November 28, 2007

Midnight in India

It's midnight in Kolkota, India.

She's fast asleep in her bed, when an unfamiliar knock on the door wakes her up. "Police, Madam. Please open the door." "What do I have to fear? It is not Dacca, and I am in a country that gave birth to Bharathi, Gandhi, and Tagore, the Davids who defeated the Goliath with nothing more than words," she thought, and opened the door. She was wrong. She was given little time to pack her clothes, covered in a burqua, and quickly bundled out into a waiting police van. A few minutes later she was on a flight that flew her to somewhere.

It's midnight in Jaipur, Rajastan. Knock, knock.

A harrowing day, she must have had, in the safe-house provided to her by the host. A state governed by a political party that she thought had nothing to fear from her fundamentalist detractors. She was wrong. The Chief Minister didn't think that the state had adequate resources to give her the protection that she needed. Yes, the State whose most basic function is to protect its people from physical violence, will not be able to protect a single, quite conspicuous, woman. It's the same land where an athiti [guest] is revered more than god. The lady is once again transported in the darkness, this time to the nation's capital, where practically every celebrity is surrounded by security and bullet-proof glass. Day and night, to protect them from insane suicide bombers. It should not be that difficult to extend the same security to one more person, should it? Wrong again.

She spends the next couple of days in the official guest house of the State of Rajastan. During that brief hiatus, frantic analysis and vote-bank arithmetics are carried out in the kitchen cabinets and the political cabals. Leaders wring their hands and curse her for putting them in such an impossible situation. Should we revoke her visa? Are there reliable go-betweens who can gently persuade the lady to leave for France, Sweden, U.S.A., or any one of those evil capitalist nations? Get me Kolkota, will you? Hello, Buddhasaab? Will you please take her back? We are allies, after all, and how does it matter if we took a majority of the M-votes or you did? Click!

Its midnight in New Delhi, and there was a knock on her door. Again.

Madam, we are taking you to a safe-house in the outskirts of the city. It's close to the International Airport. Please, take your time and pack all your belongings, especially Lajja, Dwikhandito, and the rest of your books. And, don't forget your documents. You'll need them in case you want to take the next available flight to ...

The nation's Foreign Minister thundered in the Parliament of the Republic:

... throughout history, India has never refused shelter to those who have come and sought our protection...This policy will also apply in Taslima Nasreen's case ... It is also expected that the guests will refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people...

That's diplomatic speak for, "Shut your mouth or get out of our country. We need votes more than life and liberty. This Republic cannot stand up to a minority of bigots and fundamentalists. They vote, you don't."

Decades ago, another man, also from Bengal and a Nobel Laureate, wrote:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

--- Rabindranath Tagore

Is this the heaven of freedom that the Gurudev yearned for his country to awake into?

  1. Superb post!
    Tell me something: does one become irrational if one feels patriotism for a country immersed in hypocrisy and amorality?
    Do you love the land of the Tagore dreams, or the real India of today??

  2. Very well written.You can't help loving your country rambodoc.

  3. I don't really know, Prerna.
    I am not feeling too patriotic.
    I feel like a man without a country. I have to take time and analyse this more.

  4. Doc,

    Your are the master of words. Tell me, what is a country, and what do we mean by patriotism?

    In my case, I owe allegiance to the U.S. constitution, and I am sworn to defend that constitution, even if it meant bearing arms, as long as I remain a U.S. citizen. I don't limit my love to the borders of this nation, though. Nor do I define patriotism to mean acceptance of the policies and practices of the administration, or the American way of life, whatever that means.

    The land of Tagore's dreams is an ideal that I deeply cherish, and the real India and the real U.S., pale in comparison. If I should find a land of Tagore's dreams in my lifetime, I'd relinquish my U.S. citizenship and migrate to that land. Does that make me a bad person? I don't think so. If others thought so - well, paraphrasing Richard Feynman, "what do I care what other people think?"?

    Thanks for the compliments.

  5. There are Tagore's in this land... You keep looking at wrong places!


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