India, my Love|Aug 25, 2003 4:29 PM| by:

My Life is Yours

    Independence day came and went. Yet another one…and as always, we underwent the predictable ‘rituals’ that come along with it. Parades and shams. More processions with colourful children swinging hands together to the tunes of  ‘Hum Honge Kamyab’ (the Hindi version of ‘We Shall Overcome’). The tabloids were sprinkled with their ID specials. Officials across the country, shown standing to pot-bellied attention as they mumbled the words of ‘Jana Gana Mana’. ‘Sare Jahan se Accha’  rang out incessantly on mobiles and of course everyone with the Vande Maatram ‘horns’ honked their way through the day in a frenzy with none glaring in return…it was after all befitting for once. Some speeches and such tumbled forth…hints and insinuations. Promises and allegations. The usual cuppa tea.

In my head however, I was ruminating over what someone asked me a while back. What makes a man want to give up his life for his country? In all my enthusiasm to answer, I bungled the answer so that it made no sense. Then when I tried to undo the bungling, I made it worse. So this is my final attempt at saying what was on my mind and in my heart.

When I was 11 years old I imagined fighting a war. In dreams all shortcomings are bypassed. And so it was of little matter that my asthma caused no pain, my weak eyesight seemed no obstacle, and the fact that I was an 11 year old girl had zero effect on the questionable plausibility of my being a soldier in the Indian Army. I brushed past thick forests, ran up mountains and with all the violence a child can muster, I killed the enemy, left, right and center. I was a hero.

There were however ghastly moments due to which my dream paused for what seemed like eternity. Moments of pain and anguish at slaying another human and I could not build it further for a long time. My mind wrestled with all the possibilities of retracting from the last scene, redoing its contents, but my child-like game had its set of rules and it said no. Once envisioned, you have to build further, move ahead, no turning back. The rules concocted by children are always tougher to break unlike those framed by grown-ups which are meant to be broken it seems.

And then I began to question this absurdity, when much later, I had a chance to interact with real-life army personnel. What was I fighting for? Why was I  in the forest laying my life down, bleeding and blistered, hungry and fatigued, putting myself in danger, aiming a gun at unknown faces in the dark? The time for answers was yet to come.

Life moved on, and the war slipped out of my mind. But then atrocities closer to home slipped in. Internal wars, family wars, religious wars, gender wars. I was a Hindu- I say was because I don’t know what I am now. Hopefully nothing. Hopefully Indian. But in my head ridden with helplessness at the scene of a crime, I ran to the frontlines again and stood at the threshold of colonies under attack, barring the way. Such was the world of helplessness that it warped my own mind- making me relinquish sunny dreams of sunflowers in the wind for bloody wars that were not even mine.
Or were they?
Everything seems so confusing when one grows up surrounded by violence, always having to watch out on account of one’s sex, forever wary of the ‘other’ religions, swallowing painfully the excreta of human intolerance plastered every morning in black & white. That’s when I understood what it was all about. It wasn’t about exacting dues. It wasn’t about being super-woman. It wasn’t about inner dementia. It was something else, something that resulted from a feeling of being cheated. It was unrighteousness, asuric, evil. And I couldn’t handle it. I had to fight. Or give in.

It was obvious the country, be it in my dreams or the one that existed outside my doors, was plagued by these evil forces. It was obvious she would cry to her children to help her. It was obvious I should rise to the occasion. It was obvious, I would die for it or kill for it. All this was obvious because it was the only thing to be done. It was the only thing that made sense.

This is my land, my home. It has given me birth, protection, love. If I cannot put myself on the line in gratitude, then I do not deserve the love or the protection. If I cannot feel the warm embrace in the soil beneath my feet, then I do not deserve to walk on it. If my pulse does not beat in unison with the pulse of the land, I do not deserve to live any longer as its offspring. Its not melodrama…its simple; this land is what I am. To be an Indian you have to feel that unity, sense that bond, be forever entwined in the cord that ties the earth to you.

And if you feel that, you will also feel the pain when a sword plunges in the Mother’s heart. It will not be distant and instead it will be your own heart that shall bleed. At that moment, you will not leave the destiny of your Motherland to friends or foe…you will live singly as if you are all that is there in this world. You will fight with the entire burden on your own shoulders. You will take on the onus to break the shackles. And for that you will march ahead of all others, with grit and strength, confident of only one thing- to protect your country is the only cause worth fighting for. But the country my friends, is not just soil. It is the people who make it. It is the victimized lot that I wanted to shield from bullies. It was the women I wanted to save from disgrace. It was the underprivileged, the trodden, the poor, the underdogs that I wanted to protect. In my vision, I saw no caste, no religion, nothing save an act of unrighteousness that called for help, for protection.

I thought perhaps, these men and women who are unceremoniously shorn of their lives need to go through this unfair deal of fate just as there are some who sail through unharmed. Perhaps. But I still wanted to give it my cent percent. I still wanted to help and do my bit. It didn’t matter if in saving someone, one lost one’s life. We are but passers-by, instruments of some great plan, who even death cannot hold back from re-emerging. In that moment of decision, that moment which lies between life and death, one just has to be clear about why one is standing there at all. You either know it or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’re only a mercenary, a fill-in, an opportunist.

What makes a man put his life at stake is the conviction in the cause. There are no rights and no wrongs; no fingers to point, no sounds to hush. Its not just in the case of protecting one’s country. The same conviction makes villagers hug trees when the government threatens to run through the forests with their bulldozers. It’s the same conviction that makes people fast unto death because they see their homes being flooded by someone who wants more water. It is also the same conviction which makes some cry out Jehad. Horrible though it may sound to our ears, they believe in it. We say its wrong, but they think we’re the ones who are disillusioned. When does it all end? How?

That’s why I don’t care who I have to stand up against anymore. I see nothing save this country, this Mother without whom I would not exist. Let it be one of my own who threaten her, and I shall protect her with my life. Let it be a stranger, and I shall protect her with my life.

It is also the same conviction which one has when one says to a friend, “My life is yours; if you ever need it, take it.” There is no fear, there is no sense of loss. For it’s the only way, the right way.
My friends know this of me; they know my life is theirs to take. First come, first served of course. And should the country ask it of me, then I would without a moment’s hesitation take the bullet. For she is more than a friend, more than family.