Anticipation of a good time. Popcorn in hand, Cell phones on silent mode. It's beginning to get cosy in the deep seat cushion chair. The almost darkened movie theatre. And then on the screen appear the dry words mocking your sense of national pride: "Please stand up for the national anthem."
I have cringed so many times at this 'enforced patriotism'. Could the state government not think of a better way to instil national pride in its citizens? Worse, a government that has to resort to enforcing patriotism on its citizens with such trite means. Worst, the Uttar Pradesh government's ill-advised move last week, to slap sedition charges against 67-odd Kashmiri students who dared to cheer the Pakistan team in the match against India in the Asia Cup and later drop the charges on the request of the Jammu & Kashmir chief minister – a 'gesture' for which Akhilesh Yadav was thanked profusely by Omar Abdullah.
I have cheered for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in various ATP tournaments even while Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have played in the same tournament. Does that make me an anti-national?
The post-independence generation that has not seen any wars or domestic struggles, finds it convenient to wear the badge of nationalism through their most beloved obsessions of sports, movies and music – especially those where the country's talent is outstanding.
Those who have seen some kind of strife as in the Kashmiri students, may have a different meaning of national pride. What they expressed by their cheering of the Pakistan team is their fundamental right to freedom of expression and cannot be a ground for suspension by an educational institution. Just as I have a right to cheer for Chennai Super Kings in Mumbai when they are pitted against Mumbai Indians, because I felt that the Chennai IPL team had the right mix of talent and, of course, it had one of my favorite players. The state government or the native Mumbaikars have no right to attack me on the basis of who I choose to cheer.
You may argue that one is a private domestic league and the other an international tournament – hence the comparison is specious. Maybe. But then isn't the notion of national pride itself specious?
India winning the World Cup, Sachin's 100th ton, AR Rahman winning an Oscar, may have been the most recent moments of national pride we have experienced. Moments that put India on the world map – a kind of global recognition in the backdrop of world renowned talent from other nations. Sure, these are moments of glory for all Indians when an Indian achiever is recognized by the world. Either this or we are proud of our heritage, legacy or culture – everything that has been done by our forefathers. The pride, if experienced by any Indian, belongs to the past.
For, when was the last time we felt proud of being Indians? A personal moment that is not the result of the borrowed glory of a fellow countryman's achievement, or our heritage where we have not contributed anything? A moment of national glory that was brought by our own efforts, our contribution to the nation when we felt deep in our gut that we could unequivocally say 'Yes, I am proud to be an Indian?'
The truth is that the whole notion of national pride is misplaced in today's globally connected world. A majority of us are not in the defence forces or in international sports. We may be talented in our own fields and some may even be known and recognized in their own fields nationally. But do these achievements make us feel proud to be an Indian or proud of ourselves as right-thinking individuals? That is precisely why I think national pride is a misplaced notion.
Pride is about an achievement of an individual, not about a geographic location where one is born. If that were the case, then we would not have seen so many of our relatives settle abroad. Those who chose to stay back did not do so because of a sense of national pride. Because even today, an expat assignment carries more prestige on their resumes than the cumulative time they have spent in India. They have stayed back for personal reasons and certainly not for national pride. And those who are NRIs celebrate festivals and preserve our culture, putting to shame all those who stayed back.
Is national pride then a misplaced notion in today's context? I think we must separate national pride from national allegiance. Just as we do not choose the families we are born in, yet we owe it to our parents to look after them much as they looked after us while bringing us up, so does a nation deserve the same treatment.
We show our allegiance to the nation by being law-abiding citizens, by paying our taxes, by contributing to the economy, etc. Allegiance can be demanded, but pride cannot be. Allegiance is a natural expectation if both sides honour their part of the deal. Pride manifests itself as a part of the process if it is selfless and reciprocative. Trouble starts when allegiance, pride and patriotism are used interchangeably on a one-way street.
(The writer is managing consultant of The Key Consumer Diagnostics Pvt Ltd, a Mumbai-based qualitative research company.)