Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Indians. Someone told me recently that they thought the concept of patriotism was outdated in present times, when almost everyone is part of a global community in some way. I disagreed politely. I like the quiet pride that shines in my English, Irish, Canadian or Italian friends’ eyes as they talk about their respective countries, which mirrors my love for my own nation. For it is only when we feel secure in the love of our own family that we tend to accept and respect others more easily, and adapt better to society, whether it is the immediate society around us or the wider, global community. Everyone should have the freedom to love their own country, and to say that they do. Breathes there the man with soul so dead, etc. as a good Scot once wrote.

In The Reengineers, young Chinmay wonders about patriotism and what it meant to him, among other things. There is a scene in which he watches this song on television, which portrays the optimism that prevailed in the country in the decades that immediately followed independence.

Here is a short excerpt from The Reengineers in which Chinmay and friends discuss what patriotism meant to them, teenagers of the nineties.

Excerpt with permission from HarperCollins Publishers India from The Reengineers by Indu Muralidharan

Arun’s lecture on the last working day of class ten had revolved around his favourite topic: India.
‘How many of you respect the Indian national flag? The national anthem? How many of you actually stand up when it is sung?’
I raised my hand in a reflex action. Sabi did the same. Hearing furtive giggles, I turned around and found, to my horror, that in a class of forty students only the two of us had our hands up. Anu was frantically gesturing to me to drop my hand. I did so, puzzled and hurt.
Arun did not look surprised. He continued, ‘Now this question would have evoked a totally different reaction in classrooms in countries such as the UK or Japan. They have an intrinsic sense of national pride that is lacking in India. Not surprising, as it has only been forty-four years since we got independence.’

I looked down into my book, wishing I could hide within its pages. My love for my country had turned me into a bigger freak than I already was in the classroom.
What did it mean to love one’s country anyway? Much like the farmers who cheered enthusiastically for Mother India when Jawaharlal Nehru addressed them but were dumbstruck when he asked them who exactly they thought Mother India was, I had no answer. To me, patriotism was the joy I experienced while reading the poems of Subramaniya Bharati, Uncle RK and Rabindranath Tagore. It was my pride in singing the national anthem and saluting the tricolour unfurled in the school assembly on Monday mornings. It was the lump in my throat when I watched songs like ‘The fertile earth of my country that brings forth gold, diamonds and pearls’ and ‘I am a little soldier of the nation. Say with me, Jai Hind’ on TV. It was the anger and resentment I felt when my mother told me not to get too friendly with Anu as he was not a Brahmin or with Sabi as she was not ‘one of us’ but a north Indian.

Sabi’s question brought back the forgotten incident and with it, the embarrassment and hurt.
‘Remember Arun’s question about respecting our national flag? Why didn’t you raise your hand?’ I asked Anu.
‘I didn’t want to be the odd one out.’
‘Why did Arun say that we have no national pride? What about the ancient verses that laud the glorious Bharat Varsha? What about our freedom fighters from various corners of the country who fought for the nation as a whole? What about Bharati and Tagore?’ I asked.
Anu raised his hands in a non-committal gesture.
‘Do we really have freedom? I would like some, please,’ Sabi said.
She got up and walked to the far end of the library. Leaning against the door, she looked at us pensively.

Excerpt with permission from HarperCollins Publishers India from The Reengineers by Indu Muralidharan