the spirit of an expat
(This essay was first shared on my old blog, c. 2012. In the light of personal events, I am sharing again.)
Midnight, August 15, 1947 was a day when many lives changed in India, especially in our family, three generations ago.
My mother was just a few days old, when India's freedom came around. She grew up in free India, but her forefathers had suffered at the hands of the ruling government with broken families, lost villages, lives and sometimes even lost dignity. She grew up with those stories and scars. Her parents were happy to be raising a family in a free India. (Unlike the families struggling through the partition, ours was contained in one small corner of India.)
My paternal grandfather fought for India's freedom, was a Gandhi-wadi, a freedom fighter, and jailed during Satyagraha. Both his sons lived through the harrowing days and hours before India's independence, and the discord of infighting among its own people. They grew up in a different family – with parents who came from different cultures (Hindu / Jew), but remained idealistic, principled and who chose the greater cause over physical comfort.
My uncle and my father grew up to pledge their lives to the Indian government, in the service of its people and fulfilled their duties diligently. This was a time when there was much honor and pride in serving the country. They believed in the good in people, and still do. We all still do.
Our generation of children, born late 60’s- late 70’s lived sheltered lives - when our mothers shielded us from the harrowing danger our fathers’ experienced every day. We have seen our fathers’ names in the newspaper, and carefully helped create scrapbooks with paper clippings of their glorious achievements - only to learn YEARS later - how much the reporter deliberately left out – just to protect the children, the officers and their families!
Our fathers were shot at, injured, threatened (including us children). The bad guys knew where we lived, where we went to school, who came to deliver our milk every morning, we were followed and watched, sometimes even our phones were tapped. We knew nothing of it as we attended public felicitations of our fathers' achievements. But, with each Gold Medal, Presidents' Medal, Commendation Note or Merit award they received, the scars on our family unknowingly deepened.
As us children became more aware of our surroundings – we learned how bad things really were on the street. We began to see how our fathers had kept us away from the ills of an increasingly socially and morally corrupt society. We saw the system continuously fail us – and those who served alongside our fathers. We watched helplessly as our fathers were sent out to bravely manage the riots after each of the Gandhi (Indira and Rajiv) assassinations and the riots after Babri Masjid, as well as the terror attacks in our neighborhoods, on our friends and our loved ones, and as they braved out in bullet-proof vests to get not just the bad guy, but the really really really bad guy. And we could do nothing but hope they returned back home safe to us.
We lived the stifling choke-hold of the underworld, when it began to affect their senior careers and in turn, our lives. The once hailed glory of a united and free India was slowly crumbling before our eyes.
Today, three (four) of my grandfather's grandchildren are expats (and one is roaming expat). Yet, I know that our hearts ache and bleed at India's condition today, just the same way as it does for our families, friends and loved ones who are still in India. And as I leaf through the once revered scrapbooks today, I no longer see those achievements but the many occasions that my father risked his life and ours, to protect the innocent!
On everyone's behalf of those who no longer live on the same soil as our forefathers, know this -
We feel proud of our heritage and culture. But we also shudder at the current state of affairs, especially in the last 25 years. Things are improving, but we have a long way to go.
Regardless of the passport we carry, the recitation of our National Anthem and Vande Mataram brings tears to our eyes, and we quiver with a reverence for what it stands for. But we are afraid to bring our daughters and sons back to embrace their roots – because nothing and no one can keep them safe.
We still dance and sing to the oldies, remember falling asleep to ‘Bhooley-Bisrey-Geet’ on VividBharati, and it brings a smile to our lips, as we remember the words unconsciously – and we sing along. But we fail at modern day Antakshari today – because the music or notes are no longer tender, meaningful or genteel.
We feel happy to be among our own and are always saddened to leave. But we know we have to leave.
We leave because we need to stand by our choices. We have chosen different principles, for the next generation, for personal safety - chosen a different life – only because we had seen how wildly erratic our lives would be if we continued to live there. Our papa’s can no longer keep us away from the bad guys. Nor can our husbands or brothers or anyone else.
We may have lost the faith in its governments' abilities to protect its own: its men, women, children, young and old, sick or healthy – a system that only protects the wealthy. (Read the newspapers, if you are questioning my statement).
Yet we still bear a flicker of hope.
And we still bleed – in the tricolor.
Many of us continue to reminisce, write, practice, live, breathe, teach and promote a culture that some members of its citizenry no longer feels the need to uphold.
But we don’t falter in our faith - our blind faith in the goodness of our fellow brethren. We are holding out hope – that there is enough strength and will power to change these dark days.
I can only pray that there is a grain of moral wealth and integrity left within us that can bring the country back from the depths of the horrors of a consumption based, opportunistic and materialistic mass-culture. I still hold a breath of hope for the generations who are here and for those yet to come.
And with that, I wish everyone a Happy Independence Day. To those who are Indian at heart, and in Mind. To those who still call it home, to some who just live there, or those who visit. And especially to those whose spirit is tied somewhere to the trunk of a tree, to a knocker of a doorway, to an old threshold or a college seat-wall or katta, in the spray of the salty ocean waves, in the prayer hall of a place of worship, that reverberates at the sound of a temple bell, or the notes of its music or remains perpetually entangled in the memory of the heady fragrance of its natural wonders. We can only hope to return to it soon!
External media links of interest