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Thoughts of a ‘not-so-proud’ Indian

The PM raised hackles when he claimed recently that people felt no pride in being Indians before he arrived.

Thoughts of a ‘not-so-proud’ Indian

Salil Desai

The PM raised hackles when he claimed recently that people felt no pride in being Indians before he arrived. He was deservedly slammed. But can we really claim to be proud of the following traits that make up our national character?

Indiscipline: Rules, discipline, punctuality, civic responsibility mean very little to us. Even official duties are often done grudgingly and concepts of professionalism, ethics and commitment are very flexible. Why does observing discipline militate against our deepest sensibilities?

Indifference and apathy: We are a nation of bystanders. If something doesn't directly affect us, we turn a blind eye and are blissfully unencumbered by a compelling sense of right and wrong.

Insularity and smugness: We profess to know about every subject and comment authoritatively on everything. We are untroubled by our colossal ignorance, smug in our national wisdom, culture, beliefs, knowledge and worldview. As Peter Sellers playing an Indian in 'The Party’ says, “In India, we don't think who we are. We know who we are.” That’s how high our insularity quotient is.

Corruption: Our disgust with big-ticket corruption notwithstanding, dishonesty, graft and black money thrive as a way of life. We blame politicians, babus, governments and the system but the culture of corruption has contaminated us all.  

Unbridled materialism: We tom-tom our spirituality, but India is a rapaciously materialistic society today. What lives do we lead outside of work and economic activity? Shopping, consuming, eating out, watching movies and TV, expensive holidays, partying and festivities, networking, renovating and furnishing our houses. That's about it! How many Indians are involved in social, cultural, humanitarian, artistic, creative, sports, mind-expanding or soul-enriching pursuits? How many devote time to community improvement or furthering important values? Pleasure-seeking seems to be our only ideal.

Filth: No matter how many Swachh Bharat initiatives are taken, will these be successful unless there is a paradigm shift in our predilection to litter, spit, defecate and be prodigiously filthy?

Noise: Constant cacophony dominates our public, private and residential areas, as if there is no space for the pleasures of silence in our society. Vehicular and construction sounds pound us all day. Music and sound systems blare away all year long, as loud, ostentatious celebrations - religious, political and personal —have become the norm. There is no respite. What exactly do we try and drown out with all the noise we make? Why are we so allergic to silence?

Rudeness & discourtesy: What explains our shocking lack of manners and basic courtesy to fellow citizens? We talk of our ancient culture and yet we mouth abuses, honk, disturb, speak loudly, push, rarely thank or greet, never say sorry to neighbours, passersby or strangers. 

Jingoistic nationalism and religion: Does national pride have to be jingoistic? Can’t religion remain within our homes instead of making a public spectacle that turns it into a crass, perverse assertion of superiority? Are our nationalism and religious beliefs so fragile that we remain forever touchy and take offence? 

Intolerance and illiberal attitudes: When will we stop feeling threatened by different ideas and interpretations of culture, tradition, lifestyle and philosophy? Isn't it time we got over the medieval impulse of imposing majoritarian, narrow or conservative worldviews?

Tokenism: Can we go beyond raging on social media, lighting candles and behaving like self-righteous humbugs?  

No doubt Indians have a lot to be proud of but unless we introspect and become a nicer, friendlier society, our countrymen are going to keep migrating abroad in search of a better quality of life, irrespective of who is the PM.

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