My 96 year old maternal grandmother passed away late last month. Until she was around, many of us took her presence in our lives for granted. We thought she would always be there - with her warm hugs and kisses, blessing us when we would meet. I started writing about her influence on my life and the first thing I wrote was this - about Patriotism. In the current scenario, this becomes a narrative that I want to share.
My first lessons in patriotism were from my Naniji. She taught me to love my country unconditionally in several ways. She was the daughter of a freedom fighter and she herself stood up to the extreme political conditions several times. At her memorial service, I got to know for the first time ever, that she had been to jail three times.
When we were much younger we would hardly get to interact with her for longer than a week every Summer break. Once in a few years she would come to stay with us and that, as a young girl, I remember was my first exposure to the spirit of ‘Love your Motherland’.
She taught me about freedom fighters, and why we fought for our freedom in the first place and to remember the sacrifices that brought us our freedom. She also taught me to stand in rapt attention when the National Anthem is sung 'anywhere' (if you heard it on the TV too you stood up) and to sing it with gusto. She taught me that to respect my National Flag (and to sing the National Anthem) was not a symbolic gesture - it was a tribute I would pay for all that my country stands for - freedom and equality, unity, compassion and pride.
She led her life as an example for others. She was a keen teacher - went around the slums of the town she lived in (Saharanpur, UP) and taught girls to read, write, tailoring skills, cooking, knitting - whatever would help them economically. She taught them Ayurveda, and taught them self respect - she would counsel and support girls to counter/leave abusive husbands and in-laws. She would nurse people back to health - like the wife of a rickshaw puller who was grievously ill - she cooked for their household I was told, for more than a few weeks.
Religion, caste, class..these were never hindrances for her. Nothing stopped her from reaching out to others and making an effort to make a difference in their lives.
Why did she do all this? Did she start a NGO and gather funds to concretise her evangelistic work? Did she sell the Ayurvedic medicines she made after painstakingly scouting the jungles of Dehradun for herbs?
To her, all she did, her actions, her dedication, her passion constituted service to the Nation, to Mother India, to the land of our birth.
Her pride for our Nation, our ‘matrubhumi’ was not restricted to jingoism and sloganeering. She got two of her daughters married to armed forces personnel, was overjoyed that I had chosen to marry an armed forces personnel myself and supported my cousin who wanted to join the Army too. She never wore her patriotism on her sleeve; she let her work do the talking.
She taught me to stop lamenting the state of affairs in my country and become an active citizen, a participant in its growth, to serve and to never forget what she, India, gave us. She would ask us to think - “Tumne apne desh ke liye kya kiya?” (“What have you done for your country?”) before complaining about things. She taught us to never stop serving our country and its people in whatever way is possible for us.
When my husband and I, married for over 3 years, got the chance to stay with her for about a fortnight on a Diwali break in 1998, and told her that we were not keen on having children (we didn’t want to add to the population) all she told us was, “By having a child, you will nurture a future citizen for this country. Your education and your values will be inculcated in that child who will also serve the Nation, be an asset and be a reason for its prosperity.”
In the environment today, her actions would be ‘tokenism’ to many; her guidance to her scores of grand children and everyone who she came in touch with, would be forced/imposed ‘nationalism’. Her patriotism would be questioned, and her commitment to serve fellow Indians would be seen through the lenses of religion, RSS, Hindutva, Sangh Parivar and what not. She would be called ‘privileged’ and her whole life would be scrutinised for her intention - for who would be able to live like she did without an underlying motive!
But I won’t complain. I won’t lament the state of affairs.
I will simply follow her footsteps and won’t let anything deter me: I will sing the National Anthem loud and clear, respect and salute my National Flag, love my countrymen and serve them in every way possible. I will argue and fight for the pride of my Nation, and pray for its growth and prosperity.
I will BE a token/misguided patriot/extreme nationalist; will raise two children in the same way. And I will wear my Patriotism on my sleeve.