The patriotism that existed pre-independence was one fuelled by a desire to rid India of the British Raj. What composes today's patriotism, with insignia like the National Flag and the National Anthem? Can streams of plastic imitation flags which are soon strewn across the school playground or discarded in dustbins be symbols of India?
Questions led to more questions and discussions. Did India, with its geographical boundaries, have a good beginning on August 15, 1947? Common ethnicity and language do not seem to be unifying factors, while war seems a solution. For example, a few participants were quite aggressive about a "headless India" and felt that war was a way to resolve issues. If what can be translated as "It is beautiful and fitting to die for my country" - Ceasar's soldiers marching cry - be considered patriotic, the concept of "dying for my country" is equally so. Living for it? Too commonplace. Someone said, "We all live only for ourselves".
"Is Gururaj Deshpande any less of a patriot than Abdul Kalam?" asked a participant. From this emerged facets of the new patriotism observed with common human selfishness. "If there are better opportunities elsewhere, it would be foolish to not get going," said a student. So is patriotism about a full stomach, or the willingness to be satisfied with less than that?
To try and find the real meaning, the synecdoche associated with patriotism should be given up. Its indicators need to be re- examined. Does refusing to use an MNC product or cheering only when India wins a cricket match make a patriot of you?
It emerged that sometimes viewing our nation as a unit, is like chasing a mirage. Just a relook at history and the sequence of events that have led to the formation of India as it is today is not going to make the country tomorrow. Accepting in blind faith whatever is dealt out in the name of patriotism is unthinking. As a participant pointed out, "Patriotism is now used to keep us together when we need something..." and many a time is used as a con trick to get things done. The industry of war among others, thrives mostly on this sentiment of patriotism, making human life expendable. The Nazi saying: "My country, right or wrong" may seem patriotic, but history, knows the number of lives lost.
The discussion sought to reveal alternative views to the patriotism of today and did dispel all that it cannot amount to. The "pulp patriotism" of today is fed by negative nationalism and sentimental notions often viewed as consolidating factors. Patriotism is now preached as a panacea for unresolved problems of the country. But in this era do we need a solution that at times seems to override the notion of humanity?
What was agreed by the participants - spiritual gurus and bellicose ones alike - was that it is more important to be able to say "I am human" than "I am an Indian". The politics of vendetta may seem opposed to this version of patriotism to the world than to the country. "Vasuthaiva Kutumbakam" (the world is my family) ancient words of wisdom, relevant to recent times. The students from BalaVidya Mandir, PSBB and Sivaswamy Kalalaya had more to add, as did moderator Menon. But the discussion came to a close with the feeling that it is best to be a part of a good world cause, comfortable with the people we are. With hopes of Tagore's Chinmaya (an idea of the mind) view of India coming to fruition,
"Into that land of freedom, my father, let my country awake."