“Saare Jahaan se acha..“- Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma on being asked how India looked from the space.
In 1984, on this fateful day something happened that changed the way a nation dreamed. Aboard the Soyuz T-11, squadron leader Rakesh Sharma was launched into space and from there commenced a nation’s tryst with planetary voyage. It was a special moment for a nation long tasked with shouldering the aspirations of a burgeoning population, one that had never really been able to lift off the dampening years of subjugation. That, an Indian had scaled the skies was something that lived on, even years after-when little school children learnt about it in their courses in general knowledge we remembered, when Kalpana Chawla learnt to read, she remembered, when in 2003 she drifted into the endless expanse a nation remembered her and through her the squadron from Patiala. It spawned a thriving aspiration inside the hearts of every young girl and taught us all to cherish and imbibe a culture- one that involved getting lost in thoughts, one that prescribed dreams and one that advocated imagination. The symbolism has never lost its charm and it never will. It’s not so much the causality but the outcome that has and will dictate how the nation responds.
“There is one choice we cannot make, we are incapable of making. We will not choose the path of submission . . .”- President Wilson.
Take yourself a bit back to 1917 now. On this very day, US President Woodrow Wilson, stung by the aggression of the Zimmerman telegram declared war on Germany. The US which till then had declared itself “too proud to be at war” found itself left with no alternative but to join the Allies in its efforts to rein in a ravaging nation. The victory came soon after for the aggrieved bunch of nations and in turn left but a bad taste for the Germans. Post war subjugation and humiliation that followed soon after in Germany vexed its citizens to the hilt. Disillusionment and hopelessness transpired to bring about a radical shift in thoughts. That it skewed more towards aggressive destruction and symbolic nationalism proved fatalistic for a nation and for the world as it was then that a little known Verbindungsmann of the Reichswehr became disillusioned and sought justice. The spy strived towards a nationalism that was anything but. Yet, with disenchantment all around he had takers of his idiosyncrasies. With hopelessness that abounded, he had found his nemesis, his calling. It was then that the figure of Adolf Hitler, or the Fuhrer took shape; pushed and moulded by the psyche of a nation entrenched in defeatism. A nation dreamed a different dream, one that took away dreams of others and one that sought to curb imagination for fear of a nightmare. This symbolism is still haunting for some, it still evokes a trauma so vivid and gory.
“Except for a single, very powerful radio emission, aimed at Jupiter, the four-million-year-old black monolith has remained completely inert, its origin — and purpose — still a total mystery.“- Floyd, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Cut to 1968. On this very day, the dreams of a genius stormed the world and swept away all concepts of imagination. He was “determined to create a work of art which would arouse the emotions of wonder, awe,…even, if appropriate, terror”, as Arthur C Clarke noted. He did so and with a panache so vehement that in one stroke “he killed the whole genre of sci-fiction cinema” that existed then. It was then that HAL or the Heuristic Algorithmic Computer” was coined. HAL, the word precedes letter-by-letter the word, IBM. Stanley Kubrick dreamed a dream. His imaginations spilled onto the cinematic odyssey, his visions put in print jolted those is reverie, inspired those who dared to dream and evoke bewildered fascination. The movie continues to inspire, and will continue to do so in times to come.
Present. 2011, the year of the rabbit.
I can still feel the aftershocks, no pun intended. I had always found it troublesome to come to grips with the mania that sport fans displayed worldwide. Be it the eponymous soccer or the royal grand Prix, I had struggled to relate to the intensity of emotions that buffs displayed post successes and feats. That, the success of an individual or a team in a game could evoke such deep seated emotions was alien to me. That it was more to do with having been bereft of any spectacular achievements in my vicinity than anything else sunk in on this very fateful day. It was not so much the spectacular show of strength by the Indian team that left me flabbergasted and joyous than the aftermath of it which left in me an ecstasy no chemical would come close to match. That a nation, in excess of a billion could find something to cheer about together is magical and humbling. That, a bunch of 11 turks could hold the frenzy of such a gamut of population is dizzying and stupefying. That, Indians abroad would wear their nationalities up their sleeve and be naked about it is satiating. That a nation finds its nationalism in such a thing as cricket is vacillating.
There have been many kinds of nationalism on display in India and in the world. A quick glance through Wiki would dish out terms like civic nationalism, ethnic nationalism, expansionist nationalism, left-wing nationalism, territorial nationalism, ultra nationalism and many others. Some have been driven by a leader, some driven by a drive for change, some to rebel against injustice, some to fuel personal pet projects while some to carry out vendettas. What we are witnessing in the Middle East today is civic nationalism- that of people uniting against decades of injustice, coming together as a cohesive group to bring about a change.
Not surprisingly, what I witnessed on “this very day” also has a term attached to it and not an etymology I am too keen on elaborating but nonetheless merits a mention. It is what the sociologists call “banal nationalism”. Wiki describes it as a nationalism “which build an imagined sense of national solidarity and belonging amongst humans” often through the “use of flags in everyday contexts, sporting events, national songs, symbols on money, popular expressions and turns of phrase, patriotic clubs, the use of implied togetherness in the national press, for example, the use of terms such as the prime minister, the weather, our team, and divisions into “domestic” and “international” news, etc”.
Whatever it is they call it, whichever origin it traces its roots to, I am proud to admit I have fallen for it. I am proud to stand up in a movie theater even when for some it is but a silly gesture, I am and will always be eager to wear my nation up my sleeve even while the world goes flatter by the day, I will always look up to the Little Master for what he has given me and my folks and I will always cherish this day even if the nation moves on to find something more cherish-able and unifying.
I am proud today and wish it reflects on my demeanor and my willingness to perform.