Growing up, I was a very patriotic Indian. I loved my country immensely and I still do – although I would like to think that my love now is more mature, humble, and personal.
I was about 9 years old when I went to my first Independence Day celebration at Loyola School. I still recollect the warm fuzzy feeling of pride and joy as we celebrated our nation’s freedom from colonial rule. I was so moved by that experience that I made it a point to attend my high school’s Independence Day celebrations every August 15, all the way through my undergraduate years. However, in 2004, I had to break that tradition as I had to be back at UT Austin to answer my Ph.D. qualifying exams. I felt heart-broken, miserable, and guilty. And then a miracle occurred – as I was walking towards the room where the exam was to be held, the bells of UT Austin chimed the Indian national anthem. I stood at attention as a wave of relief, optimism, pride, and joy overcame me. It truly felt like divine intervention – the surge of patriotism was like religious or spiritual transcendence.
May be this is a good opportunity to link to a beautiful rendition of the Indian national anthem.
And yet I realize that even though patriotism is a kind of love, it can easily be used to rouse divisive sentiments and provoke belligerent behavior.
The boy who left India was fiercely patriotic. But the young man who formed close friendships in college with students of various nationalities started to realize that patriotism should not really be fierce.
I had various transformative experiences in college: I remember a Pakistani friend cheering loudly for Indian tennis players Bhupathi and Paes by waving the Indian flag passionately at the Hartford Civic Center during the Pilot Pen International. I remember a Nepali friend explain how various Indian policies had caused tremendous pain and suffering in Nepal. I remember how proud a Ukrainian friend was of her compatriots involved in the Orange Revolution. I remember a trip to the UN with fellow international students – each of us feeling very patriotic while simultaneously sharing a deep sense of solidarity. And I remember an American friend who through subtle remarks made me think hard about the nature of my patriotism.
In college, I also discovered Tagore and found out how one could aspire to be truly broad-minded. I rediscovered Nehru and Vivekananda who yearned for welfare all across the world. I realized that I could love my country deeply, despite her flaws and failings; and that just as I had excellent reasons to be proud of my India, citizens of every country across the globe had similar reasons for being proud of their respective countries.
This may be a good opportunity to present my favorite Tagore poem:
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.
And now a link to Nehru’s famous speech on Independence Day – a brilliant speech especially if we consider the political realities of the time:
Unfortunately, I could not find the entire speech on Youtube, but here’s the text from wikipedia. You can see how steeped Nehru was in the idea of international solidarity based on some excerpts from that speech:
At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment, we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity…. It is a fateful moment for us in India, for all Asia and for the world…. To the nations and peoples of the world we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom, and democracy. And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service.
P.S. I plan to do a few more posts on related topics that will probably demonstrate my nuanced feelings regarding patriotism. I’d like to do one post on how patriotism and religion are similar in order to argue against a famous quote attributed to Dawkins, another on the distinction between patriotism and Chauvinsim, and a third on whether migration restrictions across national borders are ethical.