This cannot be impromptu talk. These are well thought of comments and the politician that he is, our PM must have analyzed the impact these words would make before stepping on the podium. Anyway, that is beside the point.
Writer friend Dilip D tweeted my exact thoughts, which went like, Mr PM, please speak for yourself, not me. Then I tweeted about it – that I am supposed to be feeling ashamed of being born an Indian, as per our PM and now, for the last one year since he has assumed office, I am supposed to be proud of it. To which my friend M asked me my “final feeling” about it all (It was amusing, I admit, that phrase, “Final feeling”). A barrage of thoughts later I realized that I had no idea on what to answer her.
My first thought was, there’s no black and white here. There is vagueness, a bit of confusion. I thought I wasn’t ashamed of it – of being an Indian but was there pride? If yes, about what? History? Of what we have achieved in the past 20 odd years that I have witnessed and remember of? I did not know an answer to that. I asked her back the same thing and she told me a similar sentiment.
So I thought, lets think about pride and what it means to most of us.
Wanting to give this a fresh thought again, I realized eventually that to have an answer to this confusion, one needs to decide on what is actually meant when one says “Indian” (or “Being Indian”). My conclusion about it was that we confuse ethnicity Indian with citizen Indian (which eventually leads to our idea of nationalism that leads to patriotism and what not). Ethnicity adds a new dimension. With ethnicity, there is suddenly a few thousand years old history and culture. Are we all proud of that? Aren’t we all taught to be proud of that?
I spoke about this, the same evening with my friend A, who is a Malay (and a Malaysian). I asked her the same question but from her point of view. Her reaction was: why should one be proud of one’s history/culture? Who gives you that right? I am just born here, something I had no control on, in this ethnicity which has such and such culture so why should I take credit for it? Why should one be proud of what one’s ancestors did? One can be impressed by it, be in awe of it but we should not confuse that with pride.
Let me explain as my friend did: If a friend I know does something really cool, you say, “I’m proud of you”. It does not mean that hey, you did this, I wish I’d done the same and SO I’m proud of you. It probably has something to do with your decision of befriending this person, which is rather justified by something that s/he has done. You have to DO something (in this case, make a decision and befriend someone) to be able to take pride in something. With your ethnicity/culture, you haven’t done anything – unless you are someone who changed the course of your race. You were just born there, which as much as you’d hate to say it aloud, was a matter of chance and nothing more. You have no right to be proud of it.
That was the gist of our discussion. And to me, it completely made sense.
Later that evening (Long evening, I know) I spoke about this with another friend who I went to college with and his thoughts about pride and shame were exactly the same as the other friends I had spoken to. This is by no means a sample size enough for a survey but these people, what they think, it matters to me.
So, as far as being Indian as a race, ethnicity, culture and what-not is concerned, no, rationally, you can’t be proud of it. That leaves us with Indian – the citizen. You can take a call on that. But remember, the Government is not the country. Yes, it generally is a clear reflection of the people of the country and the people get the Government they deserve but overall, it is NOT the country. Then who is? People?
Last but not the least – one of the gems that came out of this discussion was an article written by the great Khushwant Singh that answers EXACTLY the question. In his usual candid way, our dear writer makes it look so easy.