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Archive for the ‘For India, With Love!’ Category

 

Here is how the sight of a wren, the smallest of birds in creation, fighting to protect her little nest from an intruding hawk taught me the difference between patriotism and nationalism.

As she unleashed the fury of her miniscule wings and beak, I heard the wren say the following to the overbearing hawk who had obvious contempt for the little bird seeking to defend so negligible a homestead:

“Dear predator, here is what you need to understand: the same god who made you a hawk made me a wren, gave me a tree into which I could build my nest.My nest is not the greatest of homes, but the only home I know and love, like every other wren in every other part of the earth. Like all other wrens everywhere, I love my nest, just as every hawk on every mountain peak everywhere feels proud of the peak upon which it keeps its offspring safe, regardless of which nation the mountain belongs to.

I make no claim that my nest is the greatest of all nests, or has any magical properties. I defend it because I am used to it and is the only nest I have. I labour in sunshine and sleet to keep it safe, just like wrens in other places value their little nests and defend the same with vigour. And god gives me the strength to fight for its preservation, as wrens in other countries fight for theirs.”

In not claiming that her little nest was anything but a little nest, but one dear to her and her fledglings, the wren was simply proclaiming herself a patriot. And in admitting that her nest was not the greatest abode in the wide world, the wren was disclaiming to be a nationalist.

Many years later, when I was in the United States of America, the memory of the wren became my political inspiration.

Persuaded to stay back and accept a tenure-track teaching job at a reputed university, I declined the kind offer.

Pressed to explain why I was foregoing so exclusive an opportunity, I found myself saying that I would miss home.

On being asked what it is I meant by the term “home,” I found myself pleading that home was something entirely different from a fine house equipped with all the comforts that material advancement makes available. Home evoked the memory of sights, sounds, smells, cadences of social interaction, attitudes to time, space, money, the deep oneness with the languages we wa are born into and in which our imaginations embellish our realities. I remember referring to the charms of the wayside oven (tandoor), now fast vanishing, alas, under press of sophisticated urbanization, where I often stop while traveling to savour a hot-baked bread—a pretty proletarian fetish, but one that filled some deep longing in me. I pleaded that this was a feeling akin to an ordinary American lapping up a bowl of clam showder or beans along an ordinary street; and that just as an ordinary American working man or woman made no claims for American “exceptionalism” on the strength of her quotidian repast, I loved my roadside baked bread without extending that sentiment to claiming that India was the greatest of nations.

Home was simply a cadence of un-self-conscious living that informs everything from our palate to the structure of our interactions with our weltanschuuang. Something that enables us to understand similar feelings in other peoples who live outside the territories that define our geographical nations.

Indeed, the current spectacle of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers trudging to their villages away from the metropolises teaches us that home may not always correspond even to the designated countries of which we are citizens, but recede into hinterland spaces. A migrant worker from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar may feel as alienated in Mumbai or Bengaluru as a rangy Texan in New York, unimpressed in either case by the superior claims to glitter of the megapolises they leave. In such episodes not only is nationalism a distant thought, but even our patriotism may shrink to pieces of land that speak to our souls.

Thus, were I to echo the sentiment “India first” I would not mean by that India above all, but to express the sentiment of the least inhabitant of my country who might wish her little hutment to be clean and attractive because, simply, it was a space closest to her existence.

I came to realize that such attachment to the concrete conditions of our grooming and lived being constitutes patriotism, whereas projecting that concrete into an unfelt abstraction that has never any basis in fact or reality comprises nationalism. My confluence with my given space and order of living did not, I made clear, in the least cloud my objective recognition that other peoples in other countries have notched up achievements that transcend what India may have to her credit. And, like the wren, I do not covet the mightier claims of the hawk, but simply seek to defend the nest I love.

Patriotism, or our love of our given clime, leaves us free to value a like sentiment among peoples in other climes and countries, and free to find fault with what we may be lacking without letting bravado or false claim distort those realities.

Nationalism, like religious faith, permits no such room. It asks of us that we propagate that we outshine all other peoples, cultures, climes, countries in every sphere of life because of some divine origin or exclusive right to perfection.

Where patriotism denotes love of our country and clime, nationalism denotes a politics of dominace, built on myths and legends that have no discernible or objective reference to who we are and how we subsist in our daily lives.

In that context, I recall a most instructive vignette to which I just happened to be witness.

A political pracharak (propagandist) working with people in a slum area was encouraging little slum children to say “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (Obeisance to Mother India). At which a little girl with disheveled and matted hair asked “where is she? Where can we meet her”? The pracharak, rather askance, said “She is everywhere.” The little rag picker then wondered why she never comes to meet them, and why, if she is such a caring mother, are they always hungry and destitute.

In that interaction, I saw a telling debate between the abstract and the concrete, and an innocent but searing refusal of reality to be fibbed off by a great nationalist idea. Clearly, the abstract idea of a supervening mother did not square with the little girl’s experience of motherhood as she experienced it.

It struck me that the same sentiment afflicts downtrodden peoples in all parts of the world, and nationalist slogans about their particular countries being “first” do not help alleviate the miseries of the marginalized.

The episode of the little slum girl brought to mind another. In my undergraduate class, there used to be an African-American student named Rufus. Over the semester, I found that he was not coming to class. One day along the university street I saw him, discovering to my astonishment that he had acquired a fair-skinned face, rather like the legendary Michael Jackson. When I expressed my astonishment, he simply said: “this country is great only for the whites, and I mean to be great.” Rufus had clearly decided to go over to a prevailing, even if covert, definition of nationalism. Even as his patriotism remained strong enough to disallow him from abandoning the country he was born and grown up in.

It should be obvious that our love of our countries bears no relation to the abstract constructions of their alleged greatness, but only to the concrete fact that we are born there, speak our own dialects, and commiserate with one another in specific forms of cadence. And, the fact that other climes and countries may have lesser or greater claims to national stature makes little difference to our love of our little nests.

Natonalism enjoins upon us to believe that our air is the most salubrious, our water magical, our sunsets and sunrises unique ly blessed, our accumulated histories and legends superior to those of all others, our culture the only worthwhile culture, our religious faiths nearest to god, and our stores of knowledge beyond compare.

Patriotism acknowledges that where I live is my beloved space, warts and all. It makes no claims to exceptionalisms that are thought to be god’s unique gift to us. It recognises that our streets are shabby, our lanes full of clutter, our habits shoddy, our resistance to rationality often grossly debilitating, our defiance of law a routine habit of mind, our male chauvinism shameful and violent, our casteism or racism or communalism deleterious to the most desirable ideals of human rights and human oneness. Patriotism recognizes that things may be better in other countries and, less so in yet others, and patriots seek to better such conditions and realities without covering them up in sham slogans born of abstraction that have no real existence, or impelled by a gnawing sense of inferiority.

Patriots understand and honour patriots in other nations. Nationalism constructs them as potential enemies.

Patriotism accepts the great reality of diversity; nationalism seeks to obliterate diversity and aims to create the world in its own abstract theology of supremacy.

 

(The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

Permission to publish this article is gratefully acknowledged.)

 

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ashokbhatia

Rashtrapati Bahavan

The denizens of Delhi have cast their vote and shown the way,

Indians now have a new App downloaded, keeping voter fatigue at bay;

Considerations of caste, creed, sex and religion no longer count,

A clean image, humility and performance on the job alone count;

The age of the political party no more entices, nor does a dynasty,

Use of religion to polarize voters is an attempt which turns nasty;

What counts is the delight and empowerment of the common man,

Absence of graft, delegation of powers, with corruption facing a ban;

Transparent political funding, good governance not a myth but a reality,

Tangible returns from the citizens’ franchise, a non-criminal polity;

Better life, time-bound delivery of services, safety on the road and street,

Hopefully, the new government lives up to its promises and does not retreat;

Meer slogans and jingoism would not do, nor skillful media management,

Gone are…

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ashokbhatia

You are the main engine of economic growth,

Making global MNCs continue to fuss over you;

Splurging on goodies, traveling all over the world,

Your hard work yielding fruits which are your due.

You work very hard to secure a better future,

For yourself, for your progeny, and for your kith and kin;

The joint family system you appear to have given up,

Bringing up kids amidst the social media din.

 

You are the upholder of values and character,

Quietly paying your taxes, fulfilling social commitments;

A God-fearing and law-abiding citizen of the country,

Balancing a scientific outlook with superstitious predicaments.

 

Great sacrifices you are also willing to make,

When making India stronger is your belief and view;

You do not mind spending hours in a queue,

Retrieving hard-earned cash which is due to you.

 

Government subsidies you are willing to give up,

So the poor and…

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Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free; 

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments;

By narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; 

Where the mind is led forward by thee 

Into ever-widening thought and action 

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

 

(1913, Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Laureate)

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How times change! Four years down the road, the delicately nurtured amongst us have been spared the trauma of being exhorted to bear as many children as they possibly can!!

ashokbhatia

The Indian Republic is awash with fresh winds of change these days. New policies and programs are getting rolled out. Animal spirits of the economy are attempting to come out of a period of relative hibernation. Start-ups of all sizes and shapes are mushrooming by leaps and bounds. World leaders appear to be courting India in the hope that their own countries become an integral part of the growth story of India.happy-republic-day

Our science historians are busy digging up the glory of our ancient knowledge. Flying contraptions, genetic feats and precision surgical achievements of yore dominate the public discourse. Educationists are busy twiddling their thumbs trying to figure out ways of revamping the entire education system.

Some of our religious and political leaders are busy exhorting young women to reproduce at a higher rate, so the future of the country is brighter. Reversing the inverted triangle in red which denoted…

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While continuing our walk through the corridors of the National Gallery of Modern Art, we are often mesmerised by the rich tapestry of artworks it offers.

Village Family (Sailoz Mukherjee)

 

Head Study (S Bakre)

 

Nude (K H Ara)

 

Practice Session (Krishen Khanna)

 

Landscape (Ram Kumar)

 

Old Man and the Bird (B C Sanyal)

 

Untitled (Satish Gujral)

 

Thorn (N S Bendre)

 

Shakti (Chintamoni Kar)

 

Sea Creatures (Jaya Appaswamy)

 

A sculpture in the lawns

The photographic skills of yours truly suffer from severe limitations. Hence the poor quality of the visual representation attempted here.

The artworks are well-lit, save and except the fact that the lighting arrangements often interfere with one’s endeavours to capture some of the artworks on one’s camera. This is especially so when art works happen to be protected with a sheet of transparent glass.

In fact, this remains an issue with most of the art galleries elsewhere too. Perhaps, museum curators and architects in general need to be sensitized to this simple need of a lay viewer while soaking in and wanting to capture images of national treasures of an artistic nature.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/05/06/a-walk-through-the-national-gallery-of-modern-art-in-new-delhi-india-part-1

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/05/08/a-walk-through-the-national-gallery-of-modern-art-in-new-delhi-india-part-2-of-3)

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With 12,000 square meters of exhibition space, the Delhi branch of the National Gallery of Modern Art is one of the world’s largest modern art museums.

A walk down its corridors makes one marvel at the attention to detail and the sheer depth of talent showcased at the gallery. When the walk is aided and guided by a guy who is an enthusiastic art lover and a dynamic person, many of the artworks on display spring to life and touch the viewer’s soul.

Portrait of HH Bhagavat Singhjee of Gondal (Gujarat)

 

Toilet (Heman Majumdar)

 

Mahishasura Mardini (Dipen Bose)

 

Toilet (G C Bhatt)

 

Divine Flame (S L Haldankar)

 

Self Portrait (Amrita Sher Gil)

 

Self Portrait (Amrita Sher Gil)

 

Notre Dame (Amrita Sher Gil)

 

Young Girls (Amrita Sher Gil)

 

Study of a Model (Amrita Sher Gil)

 

The Ancient Storyteller (Amrita Sher Gil)

 

Three Pujarins (Jamini Roy)

 

Christ and a Boy (Jamini Roy)

 

Shiva and Sati (Nandlal Bose)

(Continued….)

(Related Posts: 

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/05/06/a-walk-through-the-national-gallery-of-modern-art-in-new-delhi-india-part-1

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/05/10/a-walk-through-the-national-gallery-of-modern-art-in-new-delhi-india-part-3-of-3)

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The National Gallery of Modern Art boasts of a collection of more than 14,000 works. The permanent collection, ‘In the seeds of time…’ has art objects tracing the life and times of the country during the 18th and the 19th century.

Its exquisite collection comprises miniature paintings, East India Company paintings, including works by such artists such as Thomas Deniell, Raja Ravi Varma, Rabindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Amrita Sher Gil and the like. It has several sculptures by various artists.

Banaras – Manikarnika Ghat (Thomas Deniell)

 

Mosque (Thomas Denille)

 

Dancers (Tilly Kettle)

 

Calcutta (Marshal Claxtion)

 

Lord Ronaldshey (G F Watt)

 

A Woman holding a Fruit (Raja Ravi Varma)

 

Girl holding Hooka and Broom (Raja Ravi Varma)

 

Portrait of a Gentleman (Raja Ravi Varma)

 

Lady Illiot (Haris Bert)

 

Portrait of a Parsi Girl (M F Pithawala)

 

Miss Clerk (M F Pithawala)

 

Malan, Female Gardener (M F Pithawala)

 

Miss William (M F Pithawala)

 

Saraswati (Chitragara Krishnappa)

 

Lakshmi (Chitragara Krishnappa)

 

Bal Krishna (Unknown artist, Tanjore painting)

 

(Continued….)

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/05/08/a-walk-through-the-national-gallery-of-modern-art-in-new-delhi-india-part-2-of-3 

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/05/10/a-walk-through-the-national-gallery-of-modern-art-in-new-delhi-india-part-3-of-3)

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You are the main engine of economic growth,

Making global MNCs continue to fuss over you;

Splurging on goodies, traveling all over the world,

Your hard work yielding fruits which are your due.

 

You work very hard to secure a better future,

For yourself, for your progeny, and for your kith and kin;

The joint family system you appear to have given up,

Bringing up kids amidst the social media din.

 

You are the upholder of values and character,

Quietly paying your taxes, fulfilling social commitments;

A God-fearing and law-abiding citizen of the country,

Balancing a scientific outlook with superstitious predicaments.

 

Great sacrifices you are also willing to make,

When making India stronger is your belief and view;

You do not mind spending hours in a queue,

Retrieving hard-earned cash which is due to you.

 

Government subsidies you are willing to give up,

So the poor and the needy may live a better life;

You live the life of a silent but true patriot,

Ignoring social unrest, mobocracy and strife.

 

Corruption in high places you do not like,

Petty bribes which save you time you do not mind;

Inefficient delivery of public services you hate,

To trains and buses running late you are often kind.

 

But much like the three monkeys of the Mahatma,

Unpleasant things you do not hear;

You remain blind and muke to many a thing,

Indignities which do not touch you directly, silently you bear.

 

You remain faithful to the concept of democracy,

Keeping the flame of our independence aglow;

Pushing the Indian nation on its path of glory,

Hoping for a better tomorrow, even if the progress is slow.

 

Perhaps a day would dawn when you would speak up,

Push also for social, judicial and political reforms;

Chasing not only GDP and per capita income numbers,

But also Gross National Happiness in its myriad forms.

 

Strive for India to excel in its Millennium Development Goals,

Contribute towards building up Gross National Character;

Refuse to let caste and religion determine vote banks,

Of the unfolding Indian drama, be the outspoken main actor.

 

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/the-perks-of-being-a-vip)

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ashokbhatia

The conscientious ones amongst the mandarins in the Indian Health Ministry cannot really be blamed for having sleepless nights. The epidemic of such lifestyle diseases as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular abnormalities is leaving them a wee bit clueless. The need of the hour is to come up with a scheme which nudges Indians of all sizes and shapes to start living slimmer and healthier lives.

Take obesity, for instance. As many as 60 million Indians – roughly 5% of the population – are considered obese. With more than 50 millionObesity image suffering from high blood sugar, India is a nation headed for a health tsunami the devastation caused by which would be anything but sweet. This is a grave threat to our vision of the country reaping a hefty demographic dividend in the years to come.

How do we motivate the Indian couch potatoes to switch off their TV sets…

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