Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward into ever-widening thought and action -
Into that heaven of freedom, let my country awake.
This is indeed India! She is the land of dreams and romance, of stories and songs. She shows us fabulous wealth and abject poverty, splendour and despair, palaces and hovels in equal measure. She is draped in myth and mysticism, studded with faith and belief, caressed by the seas and the sands. She is the country of a billion people and a hundred tongues, home to thousand cultures and traditions, steeped in the history of an eternity. She is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech. She is the one country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for her own and others, for the lettered and the ignorant, for the wise and the foolish, for the rich and the poor.
India has never been the claim of any one group or community. She has been looted, plundered, enslaved and abused countless times, yet like a phoenix she manages to rise again and again miraculously. She is a nation that has seen many empires rise and fall - the Hindu kings, the Mughals, the British. A nation dotted with the signs and symbols of a glorious past at every step, she revels in being the cradle of ancient civilisation and prides in having borne the first footprints of art. She is the land of saints and scientists, of warriors and world leaders, of fields and enterprises, of the brave and the brilliant.
India is a multitude of feelings to a multitude of people. For some she is noisy, chaotic and overwhelming. For others she is mildly distressing in parts and mostly beyond any sort of rational analysis. For yet others she is all the things one may seek to keep out of their life. But I love India for precisely that reason - we live simple and boring routine lives, yet the air around us is electrified with the spirit of those very mundane lives we live. There is chaos in the calm, and serenity in the rush all around, but we all fit in effortlessly and seamlessly.
India is where Punjab dances in sheer abandon and laughs an equally boisterous guffaw. India is where the tameez and tehzeeb of UP would never let a guest leave hungry. India is where the intellectual Bengal comes together at an adda session to discuss everything from the Sensex to sandesh. India is where dreams are born and nurtured in the studios of Mumbai and the schools of Kerala. India is where a million colours come alive in kaleidoscopic Rajasthan and narrate the tales of valour. India is where the mellifluous Carnatic melody meets the divine rhythm of Hindustani music. India is redolent in the sandalwood of Karnataka and the apples of Himachal. India is where the sweetness of Gujarat blends with the rustic charm of MP so seamlessly they appear as one. India is where the gaeity of Goa and the sobriety of Haryana coexist in unfalliable harmony. India is where the kangris of Kashmir warm the bosom of Tsmil Nadu across thousands of miles. India is where the grace of Odissi and the poise of Kuchipudi are a sight to behold, while the lilting strains from the far East reach every heart and brighten every smile. India is where tradition embraces modernity, where religion and science intertwine, where festive cheer and sombre emotions live in sync.
India is lavish weddings and melancholic funerals. India is determined progress and persevering faith. India protests against injustice and applauds achievements on her streets. India endures scorching noons and freezing nights to toil towards a better tomorrow. She sits as one among the many who come to make themselves heard. A nation of contrasts, she lives in palatial bungalows and shabby slums, she avers a myriad cusswords and a million prayers, she plays cricket and politics with equal dexterity. India is the largest and strongest middle-class, the most number of youth and children, the fastest developing economy and the most capable workforce. She is the deprived and the nouveau rich, the elite and the wannabes, the glamorous and the earthy, the aam janta and the yuppy youngsters. She is where many worlds collide in the trains and buses, where many stories are woven in backyards and under trees, where tempers run short and teleserials long, where drama unfolds more on the streets than on the screen. India is where fact truly is stranger than fiction.
But India is not just this. She is much more. She is just like any other nation, and yet not like them. She is a conurbation where cricket and cinema reign, where commercial success can come through leisure pursuits too. Her people are volatile and articulate, and topics from global warming to the price of arhar daal are discussed threadbare over steaming cups of chai. She is more a living person than a nation, a person with varied interests and mellow moods. One simply needs to lose their self in the myriad hues, flavours and aromas of India. Her citizens exhibit a great joie de vivre firmly entrenched in intellectual vitality and an unrivalled spirit.
India remains an enigma; she continues to mystify novices and to rouse lasting nostalgia in the minds of those who have lived there. India not only openly shows all aspects of life, she also demands to act continually. She expects one and all to stretch their street wisdom to the extreme. Compare her to a fantasy park in which the theme is not a fable but all that life is and necessitates. For those who want life itself to be an adventure, India is the fantasyland to visit. Simply walking her streets has the pleasure of being in a place that is the consequence of continual human activity. And because life there demands perpetual activity, her streets change all the time - constant reflections of human understanding, perception, talents and limits. Where she demands too much of her citizens, or her citizens demand too much of their country, it shows in clear consequences. Her appeal is that she openly shows not only how we fail, but also how we cope and how proud we can be in doing so. While it may be easy to cover up the dark side and emphasize the great and good with much glitter, India balances herself between the dark and the bright, the wrong and right. If that is not attractive, I am yet to witness what is.
India is a proud nation and her pride is rooted in the totality of aspects she so clearly presents. Pride lies in the Indians feeling that, in the end, showing it all will be the basis of a sustainable nation, rather that emphasizing only one side of what Indianness is. Pride lies in the fact that India needs to be made each day; a lot does not work, but another lot does. At night too her streets do not show the sleepy quietness that is typical of sundown; they have a life of their own, and a constant passion for living it to the fullest. In India, life truly goes on in its entire miscellany. A restful night after a hard day’s work is what all seem to want. Trouble is kept far away; India believes trouble itself is trouble enough.
The spell cast upon the world by India is impossible to express in words. You must live her - intuit her, caress her, savour her, sense her - in her entirety. Only then shall you begin to comprehend her beauty, her appeal, her charisma, her charm. I can say that, for India lives in me, and I in her.
All pictures courtesy: Google Image Search