Saturday, July 28, 2012

24 spokes

There was an idiot up on stage at the Hatchshell on the banks of the Charles. "People claim that we have abandoned the country. I say we are more patriotic than any of them." He continued "I asked my friends back home if they knew how many spokes the Ashok Chakra on the Indian tricolour had. None of them had the right answer. 24 spokes!" I couldn't decide whether to laugh at his less-than-bright theorem or cry tears of embarassment at being his fellow countryman.
Thus he rested his shaky case of being more patriotic than the rest of India combined. By his urgent attempts to prove his allegiance to his home nation, he gave away his recent date of arrival to the USA. All this being part of the annual celebration of the Indian Independence Day in faraway Boston, Massachusetts, quite understandably shifted to the nearest Sunday, the 14th of August 2011 (co-incidentally the I-Day of a country whose name starts with a P).
Maybe I was being a little too harsh in my judgement of him. At least he was here, on a day when rain was predicted and I had myself almost skipped the event but for some guilt inducing statements from a cousin born and brought up in North America. The last time I remembered celebrating Independence Day was when I was in school, a celebration in terms of the joy of having a day off. The Indian Association of Greater Boston had been putting together this event for decades now and getting hundreds to come to it for that many years was no mean feat.
Down by the sides of the rectangle that comprised Boston's Hatchshell arena, there were NGO stalls by the dozens seeking donations and attention. The causes were plentiful and each of them equally worthy. Manned by second generation Americans, Indian in appearance, American in speech, the so-called ABCDs seemed sincerely worried about what was evidently lacking in the country of their parents' birth. The not-so-pretty truth of hunger, ignorance and lack of opportunity seemed to have affected them more severely than many 'Indian' Indians like me. What they were trying to do, in my opinion, was significantly better than making self-promoting speeches off the dais.
A little guy, around 10 years old, was darting about amongst the milling crowds of families who had made it out to the grounds on the day. He was ferrying information for a NGO called Akshaya Patra which had partnered with the state governments in quite a few Indian states to run a very efficient school meals programme. He handed me a brochure and was gone in the blink of an eye. Another young 'un, I thought, working in his own way for a land two oceans away which he might visit once in a while but would probably never want to stay in for too long.
All assumptions of mine, it must be said. Culpable of being too absorbed in the progress of my life than my nation's struggles, I may view any attempt to think beyond oneself with rose-tinted glasses. Yes, I read the news about India like a hound on a scent. Yes, I worry, truly worry about who would and how would the myriad issues be fixed. Do I do anything about it? A feeble no. I want to, like the nameless thousands who were involved in the laborious process of building up or clearing out, long before Hazare sat down in a fog of Facebook 'Likes' and will continue to do so long after the last of his dwindling Twitterati supporters fade away. On the ground, because I belong there. Because I cannot claim, with a clear conscience, to be impossibly addicted to a first world lifestyle in the minute fraction of my life that I have lived it.
But it is clear that being on the ground is not the only way to contribute. That's confusing because it is also hard to ignore the fact that unless you are living the dusty and grimy reality of a country making chaotic progress, day in and day out, you cannot really be the 'real deal', the much needed agent of change. Is swearing loyalty to the country as important as actually doing something for it? Does accent and place of birth mean more than intent and genuine concern? The questions swirl unanswered as the cultural programme continues on stage. The longest queues are to be found, as expected, outside the stalls selling Indian food.
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Mahima Vashisht said...


Roy said...

@Mahima: Random but beautiful. Really really well edited video. Loved it.