A recent article ‘Expressing Patriotism” in The Assam Tribune by Ms. Mitra Phukan and an appeal by an USA based friend Roopa Sharma to celebrate India’s independence day globally, made me think about my own patriotism/nationalistic life experiences.
Per Wikipedia: Nationalism is a belief, creed or political ideology that involves an individual identifying with, or becoming attached to, one’s nation. Nationalism involves national identity, by contrast with the related construct of patriotism, which involves the social conditioning and personal behaviors that support a state’s decisions and actions. Merriam-Webster definition of Patriotism: Love for or devotion to one’s country.
This is very true for folks living in their country of birth. But what about immigrants and the likes that move on to other countries? Which country are they patriotic towards? What is their national identity?Yes something to ponder- yet again. Seems like the middle age years have been one of ‘ponderment’ for me…an age of confusion rather than one of wisdom I must say!
Growing up in Assam like any other students of my time I attended Republic day parades, Independence day activities organized by our school or the college. On one or two occasion I was fortunate enough to even attend the famous Republic Day Parade in the capital city of N. Delhi. But I can honestly say these were mere rituals I observed with others, without any love or devotion welling up inside of me. In other words these celebrations held no personal meaning, neither did they heighten my emotional connection to my Country in any way, shape or form.
The first time I ever felt anything for my Country, for my State of Assam to be more precise, happened during ‘the Assam Agitation’.
I remember one particular night during the early days of the movement where-in there was a call for a late night torch rally. With Bhupen Hazarika’s encouraging song ‘Aami Axomia Nahu Dukhia’ ringing in my ears I agreed to attend the rally for our beloved Assam without any hesitation, no questions asked. I ran outside that night, with hundreds of other people besides me carrying the flaming torches, when we came upon a CRP battalion road block. I felt no fear on seeing the men armed with laathis, guns and shields facing us. Just an immense sense of exalted pride that we were standing up for our ravaged land and for the neglected rights of our people.The soulful patriotic cry of my beloved motherland stirred in my heart at that moment, propelled by the jubilant cries ‘Joi Aai Axom, Joi Aai Axom” from the hundreds of people that stood around me, tears streaming down their faces. Fighting for a cause much much bigger and greater than myself- I felt alive. I felt connected. I felt the strength of numbers. I felt victory in the air.
That night I understood the power of Nationalism..why battles are fought, why soldiers are willing to die for their Countries. Indeed I too would have willingly laid down my life for my beautiful Assam that night. The raw emotions were that strong.
How has my Nationalistic barometer been since that particular nigh of that particular year?
Well the intensity and passion does mitigate with time and age. And sad as it may sound the ‘idealism’ of youth takes on the many layers of adult ‘practicality’. I left my homeland. Abandoned my first love for the love of another.
But that NIGHT and that SONG have always stayed with me They will forever represent that Patriotic moment. The stirring up of my Nationalistic Identity…..that bound me with my Assam forever. MY Assam the land of the Chai Bagisa, Green paddy fields and Green mangoes. MY Assam the land of the mighty Brahmaputra. MY Assam the land of the gorgeous Muga and Pat silk. MY Assam the land of the mystic Kamakshya temple. How I long for the simplicity of the Assamese way of life. The kindness of people, the easy friendships. The culture of lahe- lahe, hobo diya, daiba…Maybe these days the norms have changed. Maybe these days the land is pillaged, brown and dirty Maybe these days Assam is bloodied and burning.
But the Assam I remember is the Assam I left behind oh so many years back. My first love. My first beloved motherland
What about America you are very likely to ask?
Is she your second love? The one you love the most now? Can anyone love two countries equally and simultaneously? How does an immigrants psyche handle such demands?
Well! Well! Well!…I cannot speak for others As for me my love for America did not happen in a day’s time. For the first several years after arriving in the country the whole thinking process was that we will return back to India..so we did not emotionally invest. But when the green card arrived and Sujoy started identifying America as his country, I realized that this indeed was becoming our country. Our adopted motherland. And so began the process of active acculturation and emotional investment.
However it will be wrong of me not to admit that ‘ I do not love Indiana, America as I do Assam, India’. First love is always that..your first love. A love filled with intense longing and the passion of youth idealism.The love for my adopted motherland on the other hand has been of the mature practical kind. A love that was culled in the process of living. A love that was distilled out of an adulthood life.
My adopted mother said.’ There is no limits except for what barriers you set up for yourself ‘. The sense of creative energy that flows through her blood. The sense of independence. The sense of freedom. The strong belief in self reliance . From the tranquility and beauty of natural treasures, to cities offering endless cultural opportunities, to the American identity of bottomless possibilities. I felt it all. I lived it all. And I loved it all.
Understanding, Valuing and Appreciating all what this great country has to offer an immigrant..any immigrant for that matter, that walks through her front door- brought about this love.
And like it happened with Assam, one fine sunny morning, my patriotism for my adopted land was called into play. Looked like I always needed an adverse act to bring out my Patriotic Self, my Nationalistic Pride. 9/11 in this case.
As I watched the horrors unfold before my eyes on the TV monitor that morning. My blood boiled over. How could they? How dare they?
Kill all the innocent people.
Over that month I told myself We cannot let fear govern us. We cannot let hate dictate us. We cannot let freedom be sacrificed. We cannot let a beacon of hope for millions die.
America will become stronger. Democracy has to survive.I organized diversity programs for the community.
I organized fundraisers for the local children I participated in inter- faith programs.
I organized community talks, discussions, lectures.
I BECAME my new community.That was my and my family’s commitment to our adopted motherland We will behave like Americans. We will feel like Americans. We will identify with the Americans We will feel proud to be called Americans.
During one such community fundraiser a gentleman of Indian origin walked up to me and asked ‘Ajanta why do you do these things for the community here. Why do you not use your energies for India. They need us back home much more than they do here’
Without a moment hesitation I replied. ‘Because I am an American’ But I did experience a tinge of guilt on hearing his words. Was I being disloyal to Assam, India? Was I letting the Indian Nationalist Pride down?Another line from Bhupen Hazarikas song flashed in my mind… ‘ Moor aaik bhal pau buli kola janu lookar aaik ghin kora tu bujabo…?’
Nah I told myself. I am fortunate to be an immigrant. Unlike many others I am lucky to have had the opportunity to live and experience life in two different countries. AND yes I have ‘ENOUGH LOVE’ in me to love two different countries for different reasons.
And as immigrants and as global citizens we have to, we must stand up for Freedom, Equal Rights and a Democratic Governance…no matter which country we reside in. We have to believe in something that is Greater, Bigger and Larger than us.