Recalling this Independence Day

I celebrated the independence day fine.

Well that’s the India’s freedom from the British Raj, I am referring to. August 15th midnight hours were the times of the “trysts with destiny” as Nehru proclaimed. And I am just going to reflect on the layers of destinies in store now.

Switched on the television set to find if there was any anti-colonial flavor, any celebration of a multi-cultural society willing to adopt welfare socialist economy or a people nostalgic of huge dreams, broader visions.

Of course it was a disaster. Instead all I could notice was the running advertorials on grand marshals of Indian freedom: Anil Kapoor, Karisma Kapoor, Randhir Kapoor, Babita Kapoor etc are the chief guests to celebrate India’s day of freedom in New York about to be organized on August 20 instead (why? Ask Karisma what courtroom drama she is into these days, that’s why).

Its better to be off to office, I thought. Took the entire office folks to the Tiffin, an Indian restaurant.

Thought there would be fanfare inside the restaurant. Some special smiles. Some warmer greetings. Some big balloons.

Well there was nothing of that nature anywhere. Business as usual. My colleagues and I ended up sharing some unique heritages of freedom struggles in our respective lands. And wished more power to Indian people on the day.

Could not blame the restaurant much. You see, although the owners may be of India origin, almost all people who work there are from Nepal. And I don’t think there is any special reason for Nepalese workers to celebrate independence of their Indian bosses.

Caught a cab to take my new friend and her papa to dinner where we were all invited. The driver was from Pakistan. “Happy belated Independence Day”, I said. He was quick to wish me the same back. And then, said “today is yours”. I said, “but of course we are not such different people that we have to rival each other in celebrating. Remember we both together ousted the British from our land.” He also agreed that while it was true, the fact is the partition was the most painful byproduct anyway. That was true. But does he feel anyway proud?

“What rubbish? I am hiding in the US from being prosecuted in Pakistan. Hence driving cab. Otherwise I used to be a Catholic priest in Pak.”

Had excellent dinner, a very memorable one. I called it the Independence Day dinner. Only that we did not recall the sacrifices of people without whom the day would not have come to such a pass.

Depending on where one comes from, the day will be perceived. For the cab guy, the day was not just bitter, but it never leaves his shadows. No amount of talk would convince him that all religious leaders have used gullible people to further their politics of hatred. “But there is nothing called Christian fundamentalism”, he retorted. I explained for an hour and gave up. But he was sure we were not going to celebrate anything. No matter what.

The fault is not with him. Indeed the way we have crafted the history of struggles with the British domination and how we have carried forth the heritage is the cause of distress. Instead of correctly looking back at the freedom struggle as a secular one where people of all color/religions/castes had taken part to eliminate the oppressive rulers, we are looking back at it as a Hindu struggle to create Hindustan and Muslim struggle to create Pakistan. What we have been taught to forget is the contributions of the peasant class, the industrial workers, the lower rungs in the military, the naval strike, the secular nature of Indian National Army, the atheism of Bhagat Singh and revolutionaries. The Maulana Azad, the Kaifi Azmi. The Progressive Writers Movements, the Indian Peoples’ Theatres (IPTA), the Aruna Asaf Alis and the Quit India Movement which in 1942 was led by no leader, but orchestrated by the entire masses of people who boycotted the British and challenged them to “Quit” India. Never before and never after has such a call been so pronouncedly made. Just when we were to win, the British had a map ready. We lost big time.

We have now been reduced to religious symbols in the world. Far from being hailed as the founders of the anti-colonial peoples’ struggles, we are today a Muslim poverty called Pakistan and a Hindu bomb called India. And we are the cheapest tech-slaves of the 21st century. The biggest consumer market, the largest slum-dwellers, the saddest communal fanatics.

And we don’t have heroes. Not one in real life. Why blame the cab guy?

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

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