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Anuja Chauhan
Anuja Chauhan


Do we know?

Republic Day is here, and I may have written before about how I much I love it. It’s the Army school background I guess. Right through the late seventies and early eighties, we would all be bundled into buses and driven to the Rajpath to be the audience on the dress rehearsal days—January 23, 24 and 25. It used to be super fun. One year, my sister was in a dance, too—she played a Punjabi girl in a bright orange salwar kameez, and pink parandis, and danced right through a big pile of elephant poo (the recipients of the Brave Children Awards had gone just ahead of our school contingent, on elephant back). The dance she was in was standard Republic Day fare—each row of children was dressed as people from one particular state. They did a dance step typical of their state and sang (translating loosely) “we are Punjabi” or “we are Marathi” or “we are Gujarati”, as the case may be, then shook their head violently, formed a circle and sang together with much fervour: “No! We reject all these fake distinctions! Mother India is calling us, we are One! We are One, we are One!” Good stuff, huh?

I’m pretty sure this blockbuster performance by my sister is what inspired Shah Rukh Khan’s first team talk in Chak de! India. He must’ve seen it on TV or something, and copied it. What a sneak.

Anyway, like I said, back in those days, we knew exactly what it meant to be Indian. If you would’ve asked us, the answer would’ve come rolling confidently off our tongue—being an Indian means unity in diversity, it means love for our country and our countrymen, for our freedom fighters and our freedom. It means respecting our Constitution.

Nowadays, whenever that question is asked, this really tepid 7 Up commercial that has been running in the movie halls for a quite a while now comes to mind. Its ‘philosophy’, for lack of a better word, seems to be ‘I don’t know’. Yes, the brand strategists are seeking to make a virtue out of the cluelessness that pervades our current ethos by saying “Our generation has got a new kind of clarity. Our clarity is called… ‘I don’t know’! Cos guys, ‘I don’t know’ is so much cooler than ‘I know’!” O… kay…

Maybe they’re on to something big. Because really, I look around me, and the general attitude in every situation, and every sphere, does seem to be I don’t know. What is a good journalist? Somebody who speaks truth to power, who—to quote US Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and that superbly timely film, The Post—serves the governed and not the governors? Or is it somebody who is well recognised, makes a lot of money, has a huge viewership and speaks really loud on TV? I don’t know.

69-do-we-know Illustration: Bhaskaran

What is happening to Hinduism? What is Hinduism? Does anybody have a patent on it? Can Rahul Gandhi enter a temple or will it totter and fall at this blasphemy? Why can’t we eat beef? Or marry people from other castes? Is idol worship a necessary and sufficient condition to qualify as a Hindu? I don’t know.

What is happening to the law of the land? To our judiciary? Why are our second, third, fourth and fifth most senior judges locked in a confrontation with the chief justice? The answer from everybody, including the prime minister, seems to be I don’t know.

And the trouble with I don’t know is that somewhere, it seems to imply an implicit I don’t care. Which is scary.

I recently met a little NRI kid who told me, when I asked, that to him being Indian means “touching old people’s feet”. Seriously, that’s all it means to him.

We’ve clearly reached a point where there is no clarity at all. Where no bar has been set—high, low or otherwise. And the only Absolut is vodka.

Happy Republic Day.

Chauhan is an author and advertising professional.

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