Call of duty

Cherian wrote this more than a decade back on an Independence Day. The thoughts, concerns and emotions are still valid on any day. With Cherian’s permission, with some minor edits, we are presenting this to our Throwback community – Editors.


The earliest memory of Independence Day that I have is perhaps early middle school or 4th standard, when I rattled off a 5 minute speech my mom wrote for me at the school on our independence day. But that day when I was reciting the speech which I learnt by heart, I probably did not understand the real significance of our Independence Day.

Couple of years later I was enthralled to watch the Kerala Police, Scouts, NCC and school bands march around in the Police Parade ground right behind the Kottayam collectorate. Then in later years when I was part of the parade my chest thrust out in pride, and I remember the tense mornings when I was worried that I may miss the early morning bus and miss out on the opportunity.

By then my understanding of the Indian struggle for Independence grew, I became truly proud of our freedom fighters, the ones who took the non-violent course and those who took the violent course. I was proud of the armed forces that helped maintain the independence. I was proud of the Indian forces which won a decisive victory in 1971. I was proud of the Armed forces, the then defense minister VKK and above all my dad who put up a fight against the formidable Chinese Army in 1962 and lost. My Dad was listed MIA (missing in action) before he turned up at a Army camp after the treacherous trek he and 8 others had taken thru the jungles of NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh) for eight grueling days.

I became truly proud of our freedom fighters, the ones who took the non-violent course and those who took the violent course

I had mixed feelings about 1965 war for I was not sure who won the war, and who is to be blamed for starting it. Yes, I was proud of our country, the way it fought for its freedom and the way it maintained it. And I was even more proud of my own dad’s little contribution to it. To this day I get goose pimples when I sit down and listen to my dad and hear his stories about coming face to face with the Chinese and then the dangerous trek thru the thick jungles of NEFA, with no food or water.

My patriotism was at its peak when I stood in line as part of the NCC contingent that was there for the first rehearsal of the Republic Day parade in 1987. I was already standing on Rajpath, dropped off there in a bus, but could not see anything beyond 3 ft due to thick fog. Then gradually the fog lifted and I could see the Rashtrapati Bhavan slowly appear out of the clearing fog and I was speechless, my voice cracked when I told my friend “What an amazing sight”. The sight that I had seen so many times on National TV, I was right there and I felt more part of the national fabric than at any other time.

But my patriotism did not get any more intense as time went by; the six months I spent in the youth exchange program and the four years in MACE afterwards, changed the way I looked at things. I was getting mature in my thinking and my perception of things changed. When I joined the IAF after MACE, we did not have any more Independence Day or Republic day parades, neither was I interested in one. We would have a parade on the Air Force Day, October 8th, but none on Independence Day.

… and the four years in MACE afterwards, changed the way I looked at things … we did not have any more Independence Day or Republic day parades, neither was I interested in one

When I stood in the old radar in the heart land of Punjab, looking at the stair case leading up to the dome still having 5 cm diameter holes inflicted by the guns of the Pakistani aircraft in 1971, I realized the futility of it all. No longer did I feel that the wars actually maintained the independence, but each war actually was making us less free. Now I don’t think that I was afraid of a war when I was in the IAF and hence this thought of the futility of wars. I was not afraid, for one in case of a war I would be in one of the most fortified places in India, in an operations centre that is dug into the ground and further fortified by concrete and sand banks. Of course there was the odd chance of a RF radiation seeking missile taking the radar out, but I was prepared for it.

In case of a war, I was ready to lay down my life, I was not married and did not think too much about loosing one’s life. In fact deep inside, I wanted to see some action, just so that I can live to tell some stories to my grand children. How silly of me. I almost envied my dad who was in the thick of action in 1962 and my NCC friend who later as an Army Lieutenant came face to face with the terrorists in Kashmir and lived to tell the story. Well most of his soldiers died in that mine blast, he was lucky to survive the mine blast and smart enough to fight off the terrorists who vastly outnumbered him.

By then Independence Day had lost its meaning for me. I knew that it was not like British eventually gave up due to our stiff resistance. We won our freedom because the Government changed in London in 1945; the labor party came to power after the World War II and decided to give away India, among other countries. Eventually the process was completed and made official by 1947, August 15. But this is not to take any credit away from those fathers of our nation, who relentlessly struggled for our freedom from the British, whether it was Mahatma Gandhi or Bhagat Singh, or Subhash Chandra Bose, who joined the Japanese to defeat the British.

The debate should be whether it should be May 27 1857, day of the sepoy mutiny, or the January 26 1929 when Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru read the declaration of Independence or April 6 1930 when Gandhi reached Dandi with the Salt Satygraha

We may have won the freedom, despite the freedom struggle, we may have not, I am not sure. But the real Independence Day for India was much earlier than August 15th 1947. The debate should be whether it should be May 27 1857, day of the sepoy mutiny, or the January 26 1929 when Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru read the declaration of Independence or April 6 1930 when Gandhi reached Dandi with the Salt Satygraha. Indians had already won the psychological warfare by then, British had already lost the war with India.

Gandhi had already defeated them with his non-violence. Gandhi did not fear what the British would do, but the British were always afraid of what Gandhi would do. When he stood barefoot on the stairs of the queen’s palace, he conquered the British and the whole world-barefoot instead of wearing boots, bare hands instead of blazing guns, a firm smile instead of a war paint on his face. They say “clothes maketh a man”, but in Gandhi’s case the lack of it made him the man he is- he was already independent.

If you look closely at the religions of the world, they were instituted in an attempt to free the people from their fears, to liberate them spirituality. It is all about freedom, the freedom to act boldly for the betterment of ourselves and our brethren. But unfortunately religions have become a means to instill more fear than to liberate us from the fear. Religion is meant to empower us not enslave us, but unfortunately which is what has happened all thru ought the history of mankind. The non violent struggle that Christ led was one to free our minds from the trappings of this world, to eat the food that was not of this world and have the drink that will quench the thirst eternally. But yet people of his times mistook him to be the liberator of the political kind from that occupation of the Romans. But Christ wanted to liberate them not just from the Romans, but even more, he wanted to do so by liberating them from the clutches of ignorance, fear and sin.

It took Gandhi to reinvent the non violent freedom struggle to fight the British after 2000 long years. What Gandhi contributed to India or the world was not the liberation of a nation from British, but the liberation of a mankind from fears of all kinds, empowering the weak to stand up and fight without taking to arms. But like Christ’s message was forgotten and buried in the annals of history so is Gandhi’s. The children of that founding father of the sub continent still continue to squabble,  we still go to war to settle our disputes. In reality, no one won those wars. But I know who lost, we all lost, Indians and Pakistanis and Mahatma Gandhi too. All his hard work, all the time he spent instilling the principles of non violence in this sub-continent had gone waste.

Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela could learn from the Gandhian way of fighting oppression and tyranny, but we can not. The silent Tsunami of non-violence that Gandhi started in South Africa when he asked the British soldier who kicked him in the face to throw him out of the first class train compartment “Did your foot hurt?”, was still hitting the walls of oppression in South Africa decades later after going around the world and making its impact as far as India and the U.S.A

Mahatma Gandhi was ahead of his times, just like all the prophets, Guru’s and Gods of the past. When Krishna taught the Bhgavad Gita he was ahead of the times. So was Christ, Prophet Muhammad and Gautam Buddha when they gave their courses on art of living. We had Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa in the last century, but they too were ahead of their times. We are not ready for Independence yet. We want to continue to be enslaved. We feel that our Independence is preserved when our Jawans are sacrificed in the altars of Kargil. We feel that Independence is preserved when we test our nuclear capabilities. We feel that Independence is preserved when we see our military might being displayed on Rajpath or Redfort. We want to be proud of the friend who fought the terrorists and lived to tell the story and feel that we are preserving our freedom.

We can not call ourselves free, when the educated, employed citizens of our country still live in fear, enslaved by the trappings of this world. We still live insecure about our future. We can not call ourselves free when people in the most literate district of India still come to the “heavenly feast” to have a lunch because they can not afford to get decent food at home

Let us keep one thing in mind. We can not call ourselves free, when the educated, employed citizens of our country still live in fear, enslaved by the trappings of this world. We still live insecure about our future. We can not call ourselves free when people in the most literate district of India still come to the “heavenly feast” to have a lunch because they can not afford to get decent food at home. We can not call ourselves free when children don’t go to school, because they have to go to work. We are not independent, because we forget we are interdependent.

We need to re-install Gandhi as part of our Independence Day celebrations. Americans need to go back to what their founding fathers believed in, not just put out some war rhetoric or send out a probe to crash land into a comet to celebrate their freedom. We need to reinvent the meaning of freedom and straighten up the contorted minds of ours and be liberated in our minds. These two great democracies of the world have got a lot of work to do, we need to retrace some of our paths and rediscover the true path to freedom and independence, the independence that is entrenched in interdependence.

To quote Gandhi “Truth (Satya) implies Love, and Firmness (Agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force… that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or Non-violence… we …, believing ourselves to be strong… we grow stronger and stronger everyday. With our increase in strength, our Satyagraha too becomes more effective, and we would never be casting about for an opportunity to give it up.”

CHERIAN

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