sign boards.

Serving one’s country and countrymen sounds like a lofty ideal for most of the people of my generation & social milieu who are in the race to buy the next big flat and embark on that next holiday abroad.

However, this message set me thinking because the thought that I am not doing anything for my country or community is always at the back of my mind (It has been this way since quite some time). None of my batchmates are serving the country in any real or tangible sense either. Quite a few of them are happy paying taxes to Uncle Sam and rejoice every time the rupee dollar exchange rate shifts in favour of dollar. Then, there are the slaves of market economy like me who have realized that it’s a race which you have to run, grudgingly or otherwise.

In earlier days, for the Indian middle class, serving the country was epitomized by serving in the armed forces, the civil services, the defence & space research establishments. With increasing incidences of corruption being reported even from the holiest of holy cows of Indian public life, I don’t know whether being in such services means serving the country or oneself.

I have blogged earlier about how Indians are patriotic only in the jingoistic sense or the fact that most of the conventionally successful people will rather emigrate than clean up the muck. On watching the scene of Bihar MLAs upturning the tables & chairs in the Assembly, the educated & privileged ones like us, who have the power to bring in a positive change, complain that this country has gone to dogs and get on with their lives.

Even after reading many books on India and its history and having umpteen numbers of heated debates with people, I am still not able to fathom where and when did we go wrong. Whether it is the fact of family being the most important element in Indian society (as against the individualistic culture of western societies), which breeds nepotism & corruption or it is our history of subjugation. (We had corruption even during Nehru’s time when there was hope and optimism all around but at least there was accountability. Things became institutionalized during Mrs. G’s era.)

The leaders are by and large corrupt in even the most advanced countries but at least they don’t put a price tag on the life of their citizens. Our leaders or even the most lowly minion of Indian Railways first think of filling his own pockets before the government’s treasury even if it means turning a blind eye to smuggling of RDX into the country. The standard argument is that most of the expenditure from treasury is again wasteful and never reach where they are needed the most or rather everybody’s stealing and it’s a free for all.

Another issue is, of course accountability or rather the lack of it. When someone knows that he can get away with any wrongdoing and he is not answerable to anybody, then as a human, he will breach the rules, break the laws. I believe some form of deterrence is essential – call it fear, answerability or whatever.

In these days, where formal education has got no correlation with being a responsible citizen, when we see post graduates from top institutes of the country littering public spaces (however, na├»ve this argument may sound, haven’t we all been taught basic civic responsibilities as kids), we say that Indians as a race are undisciplined. This is one reason I precisely feel that conscription should be made compulsory in India. This is not just to drill down the ‘concept of India’ into all our Maharashtrian, Malayalee, Bong, Gujju heads but to make more responsible citizens out of us. I don’t mean blanket homogenization but the armed force is surely one institution where all sorts of distinctions get blurred in the swathe of uniformity and discipline.

There are hopes in people who are doing their bit against the insurmountable odds. People like Shantanu Bhagwat & Sanjeev Sabhlok appear to have a blueprint for India of future but given the complexity that India is, the best of theoretical blueprints get twisted when it comes to application. A worrying and saddening aspect is that Shantanu's blueprint has strong undercurrents of Hindutva. Then, there are people whom I don't know personally and most of their work is unsung but I have immense respect for the work they have done or are doing.

All said and done, there is that irrational thing called love. Not the one borne out of chest thumping jingoism but the silent pride you feel when you read the story of Battle of Chushul. No, the concept of India is not abstract. Lives are not laid down for abstractions. We all need something to believe, something to hold on to, heroes to look up to and we know that we have plenty of these.

I know I am not doing anything to serve my country and my countrymen but out of sheer love of this idea called ‘India’, I pray for her every day – That we will triumph. There will be no hunger, no more destitution in the name of development, no Madhu Kodas, no farmer suicides. So, next time when you read news of Andhra Pradesh judges caught for examination malpractices, please don’t say that this country has gone to dogs. Please pray and do your bit. A one and a quarter billion prayers must have some power to change things or atleast bring ourselves into action. I desperately want to believe that.

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