“As I think of the many myths, there is one that is very harmful, and that is the myth of countries. I mean, why should I think of myself as being an Argentine, and not a Chilean, and not an Uruguayan. I don’t know really. All of those myths that we impose on ourselves – and they make for hatred, for war, for enmity – are very harmful. Well, I suppose in the long run, governments and countries will die out and we’ll be just, well, cosmopolitans.”
– Jorges Loius Borges (this sentiment allegedly robbed the man his Nobel)
When I quote this, I am reflecting on a personal sentiment. I am not asking anyone to stop believing whatever, if at all, they believe in. What I am asking is to stop and think with me.
When we think of a country and its prosperity, what do we see in our minds eye? A wide green field and happy farmers singing songs of good harvest, maybe functioning industries with tall chimneys, and happy workers earning their hard day’s bread with honest labour. At the macro level, we look at a civil society where justice and liberty is upheld and equality of opportunity pervades. Indeed, a layman like me would consider this a happy state. A more academically inclined person may look into GDPs, and indices of societal satisfaction. Bottom line being nowhere, when we salute our countries, do we think in terms of wars we have waged and won, or outsiders we have killed.
This is precisely my point of conjecture. The very idea of a piece of land bordered by barbed wires and uniformed men in guns, is an archaic one. I mean grabbing a piece of land, and marking it as our own, is as ancient as evolution of man from apes, or even back. Yet as I write this, men are dying and proudly so, and killing in the same vein of pride and honour. When I look back at the history of the country, one man had cracked the puzzle of this, a certain Mohondas Karamchand Gadhi, whom the nation idolised and celebrates crossroads with his statue of stone. Yet his lesson has been quickly forgotten and given a chapter in history books, as has been heroes before, be it Akbar or Ashoka. The barbed wires hold on and guns fire.
A few months back, I had a chat with my erstwhile roommates, who were from the southern states of India. In our discussion we came upon this, had history contrived in a manner that we were in different countries (a big “if” here, please note), we would still have continued to be happy and life would have gone on. But today, since we are in the same country, we take pains to tolerate each other, share our bread and shelter, and try really hard to learn each other’s language and, all in all, try to coexist. And the rewards I would say disproportionately outweighed the efforts. Cant this happen to countries altogether, when it can happen to states? Why the barbed wires and why the guns? I am might sound too naïve, but I am thinking really hard and yet like a kid am still clueless.
Maybe the ground realities are vastly different from what my perceptions are. Maybe I am being stupid when I find demonstrating India’s military might with aircrafts (fusilladed with scandals) and tankers and parades of men in uniform, facile. Why don’t we salute the millions of engineers, the blue collared workers, the truck drivers, sportsmen, teachers and rocket scientists, who have indeed engineered a civilisation that is worth a marvelling at. Maybe we do, but not with the pomp and show, but with the quite resignation of being happy.
Let me clarify, in case I hurt sentiments, I respect the way a soldier earns his living, however, no more or no less, than I respect the way a farmer tills his land, a engineer codes, or a poet writes. Every man has a right to his living. That is where my patriotism lies. In earning one’s bread with dignity, in not having to fight for one’s right but being born with it, a freedom in general, which allows me to think and be vocal in whatsoever respect, and without fear.