"Independent" minds

The legendary philosopher-poet Mirza Ghalib was disheartened by the sad plight of his beloved “Dilli” (Delhi) as it slowly disintegrated during the last days of the Mughal empire, expedited by the ascendant power of the East India Company.  His verse and letters to friends from this period reflect his angst and pain arising from the cavalier treatment that residents of Delhi were subjected to, in retaliation for the First War of Independence (or the Indian Mutiny of 1857 – depending on which side’s historic narration one selects.)

Seeking to be excused for my indiscretions, I have prefaced this blog with Ghalib’s famous sher (couplet) from that era:

“Bak rahā huuñ junūñ maiñ kyā kyā kuchh

Kuchh nā samjhe ḳhudā kare koī

[Utter nonsense that I am spouting in my lunacy/silliness

Let no one pay attention to (understand) it, O Lord]

The Partition of 1947 is yet again being resurrected and our “Independence” is under intense scrutiny by a new crop of analysts, writers and the media.  Historic records are being dusted off to re-examine the roles of actors long since departed from this world’s theatre, often time to re-apportion blame on souls no longer able to participate in this declamation contest.  As always, one side’s war-hero is the opposing side’s terrorist.  We readily fall in line to mindlessly shore up and identify with “our side” and reclaim our national pride.

All this leaves me very confused.  Perhaps, this simple mind is unable to grasp the intricacies and underlying nuances of modern-day expressions.  For instance, I often wonder what words like Patriotism and Nationalist even mean, if we only use these to justify causing harm to others.  What is the defining line between Self-Confidence, Pride, Arrogance or Egotism?  This led me to consult the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for the following definitions:

Patriotism – love for or devotion to one’s country

Nationalism – loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations

Arrogance – an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions

Pride – the quality or state of being proud: such as

  • inordinate self-esteem (conceit)
  • a reasonable or justifiable self-respect
  • delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship
  • proud or disdainful behaviour or treatment

Self-confidence – confidence in oneself and in one’s powers and abilities

Egotism –

  • excessive use of the first person singular personal pronoun
  • the practice of talking about oneself too much
  • an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • excessive concern for oneself with or without exaggerated feelings of self-importance

After 70 years of being “independent” of external rulers, it is now time to reflect on how we really want to be identified.  Should we continue to categorize and label ourselves as above, or break out of our shackled mindset and truly attempt to make this world a more compassionate, accepting and loving place for the next generation (if we do want one, that is!)

In 1904, some 43 years before Independence Muhammad Iqbal (popularly known as Allama Iqbal) had compiled the Tarānā-e-Hind (an ode to Hindustān) in Urdu:

“Sāre jahān se acchhā Hindustān hamārā

Hum bulbulein hain iski yeh gulsitān hamārā

…Maẕhab nahīṉ sikhātā āpas meṉ bair rakhnā
Hindī haiṉ hum, wat̤an hai Hindūstāṉ hamārā”

[Better than the entire world, is our Hindustan,
We are its nightingales, and it (is) our garden abode.

….Religion does not teach us to bear ill-will among ourselves
We are of Hind, our homeland is Hindustan.]

Independence arrived, with the partition causing the displacement of 10 – 12 million people and the death of up to 2 million.  Another great poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz penned “Subh-e-Azadi” (The Dawn of Independence), lamenting:

“Ye dāġh dāġh ujālā ye shab-gazīdā sahar

Vo intizār thā jis kā ye vo sahar to nahīñ

…Abhī girānī-e-shab meñ kamī nahīñ aa.ī

Najaāt-e-dīdaa-o-dil kī ghaḌī nahīñ aa.ī

chale-chalo ki vo manzil abhī nahīñ aa.ī”

[This tainted blemished light, this tormented-by-the-night dawn

The one that we had (expectantly) waited for, this is not that morning

..The oppression of the dark night has not yet lessened

The moment of salvation for (our) eyes and hearts has not come

Keep going (for) that (awaited) destination has not yet arrived]

To end, I repeat this old (1988) favourite from a previous blog with the hope that it enkindles fresh thinking:

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