Tu hi meri aarzoo…

A protest march in Bangalore; a terrace meeting; a rally. Tumkur, Karnataka. Azamgarh, UP. Vijayawada. Pune. Ranchi. Mysore. Hyderabad, and another one, and another one, plus an innovative blood donation protest. Shaheen Bagh, Delhi. Delhi again, and again. A 620 km people’s wall along the length of Kerala; a Preamble reading in Kochi. A 11 km people’s wall in Kolkata. Mumbai: One; two; three; four; five. Atlanta. Berlin. Munich. Hamburg. Krakow, Poland. Finland. Melbourne. Toronto, and three other centres in Canada. Brussels. Place Stalingrad, Paris. New York’s iconic Times Square. Also in the US: Harvard Square; outside the Indian Embassy in NYC; San Francisco; Washington, DC; Pittsburg; Austin. Not counting the over 50 Shaheen Bagh-style 24/7 sit-ins across the country. Not counting every Catholic Church across the country. Not counting, also, the number of small, but significant, protests happening in the hinterlands of this vast country, which with the best will in the world is becoming impossible to document, even by someone as dedicated as Seher.

India’s iconic democracy feels like it is under siege, says The Washington Post, seemingly not chastened by the Indian government’s ham-handed attempt to muzzle its criticisms by treating its owner Jeff Bezos shabbily.

Sure, WaPo has a point — the ruling dispensation has been systematically undermining all the pillars that hold a democratic structure in place. But if India’s democracy is under siege, then the list above also makes clear that the barricades are well manned, not merely in India but across the world wherever there are Indians.

Across the world. Indians, many of them doing well in the lands they have chosen to migrate to, turning out in defence of India’s Constitution, in defence of the ideal of the Republic.

I don’t know that I am a patriot, in what seems to be the generally accepted sense of being proud of my country and everything in it simply because I happened to be born here. I don’t subscribe to Stephan Decatur’s “My country, right or wrong” brand of blind patriotism (this link tells you the story of the evolution of the definition); as a one-time student activist turned journalist (the latter being a profession that mandates the use of your critical faculties), I lean more towards the definition put forward by US Senator Carl Schurz:

My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

That definition should, IMO, be read out at protest meetings across the country, alongside the Preamble. Because it is what patriotism is, or should be. To say I was born in this country and therefore everything about it is flawless, the best that could possibly be, is jingoism; to say that I was born in this country and it is my responsibility, along with that of my fellow citizens, to ensure that any wrongs are righted and the country is, through constant scrutiny and criticism, kept on the right track is patriotism.

When I woke up this morning, I found myself thinking of patriotism. And of my country. And of the millions of people here, and around the world, who on what should be a day of national celebration are turning out in protest. And then I realised why I have for the past month and more been feeling so disoriented, and simultaneously so shackled by an inchoate rage.

Never mind the CAA/NPR/NRC alphabet soup the government has been foisting on us in order to sow discord, to divide. The issue cuts far deeper than that. Until now it is was just a vague question about patriotism: Am I one? By what definition? Who decides? Why do I have to prove it over and over again?

But now the question — one raised by this government that was elected by us — is far more fundamental: Am I a citizen of this country?

Do I belong? Does this country accept me as a citizen, as one of its own? I don’t know, any more. I don’t know if I can pass this government’s test of citizenship, and if I don’t, then I don’t know who I am and where I belong.

And that reminded me of dad — who, in his time, was an activist himself, during the freedom struggle. And of Manna Dey, whose fan dad was till the day he died. And of this one song.

Back in the day when you had no tape recorders or other devices that permitted you to listen to what you wanted and were left to the tender mercies of whoever decided the radio playlist, dad would stop in the middle of whatever he was doing, when this one particular song played, and he would stand rooted to the spot, and he would listen, and when it was over he would surreptitiously swipe at his eyes — No I am not crying — and he would get back to whatever he was doing. But slowly, as in a dream.

It is a song of yearning for a lost land, a song of great love and great loss. I was walking along Bangalore’s MG Road this morning, with all these thoughts in my head, and on impulse I pulled up the song on YouTube and listened to it, and when it ended I hit replay, and for the rest of my walk I played that song on loop… and it is playing as I write this…

As I listened to the evocative lyrics of Prem Dhawan, it occurred to me that what I have been feeling all these days is a sense of not belonging. A sense that this government has erected a wall, an impassable barrier, between my country and me. That I now have to prove — PROVE — that the country I was born in, the country I have lived in for 62 years and counting, is no longer mine by right; that I am here only on sufferance.

This government has made me an alien in my own land.

And as these thoughts ricocheted through my mind and slowed my footsteps, I hit replay again, and listened to dad’s favourite song again.

I’m not crying.

4 thoughts on “Tu hi meri aarzoo…

  1. And, to think about it, the ‘watan’ here in the song is not India, but Afghanistan!!
    This was the real India.. and see where we are now..

  2. A wonderful read Sir. Luckily the large population of youth and most seculars are fighting back. This great continent belongs to all of us specially the minorities who enriched it with their culture, cuisine and diversity. Most are willing to protect the constitution even to the peril of their life. Better days are ahead for all of us, if you look at the scale of protests. Amen.

    • It is going to be long, and hard, and bitter — but yes, at the end of it all, there will be #achchedin for us. The real variety.

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