Today was the 65th Independence Day anniversary of our country.
To me it was a holiday well spent with my daughter. I always cherish days when I can spend most of my time with her. We get to learn a lot from each other. Rather, I get to learn a lot from her, and I try to teach a few things with indifferent rates of success.
When I was a kid probably about her age, I was fairly politically aware growing up in Kerala. My paternal grand parents were staunch Congress loyalists, my mother was a communist sympathizer, my aunt’s family was supporting Janata party (this was the late seventies and Morarji Desai would have just stepped down). There were political discussions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And kids learn a lot by listening to adult conversations.
I spent a lot of time with my paternal and maternal grandparents during childhood, and there were no televisions. People had time for children, and I guess by five years, I knew more about the puranas than what I remember today.
Back in the late seventies, we still had a couple of generations around, who knew life during pre-independence, who had seen the freedom struggle at close quarters. There were one or two freedom fighters (no leaders, just Congress workers during the forties) in the family too. Hence I had heard stories of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Bhagat Singh and others by the age of seven. We used to have comic books on their lives. They were my heroes, unlike Spiderman, Shinchan, Doramon and others whom my daughter idolizes.
Today probably for the first time I decided to check Ammu’s political quotient. I have always had discussions with Ammu on subjects she wanted to listen to or know about. But this time around, I wanted to have a chat with her on some thing which I think every child in this country needs to know about.
I wanted her to understand the day’s significance. I wanted her to understand what independence meant to all of us. I wanted her to understand that this was not just another holiday. But then, she is a child who barely knows what India means. For her, life so far has been one bright, colorful joy ride, where she has been protected and completely cared for.
I was thankful that while she has heard of Mahatma Gandhi somewhere, she does not know who he is and what his contributions are. She has not heard of the freedom struggle except for a casual mention that one of her senior friends from school is to bring pictures of freedom fighters pictures to school the next day.
How do you explain what independence and freedom means to a child in 2012? I tried telling her about how people from an alien land called the Great Britain ruled over our country. She could not understand what it means to rule over another. Then I explained to her that we fought against them, that thousands lost their lives, and many more were jailed by the British police. I told her what a great man Gandhi was and she asked me –
“Did Gandhi have soldiers?”
“No. He did not have soldiers.”
“Then how did he fight?”
“Well, he did not fight. He believed in not fighting.”
“But you said he fought for freedom. And now you say he did not fight!”
“Yes. He got us freedom, by fighting with the British, without fighting them physically. He did not like violence. He did not like to hit, beat, or fire guns at people. He said that if you do not fight physically, the enemy will give up fighting with you after some time, and will try understanding you.”
She gave me a confused look. I gave her a discourse of about three-minutes using examples that I believed a child could understand and introduced her to the principles of Ahimsa and the larger values that Gandhi stood for. I told her the famous story of Gandhi showing his other cheek when someone slapped him.
She was silent for some time.
“But you have told me that if a kid hits me, I should also hit back. I should not cry and be a coward. That’s what even the Karate teacher has taught me. But now you say Gandhi said otherwise.”
I did not have answers, and luckily our dog Sheero distracted her, and the conversation ended there.
I have enrolled her in a Taekwando class, because I wanted her to learn self-defense. I wanted her to be self-reliant. I wanted her to have some physical exercise, and a sense of self-esteem. I don’t want my child to become a victim tomorrow, without putting up a fight against someone who might try to harm her.
Gandhi was never against self-defense. In fact, he supported the British whole-heartedly in the first World War. He even said that as a subject of the empire he enjoyed the protection of the empire, and so he supported the war effort. He did use support for the Second World War as a bargaining tool with the British. More than a million Indians fought in the wars.
Perhaps I am not a good story-teller, or my grandparents and other kin during the seventies knew how to tell stories, make a child politically and socially aware, and implant seeds of patriotism in him.
Today for a child growing in a middle class family, Ammu is not really exposed to the real world. Her parents struggle to give her every comfort that they can probably afford. She is emotionally protected by her ecosystem at school and the neighborhood.
How can such a child understand what it means to be treated as a second class citizen in their own country? How can she understand that several thousands laid their lives in achieving a dream called Freedom?
Today my Facebook page was full of dedications, trivia, and messages related to independence. There were few jingoistic posts too. Tomorrow people would forget this Independence Day and move ahead.
My good friend Aubrey Almacs feels that we must mourn our Independence Day and call it a Partition Day. I partly agree with him because partition was one of the biggest tragedies of the 20th century at least in South Asia.
Many of my friends who are in their mid-thirties and early forties are cynical. They feel that we have not achieved anything from our independence. They blame our democratic system, and they abuse our freedom fighters. Today Nehru is squarely being blamed for the Kashmir issue, Gandhi is blamed for our attitude towards dealing with political issues. Many feel that his philosophy of Ahimsa has made us a soft nation. Congress leadership is blamed for the partition.
I really don’t know. For the moment I am confused, like Ammu was a few hours back. I feel I have a great sense of history, reverence for the contributions of people who fought for a change. I would like my daughter to inherit a bit of that sense and reverence. But I really don’t see that happening.
Every Independence Day once we had a TV at home in the eighties this video used to play. I grew up listening to and learning this song. That is, till satellite revolution took over in the nineties and we could easily flip channels.