The memories are still vivid. That antiquated contraption called the VCR that most kids today would have trouble recognising, a well worn video cassette of the movie Roja, seemingly endless iterations of rewind, play, repeat of the scene where the protagonist saves the burning Indian flag to that rousing Rahman score – the goosebumps, the adrenaline, the pride, the unquestioned acceptance of that esoteric concept called patriotism, the foolish innocence of childhood. Flash forward to today when I might react entirely differently when I see that scene again. Thanks to the influence of multi various sources, the primary one being the easily accessible opinions of strangers on the Internet, my perceptions of patriotism have undergone an upheaval of sorts. (As an aside, there is a thesis waiting to be written on how the Internet is one of the strongest shapers of personality in the 21st century) Passion has been replaced by pragmatism, and what used to be an overwhelming emotion without an identifiable reason, is now viewed with a sense of balance, tinged with cynicism. You might not accept or agree with the opinions of others easily, but, they can surely make you re-think and re-evaluate your own. The questions these opinions raise are perfectly valid – Why should we have this militant pride in everything Indian? Why should we swear allegiance to a country just because we were born there? In a world of blurring borders and coalescing cultures, what is the relevance of patriotism? And it is just these questions that have transformed my views on patriotism.
Oddly enough, over the years, patriotism in our movies has also been mirroring my changing sentiments. Movies in the post independence years used patriotic themes primarily for identity building. It was essential for a country that had just been broken up to find its bearings and these movies instilled a sense of belonging and pride in its people. Then, there came a phase where it was fashionable and more importantly profitable to make patriotic movies, movies with a hero who loves his country above all, who spouts jingoistic dialogue and who is willing to risk everything to save it.
However, films in the last decade have had a far more practical depiction of this theme. When you are many generations removed from the freedom struggle, it becomes difficult to understand and relate to the sacrifices made for the sake of one’s country. We live in selfish times and while we may cheer India at a cricket game, an idealistic love for the country might be difficult for us to fathom. So, a movie like Swades takes this intangible concept of doing good for a whole country and replaces it with doing good for a small society. Granted that the movie is about returning to your roots and there is a constant Ye Jo Des Hai Tera reminder, but, the central theme of feeling the need to help a group of strangers, whom you have got to know, whose problems and plight move you and who happen to be from the same country as you, holds far more relevance to today’s generation.
I did not choose to write about this theme just because it is the month of August, the one time in the year we are reminded of our country. I chose this as I was thinking about loyalties to one’s company and how it is so similar and yet so different to love for one’s country. I know that the fact that you receive monetary compensation in the former case colours this comparison to a great extent, but, just because you are paid for the work you do, you do not need to have a sense of belonging to the company that employs you. The concept of company loyalties have also seen a significant transformation over the years. Older generations would consider it a matter of great pride to be working for a corporate giant like Tata or TVS. It was not the money that was important, but, the mere opportunity to work for such a reputable firm that mattered. Today, it is commonplace to switch jobs, primarily to negotiate a higher compensation. In such a climate, how can companies ensure that their employees are proud to work for them? Or is such a pursuit laughably meaningless? In some sense, the real situation is analogous to Swades. Even if you do not feel anything for the company you work for, it is difficult to not feel something for the smaller team you are part of. Personal interactions, a sense of camaraderie, setting goals and targets for the team and celebrating achievements- all these contribute to enriching your work life experience and making you feel like you really are part of something. By eliminating the big picture and focusing on the concept of several mini-teams constituting a big team, corporates are ensuring that employees have a sense of pride in the work they do and whom they do it for. Whether this translates into loyalty is an entirely different question.
While my patriotic idealism might have waned, I am still undecided on where my feelings for my country truly stem from. As I am set to make a move back to India for good after spending a few years abroad, I picked the 15th of August to make that move. And the date was not chosen simply because it falls on a Sunday. Whatever my feelings about patriotism may be, I must say it strangely feels good to come home to India on this day. The cynic has left the building, yet again.