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Nobody but a somebody - This is where I come from, for better or for worse

Friday, August 15, 2014

In a world today that increasingly disapproves of nationalistic sentiments, some of us still can't shake them off. Nationalism may be interpreted as a sense of superiority, but that's not what I'm referring to here, I am mostly referring to the sense of belonging and ownership, and for the lack of a better word, we'll stick to nationalism. I remember how some people thought me foolish to not grab the chance to 'upgrade' my passport while I had it, but I couldn't fathom it, still can't. The idea of giving up my Indian passport fills me with dread, it seems like I'd be surrendering my entire identity and masking it with another. My standard flippant reply is that if tomorrow there's a war, what am I gonna do? At the bare minimum, I want to be able to enter my country if I am not based there at the time. Sounds far-fetched, but it could happen who knows? Perhaps it's all the stories of the struggle for Independence that we grew up on, perhaps its the sense of pathos that the patriotic B&W movies stirred in us, or perhaps that it's simply the fear that you may never belong anywhere else.

I have seen a lot of the world and lived away from India for a fair number of years...and I've often thought that in another country even if you are a sanctioned somebody you are often just a nobody, it's not so easy to belong, but in your home country even if you are a nobody you are still a somebody. There is this sense of knowing your place. Having said that it's not like India or the Indian society is perfectly adapted to my way of thinking or I to it. People who know me urge me to leave India again, I've been told that this society will never accept my way of thinking or offer me the opportunities or support I need to realize my own aspirations. Indeed, often-times its stifling and I run away to escape from its impositions. It's great for a while when you travel in foreign countries, the feeling of rootlessness, the sense of anonymity in a large world - I revel in it, in the exhilaration. But travel long, stay away long enough, and you'll want to start feeling like a 'somebody' again, and then your steps will carry you back to where you came from. Your nation, your land, your - home. For better or for worse.

I know perhaps that my views are a little too simplistic, but I think patriotism and nationalism is actually a rather personal thing, it's less about the nation than it is about yourself, about your frame of reference. The debate could really get complicated, what if you don't agree with your country's political views or God forbid your country is a terrorist state? But then when I think about it further and try and figure out what it is that we are all latching on to,
I think it's not so much a notion of statehood or nationhood, but more that of 'myhood'. Humans have an inherent need to belong, to claim something for their own, for better or for worse. Your nation is your extended family, the land you were born is your bigger home. No matter how twisted the family, or how ramshackled your house may be, it's still yours right. It is where you grew up, it's that which has shaped you, and holds a part of you in it, and you carry a part of it in you. In a way, it's embedded in your DNA - for better or for worse. You can deny it and denounce it as much as you want, but it will remain the foundation of who you are. 

NRIs know that they are two types of NRIs - the ones who have emotionally severed ties from their country and whole-heartedly embraced another, and are better off for it. Then there are the ones who live on, with a hovering sense of waiting, like they are on a long extended stay. And they wait, yearning for little things that they can't shake off - silly things like sitting under a fan in a balmy room eating dal-chawal and papad, the dirty smell of Indian cities, the twinkle of dull gold studs on the ears of wrinkled old dadimas, the scent of rain-kissed Indian earth, the cries of vendors early in the morning, the chaos, the colours, and for me sometimes it was even the sense of cocooning under a big dupatta thrown over a salwar-kameez, protecting myself from the chill in the dawn air, while the exhaust from a revving up bus blows its warm air towards me. Silly things to define your sense of nationalism? No, they are just little things that represent your memories of what was uniquely yours - your culture, your family, your nation. 

For better or for worse.

Jai hind and Vande Mataram!




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