By Waled Aadnan
Two years ago, on a wet and gloomy morning, I woke up to the sight of a Tiranga ready to be unfurled at the gate of the hostel I’d recently made my home. The corner stall served the same tea, the streets wore the same look of worldly abandon, the trees still shed brown-green leaves and still, breakfast served at the mess was bad. Yet it was different for me in a very personal way, like a day that came in customised packaging. It was my first Independence Day celebrations, ever.
For seventeen years, I had witnessed Independence Day come and go behind closed doors back in my hometown in Shillong. Terrorist groups, falling over each other to proclaim their anti-India stand, made sure that the average North-Easterner enjoyed a cosy day at home, come every 15th August or 26th January. So it was refreshing to say the least to breathe open air this particular time.
It would not be far from the truth to say that the true significance of Independence Day is lost on the generations that haven’t actually seen or been brought up on a staple diet of stories of the freedom movement, its heroes and villains. Probably, the only ones who can still feel the true spirit of freedom are those who are deprived of it either by political reasons, like in conflict areas of the North-East and Kashmir, or by economic reasons of poverty and exploitative deprivation. Yet, would it be fair or proper to blame a generation for its disdain and indifference to an occasion cherished by its predecessors, simply because of its chronological position in history? I would argue, no.
It is true that 15th August today evokes the variety of jingoism and inflated national pride that can easily be missed come morning the 16th. To a large extent, one can attribute this sudden outburst of patriotic fervour to a sort of automated conformism; the desire to be part of a shared experience that is larger than us. Or maybe, simply, as Sartre exclaimed in his Nausea, “Good God, how important they consider it to think the same things all together.”Â And could you really blame anyone for this state of affairs? It’s human nature to flock together, even instinctively. The feeling of belonging has primal connotations of safety inherent in each one of us. Also, personally, the popular idea of Independence means little, because we have never known a day without it. Which, without being too austere on my generation and the preceding one, I suppose is alright.
Yet, Independence Day is not just a holiday, far from it. In a nation being divided and dissected on every ground imaginable, an occasion like this comes handy to remind us of our piecemeal oneness. Through all the jingoism, the message of nationalism and patriotism as perceived in the popular sense isn’t entirely lost on the general Indian masses. It may be agreed that the forms of expression may have changed, that fancy SMSes and Facebook statuses may be our way Â of “doing our bit for the nation”. Today, the reasons which keep the nation united might be superficial, even trivial, but there can be no arguing that without them, we would be heading faster towards a breakdown of national sentiment. Independence Day may not be the kind of emotional ritual it once was to Indians but it still is a day that reminds us of the age when the diversity of the land united to dream the Midnight Dream; a day that reminds us and assures us that the dream is unfulfilled yet attainable. So even though the jingoism will disappear the next morning, a small flicker of nationalism will burn on.