Monday, October 22, 2007

The Losing Battle of Uber-Patriotism

Uber-Patriotism is the phenomenon (as perceived by my limited faculties and partial knowledge and understanding of the term) of over-zealous nationalism and patriotism. Uber, German for super or often over, along with patriotism creates some of the worst kind of excesses, the excesses that created the Hitler’s and the Mussolini’s. Anyway, I am not here to discuss the effects of uber-patriotism in history, or its continued effect on world politics and the Middle East, or even the "war on terror", how the United States has been zombified into believing in things that don’t really exist.

This might be stretching too far into the past, but it certainly is still in touch with the trend that is growing in present day India. Uber-Patriotism is a steadily growing phenomenon in India. The film Industry has certainly caught onto this sense of shallow patriotism and cashed in. The Rang De Basanti’s, Chak De India’s, Lagaan’s, Sivaji’s etc. I could go on. This millennium has certainly seen a lot of bollywood "enthusiasm" into the patriotism genre, raking in the big bucks. But this isn’t about the intentions of the movie makers, however noble/ignoble . Its about how we have allowed ourselves to get caught up in the grip of uber-patriotism.

It was sad, for me, as a starry-eyed, quixotic, almost over-zealous patriot, in my mid-teens to see the lack of any spirit of patriotism in the average indian. The ever-ready question, "Aap kahan ke ho?" (where are you from?), to indicate that you are different from them (and to those that lack the background, I am talking about Indians asking people that are obviously indians). But just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does (though the starry eyed boy is long gone).

The pop-culture of patriotism means you have the indian flag waved around on every damn occasion, more pomp and show on days of national celebration, more movies celebrating the national spirit but at the end of the day, you notice that most of it are just words. Empty, shallow words, that have no actions attached to it, nothing of significance to make you stand and take notice.

Anyway, the rambling must stop, let me get back to what originally got me here, the "stretching into the past" that has forced me to make this post. This was a forward that made it’s rounds a few years back. Perhaps more than a few. The gist for the vast majority that won’t bother reading it is, how the current national anthem is in praise of our colonial rulers and hence does not warrant its place in history and certainly doesn’t warrant being the national anthem. The forward then urged unequivocally, that everyone, "united in breath" ask for it to be replaced by Vande Mataram.

Now let me take this opportunity to dispel any notions that might indicate that I have anything against either of the two songs. Both were born out of the minds of literary geniuses. The point to all this is how easy it was to generate mass hysteria, that we as free indians continue to sing the adulations of our colonial miscreants and in doing so, lower ourselves to our slave status, and hence required the urgency that no other matter deserved. The starving millions, the poor federal reserves (at the time) and the countless other problems faced by the nation were all of secondary importance as we prioritised our need for a national anthem that truly forged in our minds the idea of independence. A hyseteria born out of pure speculation and if the same sources are to be believed as the ones that generate the rumour, then the writer very well knew what he was doing.

But irrespective of the intentions, as sensible indian’s that understand the meaning of the word patriotism, shouldn’t you be more open to interpretation than what the original author intended? Should we dismiss all great literary works because its topical relevance contradicts our belief system? Or should we just take a more rationalistic, non-sensationalistic approach to the whole thing, realise that even if the author wrote the song in praise of our evil over-lords, to the vast majority of a billion indians the song is simply, a song in praise of the motherland?


Nita said...

Hi DD. Interesting post. Actually I had a very different experience growing up, being a fauji's daughter. We mixed with people from all over the country. And in fact patriotism was very much in the air, and during war (I will never forget 1971) it reached fever pitch. My whole family, uncles, cousins, grandfather, all have services background so we grew up in a patriotic atmosphere. But it we never thought it was 'over-zealous' so I am not sure what you mean. It just was. And it runs in my blood.
But loyalty to us meant living life as a good citizen and doing one's job with integrity, not necessarily joining the forces or politics. It also meant not leaving India and that is what I resolved to so when I was a teen. I don't regret the decision. I still feel the same.

The Depressed Doormat said...

Nita: I was not trying to say everyone is uber-patriotic. There are those that are genuine and they are not the intended target of the post. It was targetted at the hypocrisy of the indian nation (as a whole, which includes you and me), of Patriotism speak and actions contradictory.

The second part of the post, about the national anthem, made me snicker at those that perpetuated the forward, and those that blindly, without thinking passed it on. I received it again, just before I made this post.