When I started on this blogging thing, those of you with long memories might remember I said I wanted to write once in a while about patriotism. Also about all the rhetoric that surrounds the idea. This particular piece is prompted by two things:
* The selflessness and dedication I found in Tamil Nadu in the wake of a giant wave, and
* an argument I had with someone about patriotism a few days ago, in which he told me, and I quote, "Even a serial killer can be a patriot."
The almost comical absurdity of what this person said left me speechless. Where did it come from?
There are times when I think that if we -- or certainly our leaders -- had been less concerned about our image abroad, about some handwaving called nonalignment, about an empty nationalism, we might have understood that patriotism lies in concern for people around us. (That therefore a serial killer, by definition, is no patriot). That a nation, a society, is built on the lives of all its people. That national security is nothing less, nothing more, than the security of those lives.
Take what happened in Kumbakonam some months ago: 92 children dead in a fire in their school building. But horrific as it was, it wasn't the 92 deaths that most turned my stomach. It was the general lack of surprise that this atrocity happened. Haven't we all seen overcrowded schools and buildings, fire regulations flouted? Haven't we cared not at all as building inspectors are paid off, reports ignored? Haven't we seen the mess that electrical wiring is in too many of our buildings? Haven't we watched such tragedies as the Uphaar cinema fire, the Ervadi mental "asylum" fire? (Mental patients were chained to beds in Ervadi, I'm sure you remember, and died screaming in those chains). Haven't we simply winked at all these and carried on?
So I think -- and if this strikes you as a leap, bear with me -- so I think, this winking has roots in a turn we took somewhere in our national youth. In a pursuit of something we called a nation-state, with all that's attendant on that term. In our neglect of building a society, rather than a nation. In forgetting that national security must mean, can only mean, the lives all our people lead.
All of them. Including those promise-filled little bundles of joy in Kumbakonam. Including the lives that serial killers snuff out.
Somewhere along the way, we lost the plot. I don't believe it was a conscious, singular decision, but I wonder nevertheless, what if? What if we had collectively resolved to go after another vision for India? Not whatever it is we have chased these 57+ years, but something else? A something else that I felt I caught glimpses of in Tamil Nadu, after the tsunami?
Here's what today would look like, had we done that.
Nobody sleeps on our streets at night, ready to be run over by filmstars or the kids of arms dealers. We buy our twice-a-year dose of patriotism from a shop, not by handing over a few coins for a flag to a naked urchin shivering in the rain at a traffic light. Every road has a pavement for pedestrians, and if one such steps off it, traffic immediately halts until she is safe on a pavement once more. All our kids go to school. All have reasonable health care available within a reasonable distance.
And such things as fire regulations are observed faithfully and fully -- whether in an office building, school or movie theatre. And what's more, serial killers are seen as serial killers and nothing else.
All these good things are the result of that resolve in our early days: that in this India, we do everything with an eye firmly on how it will affect our people. All our people.
OK, I'm not so sure about serial killer people.