Diary: National Identities

I would have titled this post - 15Th August in Croydon - to denote how sad it feels to spend this usual Saturday of shopping and housework away from home. Yes, India is surely home, however much I settle in Britain and even if I take up a citizenship here, as my life is so deeply shaped by the culture of my origin that I shall always be an alien anywhere else. This is not to condone any narrowness or stating whatever Indian is good and need no improvement; culture is a dynamic entity and any culture that fails to change with time normally gets wiped away. So, my way of looking at this is that I am deeply Indian and will remain so always, but I shall travel and learn, engage with the world and accept the learning with humility. Woodrow Wilson told the American salesmen at the beginning of twentieth century to go out to the world and sell the brand of America. Time has come someone tells this to us Indians too.

I make no secrets about my wishes to remain Indian all my life. Frankly, I am quite proud about my roots. But then, after travelling around a bit, I have understood a couple of things about this pride. It is important to feel proud about one's own origin, and cherish it; but this should not be the chauvinistic, we-are-superior kind of pride, but rather pride in the sense of love - love for the lost winter afternoons of local cricket matches, the puja festival around the corner from the house, the mornings of holi and the dancing troupes in Shantiniketan, the training journeys through the green pastures of Bardhaman and Medinipore, and the like. And, in that sense, this pride has nothing to do with India as an emerging power. It indeed is, but that has nothing to do with my feeling Indian.

As is which passport I hold. Increasingly, nations are becoming irrelevant - except in America - and the process will only accelerate in the next few decades. Interestingly, I am reading now Us and Them, an effort in understanding our tribal mind. Indeed, we all belong to tribe, but then our world is getting bigger and bigger, and nations, in most part of the world, are becoming an irrelevant and dated concept.

This is what I exactly think. I shall follow Benedict Anderson to say that nationalism, or the imagined community of a nation, was constructed by the simultaneous erosion of religious magic and the rise of print capitalism. Going further with this thought, one can quickly and easily correlate the concept of national newspapers and nationalism, and the fact that newspapers are in terminal decline in the post-nationalist society [which has experienced the perils of nationalism and paid a high price] whereas it is stable and growing in the Asian nations which are rediscovering a national identity [India, for example]. I also feel that we are living inside a time of great change, where the broadcast media gives way to interactive media, and suddenly the power to create a consistent imagery of events is far less diffuse and gets passed on, from a group of editors schooled in the same tradition, to a great body of amateurs with different views, backgrounds and persuasion. So, in a space of few years, the consistent national view of events is gone, and instead, we have individual views with diverse frames of references to deal with. Love it or hate it - and one can read a bitter tirade against the erosion of the power of editorial influence in The Cult of the Amateur - the individuals on interactive media will change the society, some day. Nations were built on dissolution of mystic and aggregation of reality; nations will die with the accelerated disaggregation of reality.

Funny that I feel this on 15Th August. I feel proud being an Indian and see the irrelevance of nations at the same time. And, to add another dimension, I strongly believe that world isn't flat and made understanding of various cultures and their effect on business and communication my principal focus of study. But then 15Th August is not just a national independence day; it is also a day of freedom and when the domino effect of Asian liberation was first felt. It just did not create a nation, it gave a people a sense of identity, a promise and hope of being treated as what they are. That's important in this journey to universal humanism that we are on - the fact that finally all the barriers will come down starts with the assumption that there could no master or subject race. But then, it is a start and not an end in itself, and technology and human dynamics will soon us get us to the next stage. And, would the world become one entity, if the nations prove unsustainable as a way of organizing ourselves? I do see an intermediate future, more in the line of the European Union but progressively more pervasive, when communities move to a super-federation of nations as a governing entity but become more self-governing and identity-conscious at the same time. A bigger and a smaller world for us at the same time? A thought to cherish, indeed, on this very special day!


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