Independence? From what exactly?

As I sit here typing this blogpost on the eve of my country’s seventieth Independence Day, my brain is being raped by the deafening traffic outside. It has been many years since I have had a full night’s sleep. The traffic is relentless. The pack of stray dogs in my street barks all night long. The students next door have drunken parties every night. Night after night, the noise of construction gets worse and worse. The administration, as always, doesn’t give a shit.

In my country, stray dogs roam free, to bite, maim and kill tax-paying citizens like myself. If I protest, I get intimidated and beaten up by animal activists. That’s because rabid dogs are protected by law. Their human victims are not.

In my country, a husband commits suicide every nine minutes. I’m one of those rare husbands who didn’t. If I protest, I get thrashed and then thrown into jail by Feminazis. That’s because women have laws to protect them. Men have none. None whatsoever.

In my country, I cannot decide what to eat. Someone else does that. In my country,  I cannot decide which God to worship, or which God I do not want to worship. Someone else does that. I cannot decide what I want to see on my TV. Someone else does that.

In my country, I cannot speak my own mother tongue. Because someone else wants to shove his language down my throat.

I cannot provide the education I think fit for my children. Because that education is reserved for someone else. I cannot get the jobs I want for my children. Those jobs are reserved for someone else.

In my country, less than 2 in 100 taxable citizens pay income tax.  I pay income tax for ninety eight other Indians who perhaps make more money than I do.

I cannot walk on the pavements. Because thugs on two-wheelers drive on them, in full view of the police. I cannot visit the few parks that still survive in my city, because there are too many garbage dumps in the way. And because crossing the street outside my home might get me killed.

In my country, more people are killed by vehicles than by terrorists and natural disasters put together.

We have the fastest growing economy in the world, boast our politicians. We also have the fastest growing population in the world. We also have the highest number of stray dogs per capita. And consequently, we have the highest number of deaths due to dog-bites. We also have the highest number of pedestrian deaths in the world. If I question those who drive on pavements and those who fling their garbage on the streets, I get beaten up and told that this is an independent country.

This, to most of my fellow Indians, is what Independence means. The right to abuse. The right to ogle. The right to throw refuse on the streets. The right to urinate in public.

Godmen in saffron robes sing praises about our ancient country’s hoary past, our glorious culture, our “sprirituality”. Their ashrams are dens of debauchery, their coffers are filled with black money, their beds are warmed by highly paid whores.

Seventy years after foreign rulers left our soil, we still go back to them for money to fund our development. Seven decades after independence, emigrating to the West is still considered the greatest achievement. Seventy years since we became a free country, owning the passport of another land is still the ultimate symbol of success.

Seventy years of self-rule, and I am still called a “Madrasi”.  Still abused as a “bomman”.

I am a loser you see. I chose to own an Indian passport. My former daughter dumped me for a rich old fart, because I refused to leave my parents and my motherland. What a fucking loser you are, her mother said to me in the divorce court – before joining her elderly lover in Canada.

We do have the biggest and the best Constitution in the world. I know, I read it. But yet …

As a husband I have no laws to protect me from my vicious wife. As a father, I have no rights to see my child. As a man, I have no legal defense against any woman who chooses to destroy my life. As a pedestrian, I have no legal means to protect myself from rabid dogs and drunken drivers alike. And as a Brahmin, I have no rights of any kind.

The foreign rulers have left, but we are still enslaved. By intolerance. By casteism. By religion. By over-population. By language. By the sheer weight of garbage on our streets. And worst of all, by corruption.

Ecologists across the nation have repeatedly warned that the country is racing towards ecological disaster. But the politicians continue to chop down trees, pollute our lakes and burn down our forests.

Where else in the world can one see a lake filled with stinking foam? Where else can one see a foaming lake literally on fire?

India is still one of the poorest nations on earth. One of the most corrupt nations in the world. One of the most unsafe countries for women.

In my country, a 1000 sq ft apartment costs more than a 2000 sq ft bungalow in the USA. Yet, a maid in that country earns more than I do.

Are you not proud to be an Indian, thundered my friend – who left India twenty years ago. I wonder how to respond.

The right question is not whether I love my country. Of course I do. Otherwise I would have left many years ago, when I had the opportunity.

The right question is – does my country love me?

I guess not.

Tea without sympathy – An Era of Darkness.

dsc08186History belongs in the past, but understanding it is the duty of the present. So Dr Shashi Tharoor proves in his latest book, An Era of Darkness, The British Empire in India.

Tharoor takes up the task of dispelling any illusions one might have had about the British Raj in India. In this he succeeds very well. Unlike many of my fellow Macaulayputras, as Tharoor refers to us (and himself), and in spite of my Catholic schooling, I always knew the British were not the ‘enlightened despots’ that our textbooks would have us believe.

Over the years, my own informal research into the subject made me realise how brutal and exploitative the Raj actually was.

Even so, An Era of Darkness is an eye-opener. Tharoor brings to light several nasty facts about the Raj that I never knew, and by his own admission, he did not know himself. Consider India’s caste system. Like many other Indians, Tharoor included, I too thought that the rigidity of our caste system and its consequent evils, predated the British.

However, “the idea of the four-fold caste order stretching across all of India…was only developed…under the peculiar circumstances of British colonial rule“.

As also the Hindu-Muslim divide, which haunts India till this day. “Religion“, states Tharoor, “became a useful means of divide and rule“. The Hindu-Muslim divide, we now learn, was a deliberate British strategy.

It comes as an unpleasant surprise that much of what we were taught about India’s pre-Raj history, and still are being taught, is essentially of British construction.

As exemplified by India’s most notorious Anglophile, the “cringe-worthy” Nirad Chaudhuri, as Tharoor aptly describes him, “colonialism misappropriated and reshaped” how we saw our own history and cultural self-definition.

The good Doctor endorses my copy of his book.

Thus, page by page, Tharoor’s book unapologetically and systematically lays bare the reality of the Raj. The scientist in me demands hard evidence, and Tharoor does not disappoint. The book is thoroughly researched, with an exhaustive list of references at the end. One expects nothing less from a scholar who holds multiple doctoral degrees.

What I admire about the man is his lack of hesitation in pointing out the wrong-doings and mistakes committed by Indian leaders of the day, that served the British cause well.

Take for example his explanation of why Nehru’s decision to order his colleagues to resign from all provincial ministries in 1939, was “a monumental blunder“. As also Tharoor’s unflattering and accurate analysis of the Quit India movement of 1942.

Notwithstanding their errors of judgement, he does acknowledge Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru as the great leaders and statesmen they really were.

Tharoor is especially harsh though, and very deservedly so, on Winston Churchill. The truth about this alleged “apostle of freedom” is described in considerable detail in the book.

Thankfully, Tharoor firmly dispels any apprehensions about my favorite English author, PG Wodehouse. There were times when I would feel a bit guilty about enjoying Wodehouse so much, on the belief that he was a colonialist. Tharoor assures me that I am wrong, to my considerable relief.

Frightening, enlightening, educational, spine-chilling, profound and made immensely readable by the author’s characteristic style of writing, An Era of Darkness is a volume that one would recommend to serious students of Indian history and to connoisseurs of the English language alike. Tharoor is the only English author for whom I need a dictionary (or Google) by my side.

One reading of the book will not suffice, I must tell you. You will need to read the volume two or three times to understand its import, that “sometimes the best crystal ball is a rear-view mirror“…

… and that one does not need to espouse right-wing values in order to be a true nationalist.

Cheers … Srini.