January 18, 2005

Even a Serial Killer

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.


Dilip D'Souza said...


I am not hoping and praying for good governance at all. Hoping and praying never got us anywhere and won't now; good governance will come only when we take responsibility and put it in place. Which is precisely what I meant when I alluded to the spirit I caught glimpses of in TN -- like your mention of Udhavum Karangal. It is precisely because I saw private individuals doing such fine work that I wondered, what if we had that kind of (individual) spirit even in 1947?

Leaning left or not is something I don't know much about, nor can I tell why you would guess what my reaction to things should be. But this much I do know, have believed as long as I can remember, and agree with you about: government has to get smaller, people have to find the freedom in which they can express their ambitions, creativity and ideas. Again, that's what I caught glimpses of in TN and, earlier, in Orissa and Kutch. It is precisely the state of government hospitals, for example, that makes me think government should get out of health care.

But even so, I can still wish for an India where every Indian has "reasonable health care available within a reasonable distance". Can't I?

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed reading your blog for several weeks now. I think that by definition being a serial killer and a patriot would seem a contridiction in terms.
Unfortunately, in surreal Mexico this is applicable.
Carlos Salinas was our president some years ago and even before he was given that position it was rumored he had killed people who had disagreed with his ideas or in a fit of rage.
It is widely believed that he had Colosio (who was a strong candidate for the presidency, belonging to his own political party) murdered because he disagreed with his opinions.
So Salinas signed us up for Nafta, Salinas left our country impoverished, and Salinas left us with a second best option for President.
He defends that he has chosen the best for Mexico. Even though he radicates in Ireland we believe that our president is his puppet.
It could be a coincidence but the first three times he came back to Mexico there were earthquakes.
It is amusing to think that even our land shudders at the thought of having him visit.