Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Happy? Independence Day

Of all the Independence days I have celebrated, this one has to be the most thought provoking of them all. Not to mention depressing.

Usually Independence day celebrations always involved most importantly a holiday from work or studies, a flag hoisting get together and the goose-bump evoking rendition of our National Anthem. But today, I am sitting at work and a million thoughts cross my mind. And it doesn’t help that I have been spending a lot of time reading The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor.

Don’t get me wrong - it’s a great book. I usually don’t enjoy reading historic novels. But this book has managed to capture my attention so far. Here is an excerpt from what I read today on my way to work. (Read Gandhiji when you see Gangaji and everything else will explain itself.)

When Gangaji arrived in Budge Budge he found a situation verging on the desperate. The locked-out workers were, of course, being paid nothing at all. Their families were starving. I need not describe to you, Ganapathi, child of an Indian city as you undoubtedly are, the sights which met Ganga’s eyes: the foetid slums; the dirt and the disrepair; the children playing in rancid drains; the little hovels without electricity or water in which human beings lived several to a square yard.

This is now the classic picture of India, is it not, and French cinematographers take time off from filming the unclad forms of their women in order to focus with loving pity on the unclad forms of our children. They could have done this earlier too, they and their pen-wielding equivalents of an earlier day, but somehow all the foreign observers then could only bring themselves to write about the glories of the British Empire. Not of the India weavers whose thumbs the British had cut off in order to protect the machines of Lancashire; not of the Indian peasants whose lands had been signed over to zamindars who would guarantee the colonists the social peace they needed to run the country and not of the destitution and hunger to which these policies reduced Indians. Indulge an old man’s rage Ganapathi, and write this down: the British killed the Indian artisan, they created the Indian ‘landless labourer’, they exported our full employment and they invented our poverty.

……and now we are slowly but surely importing the employment back to our country. It’s a longer battle to export back the poverty though.

It is difficult for you, living now with the evidence of that poverty around you, taking it for granted as a fact of life, to conceive of an India that was not poor, not unjust, not wretched. But that was not how India was before the British came, or why would they have come? Do you think the merchants and the adventurers and the traders of the East India Company would have come to an India that was a land of poverty and misery? No Ganapathi, they came to an India that was fabulously rich and prosperous, they came in search of wealth and profit, and they took what they could take, leaving Indians to wallow in their leavings.

...…proof of which (their plundering) can be found proudly displayed in the British Museum in London.

Reading the passage from the book while riding a London underground tube evoked mixed emotions in me. And so did all the BBC channels here broadcasting their special programmes on the 60th anniversary of the independence of India and the bloody Pakistan partition.

I am not happy this Independence day mainly because I don’t feel like celebrating it in Brit-land. It also brings back the realization that - millions of our children today have to live hand to mouth and another million people succumb to diseases which can be cured easily for the cost of what a Brit-person spends everyday on his/her beer – and all of this could have been different if we were left on our own in the first place!

A related article here makes for a very good read. It brings a strong ray of hope, doesn’t it?

9 comments:

rinchen said...

Happy Independance day, girl. You know, yesterday there were these endless 'special' programmes about I Day on almost all the news channels. All of them mentioned 'proud', 'happy', 'glourious' Indians and so on.

While all the time the headlines below of '20 killed in landslide yesterday' flashed by on the tv screen.

Yeah, its sad... millions die and yet we move on. Still its nice to celebrate this day hoping there will be a better tomorrow! May we all live to see that day.

Girl With Big Eyes said...

I know. TV channeling priority has stooped a new low these days. It's all about revenues!

Deepak Panigrahy said...

Thats true. Everything has some good and bad in it. The good is we are breathing in our independent country and not feeling the pain and agony that our ancestors witnessed. The bad is we still pull each other down and the elections are still won on the basis of caste, religions, greed and so. A lot die of poverty and not to forget the natural calamities that happen every year.
You are very true in mentioning that the amount spent on beer can do much good for other needy. But then we have to realize that. The beverages companies don't earn as such. they earn because people especially the poor do drink heavily too; sometimes due to their frustration and anger of being poor and sometimes for joy. The attitude and the approach needs to be changed.
But lots of credit to people like you who thinks about it...
Moreover, sorry for some break for your blog...

Kottikkal said...

Hi there

u write pretty well if and some time srupulous with certain aspects...

Santosh said...

We may have hundreds of problem facing us ,but one must not forget that we could have endedlike pakistan,nepal,bangladesh,somalia,nigeria,Sieara leone..etc...and as survivors ,we must celebrate...so what that we havent been able to become another US of A or another Japan or another Germany...we will,someday.For the time being,its enough that such a big country(unlike germany or japan) with thousands diversities and equal number of divisive attitudes of neighbours,have been able to move ahead...with pride and style.

Anonymous said...

Hey Priya, it's a cliche to say the Brits looted us & we are poorer becoz of it. Of course, they took a lot but come to think of it, we still have the same natural resources 3 centuries later which we are mindlessly plundering & our own Govts at the state & centre are driving out villagers to put up SEZs and dams. The common man in 18th century India (Is it right to call it India? Ok, the collection of princely states it was then & the Brits inadvertently helped unify them) did not own land. We had the rigid & oppressive caste system & the zamindari system where the tiller did not own land. Millions living hand to mouth (inspite of the hyped Green Revolution)or dying of curable is a sad commentary on our inadequate Social Security & primary health set-up. For that matter, Malaysia gained Independence 10 years after India & look at them now.
The Partition, I agree is a bloody mess that the Brits created and 60 years later we haven't conclusively cleaned it up. It helps politicians on both sides of the border to keep it going - the more rabidly you shout "Kashmir humara hai", the higher your patriotism score.


P.S: About the Brit spending on beer, just add up how much an INDIAN yuppie spends on a multiplex visit per weekend.

Anonymous said...

Uh-oh forgot to sign off again. Next time will put in my name first & then get down to debating. Have a good weekend.
- Pavithra

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Spectator said...

this is because ppl have lot interest from an independent india !!!!