Saturday, 12 July 2014

What is a Nation?

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A new post in the series - Satyam Shivam Sundaram
 A series featuring inspiring words from various sources, words that speak of timeless truths, words that remind me of the deeper and hidden truth behind surface events and phenomena, words that shine light when all seems dark, words that are just what I need - for this moment and for all times to come.

I have been re-reading Rabindranath Tagore's The Home and The World, a book I really like and have read a few times already. When reading it this time around it very strongly occurred to me that the different perspectives about love for one's nation and the idea of nation as a Mother as portrayed through the characters of Sandeep and Nikhil reflect quite well the dilemma Tagore might have had in his mind at one point of time about these things. If I remember correctly in his essays on Nationalism (which I read many years ago), he explored these ideas in a much more profound way. Maybe I should revisit those essays again after finishing this novel, to be more sure.

But this post is not about Tagore or about this novel. Perhaps there may be a post on that sometime in the future. For now, I wish to speak of something related to this very title of "The Home and the World", some thoughts which were actually inspired by a few recent reflections and observations occupying my mind before I started reading Tagore's work.

In today's age it has almost become fashionable among some sections of the educated, socially upward-mobile elite, especially in India, to think and speak of oneself as a "world" citizen. It has also become fashionable among these people to look a bit skeptically, even cynically at the idea of nationalism or love for one's nation. Such an attitude is considered parochial, narrow, chauvinistic and even conservative. Some of these 'global' citizens even go to the extent of using the word "zealot" in all its negative connotation to speak of those who consider themselves 'nationalists'.

Sometime ago I found myself thinking about why is it so. I could think of several reasons, based on my observations, experiences and interactions. But none of that made much good sense to me or sounded fully correct. Maybe because the social science training in me kept me occupied with exploring the why of people's attitudes, reactions, opinions, biases. None of that really helps address any serious question, because none of that really matters. People's opinions are...well, mere opinions. Subject to change. All the time. Any time.

I came to the realization that I wasn't really focusing on the key idea. The idea of nation. What is a nation? And what does it mean to love one's nation?

Until I came across something in my email. A reminder from one of my teachers. He shared the following excerpt from Sri Aurobindo in another context and my mind was at rest after reading this.
What is a nation? We have studied in the schools of the West and learned to ape the thoughts and language of the West forgetting our own deeper ideas and truer speech, and to the West the nation is the country, so much land containing so many millions of men who speak one speech and live one political life owing allegiance to a single governing power of its own choosing. When the European wishes to feel a living emotion for his country, he personifies the land he lives in, tries to feel that a heart beats in the brute earth and worships a vague abstraction of his own intellect. The Indian idea of nationality ought to be truer and deeper. The philosophy of our forefathers looked through the gross body of things and discovered a subtle body within, looked through that and found yet another more deeply hidden, and within the third body discovered the Source of life and form, seated for ever, unchanging and imperishable.What is true of the individual object, is true also of the general and universal. What is true of the man, is true also of the nation. The country, the land is only the outward body of the nation, its annamaya kosh, or gross physical body; the mass of people, the life of millions who occupy and vivify the body of the nation with their presence, is the pranamaya kosh, the life-body of the nation. These two are the gross body, the physical manifestation of the Mother. Within the gross body is a subtler body, the thoughts, the literature, the philosophy, the mental and emotional activities, the sum of hopes, pleasures, aspirations, fulfilments, the civilisation and culture, which make up the sukshma sharir of the nation. This is as much a part of the Mother’s life as the outward existence which is visible to the physical eyes. This subtle life of the nation again springs from a deeper existence in the causal body of the nation, the peculiar temperament which it has developed out of its ages of experience and which makes it distinct from others. These three are the bodies of the Mother, but within them all is the Source of her life, immortal and unchanging, of which every nation is merely one manifestation, the universal Narayan, One in the Many of whom we are all the children. When, therefore, we speak of a nation, we mean the separate life of the millions who people the country, but we mean also a separate culture and civilisation, a peculiar national temperament which has become too deeply rooted to be altered and in all these we discover a manifestation of God in national life which is living, sacred and adorable. It is this which we speak of as the Mother. The millions are born and die; we who are here today, will not be here tomorrow, but the Mother has been living for thousands of years and will live for yet more thousands when we have passed away.
~ CWSA, Volume 7,  pp. 1115-1116
(emphasis added)

I have read the above passage several times now. I had read it several times before too. And I am sure I will read it many more times in the future too. But my sincere hope is that the deeper truth of these words somehow gets imbibed in me so that any time I find myself speaking of or writing about my country, my India, it is in the light of this truth that my words find their meaning.

I hope, zealously hope that I will recall the essence of this Indian truth of a nation whenever I think of and contemplate on Mother India's past, present and future. That to me would be the beginning of really loving my nation.

And that, hopefully, could then help me really understand why this idea of a nation, this idea of loving one's nation is not at all in any contradiction with being concerned about the larger world beyond the nation. It is not enough to use the fashionable terminology of 'world citizen', 'global outlook',  etc. It is highly necessary, almost imperative that we first realize the psychological and deeper truth about the 'nation' itself. After all, if we don't know our home, how will we know the world.

~ Photo by Suhas Mehra

To read the previous post in the series, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, click here.
To read all the posts in the series, click here.

Linking this post with ABCWednesday, Z: Z is for Zeal.

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