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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Free thoughts by Cherry

An extraordinary independance day thought. From Cherian, nothing extra ordinary though.

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. Yes, I mean the Indian Independence day, which is the real Independence Day as far as I am concerned, the American version does not have any much of a meaning for me. But this July 4th the American Independence Day is a good occasion to reflect on Independence Day in general with the focus being on our independence as individuals and a nation.

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 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 Rashtrapathi 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 6 months I spent in the youth exchange program and the 4 years in Kothamangalam 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, 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.

When I stood in the old American supplied radar in the heart land of Punjab, looking at the stair case leading up to the dome still having 5 cm diameter holes in it 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. (By the way we do have equipment supplied by the Americans soon after the 1962 invasion by the Chinese. However after the bitter experience of 1965, we solely relied on the French or the Russians to supply us with all the equipment.) Now 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.

But 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 freedom to 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. 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. Gandhi had already won his freedom, the freedom from subservience, the freedom from fear of physical oppression. The British was increasingly becoming an occupied nation, their psyche occupied by the fear of the Indians and their leader Gandhi.

We seem to miss the point when we celebrate our independence day. Our Independence Day is celebrated showing off military might, whereas we forget that the real Independence need to be the free human spirit which will stand up to fight against oppression and injustice in a non-violent manner. We forget that long before we were declared independent by the British, our leaders had the won independence in their hearts. That is the legacy that we need to remember during our independence day, the independence we sacrificed over and over again in the past. We continue to do so even today. We can never call ourselves Independent when we continue to be enslaved to our own fears
and insecurities. Instead of being empowered with our education we have become self serving and opportunistic, giving up our freedom, because we are afraid of loosing the very freedom we want to preserve.

To date we the Indians have this subservient Indian mentality, where we blink when we see white skin- Sayipine kannumbam kavathu marakkum. But, remember Gandhi, he held his own against not just a couple of white men, but against the mighty British empire. 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. Do not be confused that Gandhi was some country bumpkin who did not know to wear his western attire; he used to be dressed up like any other British educated men, suit bow et
al. He chose to relinquish it and was confident despite it. 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.

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.
But the path of non violence that Christ showed the world, was soon forgotten as Christianity gained more ground. The so called Christians had forgotten all about the message of non violence and instead Crusades were fought in Christ's name inflicting loss of life on innumerable innocent humans. Empires set out to conquer and plunder nations with the blessings of the religious leaders. Kings who assume the power in the name of God would order killings of innocent people for the selfish gains of a handful.

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, even as late as year 1999, we had to go to war to settle our disputes. 400 or more of our soldiers gave up their lives when shot at from point blank range while climbing up steep cliffs with both their hands used for rock climbing, unable to use their weapons. Countless
Pakistani soldiers and Mujahideen fighters lost their life too, who won in the end, no body did. 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 Mohammed and Goutam Budha when they gave their courses on art of living. We had Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa in the last century, but they too are 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. Oh mine have we not forgotten what freedom is. Look at U.S.A. since September 2001, U.S and its population is living in fear, in their minds they have lost to the terrorists. And physically their losses continue to mount. Almost four years later there are more people hating the U.S than ever, more U.S. troops have died, more than the combined tally in the last 3 decades and two wars. The world's biggest super power, the father of all modern democracies is not free. However we celebrate the independence day, we eat our barbecque, drink our beers, enjoy the fire works and celebrate freedom. We pay homage to the countless young men and women who sacrificed their freedom to preserve ours. But the sad thing is that when they got dragged into this war, they realized that they are not necessarily making the U.S more free, on the contrary less so. It is the age old custom in many cultures that human sacrifice is the cure for many ailments, we on the outside call it barbaric, however deep inside we approve of the human sacrifice our countries U.S. or India has made in countless unnecessary wars. All in the name of preserving freedom.

The U.S.A even though it claims to have won the freedom couple of centuries ago, was still not free in the real sense in the late 60s
when it still had segregation in its streets and schools and neighborhoods. But still is...the country that is still not free in many ways. Neither is our own home country. We can not call ourselves free, when we educated, employed citizens 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 Indian 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.

True freedom could mean different things to different men. Tom may find true freedom in the exhilarating experience of running long distance, Subin may find it in sitting cross legged and meditating, Riyaz may find it in expressing himself in his regular blog entry in the "petals of life". My mother may find it in kneeling down before God and praying. But Mother Teresa and Thomas Chettan of Kottayam Medical College "Navjeenan" fame, one a celebrated saint the other not so celebrated nevertheless a saint indeed has in my opinion finds the true expression of freedom. Freedom for his / her fellow human beings by sacrificing their own freedom. By enhancing their own life by uplifting others.

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.

"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."

Or to put it in more plainly "Jo dar gaya, woh mar gaya"

Now those of you who think that I am crazy after reading this, please think that it is not me, but the beer I had earlier today that is speaking. But those of who think I make sense, please think that it is the sane Cherian out of the bipolar Cherian speaking. But I am not sure hardly anyone would have read this far, except may be Saina. By the way I was joking about the beer....no this is not alcohol speaking,
but the soul (left brain) that had been trampled by the long 35 grueling years on earth, finally getting to shout out to the world, what it has to say. I don't know how much of this is agreed to by the right brain...may be we will hear from him some other time.

Happy Independence Day

Such a long article, you managed to write!!!! Good Patience. I was not able to go through your blog completely. I will be visiting your blog again. Thanks for commenting on my blog
This blog contains mails and entries from my friends. And this entry from a friend of mine, Cherian.
Riyaz....Why no more writing for so long....today is April 16th!!!
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