There must be innumerable writers who are, in some sense nationalists, or who write about their own country. However, nationalism which leads to hatred of the ‘other’ seems unacceptable in a writer. The best writing, one that is long lasting, can write about a country and place, and yet have a universal theme. The approach ‘My country is the best in the world’, cannot, I feel, lead to good writing. And as I write on history, it cannot lead to good history writing either.
These thoughts were generated by witnessing, on TV, the retreat ceremony at Wagah border, and then listening to a discussion on colonial rule. For those not familiar with Wagah, it is a road crossing point between India and Pakistan. Every evening crowds turn up to watch aggressive posturing, high kicks, and finally a hand-shake as the flags are lowered and the gates are closed. [link below] Of course, I have seen this before, but cannot understand the need for the show of aggression. It is all an act, like a Bollywood film, but why does the audience like it? Why can’t it be entirely friendly? And why did someone in the audience shout, ‘Don’t shake hands?’
As for the discussion on colonialism, most of the Indian historians [not all] were going on about how great India was and would have been without colonial rule. Kanchan Ilaiah put forward the Dalit view but few were listening.
And the young audience clapped whenever something was said about India’s greatness, past, present or future.
Overall, a disturbing evening.
India remembers Mahatma Gandhi, but forgets his words. Gandhi, lived, worked, and died for India, but his views were never narrow or limited.
Here is a quote from him.
‘I would like to see India free and strong so that she may offer herself as a willing and pure sacrifice for the betterment of the world. The individual, being pure, sacrifices himself for the family, the latter for the village, the village for the district, the district for the province, the province for the nation, the nation for all. (YI, 17-9-1925, p. 321)