“Where will you be several years from now? Do you want to stay in the US or would you rather go home?” I am asked this question very often and I always respond with an “I don’t know yet.” The truth is I know…
I was chatting with my friend the other day. She is making a trip back home for Diwali and was super excited about it. So when I heard her mention how excited she was about going home, I couldn’t help but sing that very famous song from the movie Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge, “Ghar Aaja Pardesi Tera Des Bulaye Re”. For those who do not understand Hindi, the lyrics literally translate to “Come home foreigner, your country beckons.” (I do try, wherever possible, to incorporate Bollywood songs in everyday conversation).
When I stopped singing at long last, my friend said that she doesn’t feel very patriotic towards India. I widened my eyes and said “Whaaaaaat! Mera Bhaarat Mahaan Yo! (India is Great, Yo!).” She said, she didn’t think any nation was a great one, let alone India.
Then began the conversation about rampant corruption that pervades every level of Indian society, thereby making India a less than great country. I won’t deny the fact that I have been a part of corruption, which is so ubiquitous in the system of governance and everyday life that it almost seems like a legitimate ploy out of any tricky situation. On more than one occasion I have offered a monetary bribe to a traffic policeman when my driver got caught for breaking traffic rules or forgetting to wear his seat belt. Soon after the bribes were offered, my driver was let to go scot-free and I breathed a sigh of relief. Have you ever had a problem and sought a temporary solution for it?
My offering a bribe to the cop, allowed me to get out of a tight spot, but it only further propagated the evil practice of offering and accepting bribes, among millions of commuters and traffic policemen. When I lived in India, I did not feel a sense of guilt for my actions in such daily routine of petty corruption. I suppose living here in the US for eight years now has made me nobler in my thoughts, but let me tell you, my actions do not reflect how I think. Here’s the hard part. When I return to India, I get sucked into the way of life there. I become corrupt again. I cut long lines at temples or doctors’ offices (not caring about the situation of the patient behind me) and I offer bribes.
Then came along Anna Hazare in his simple white kurta, and Nehru cap and I was inspired to fight the system, to fight the herd mentality, to be different and unafraid. In fact all the coverage Hazare’s non-violent protests received in the recent past, stirred in me a great sense of patriotism towards my country. Maybe that’s why; there I was..…so adamantly defending India’s greatness to my friend. In an almost ignorant and idealistically foolish way, I spoke of India’s rich culture, heritage, and strong family values so different from the West. (There was obviously no point making those arguments because it doesn’t change the fact that India had a major corruption problem).
I argued that I was born there and received a wonderful education in my time there. In India, I built a strong foundation for myself up until the age of 18. We all want, for our children, the same wonderful things we’ve experienced in our lifetime and we want for them to avoid all the bad experiences their parents have undergone. My life in both countries has been wonderful thus far. The friends I have made, the things I have learned, the opportunities that have presented themselves to me in both nations have been numerous and excellent. While every individual person’s path through life is disparate, I believe that living in these two different nations was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me and I certainly want the best thing for my progeny.
In our discussion, my friend continued to talk of other problems plaguing India and her development like poverty and population (citing poverty as being the root cause of corruption in the first place). I mean of course, these are problems that will always glare at us in the face and any change towards eliminating them, will seem negligible. However, one can’t sit back on a rocking chair and say “Jaane Do” (“Let it be”). That is exactly what activists of the anti-corruption movement have been trying to convey to India’s youth. This “Jaane Do” attitude won’t do. Of course, not everyone can create a sensational movement like Anna Hazare, but everyone has the potential to be a revolutionary in his or her own little way. I try not to litter and dump trash on the streets, I try to conserve electricity and water at home and my family does some charity work. These are just some of the many ways; one can contribute towards the uplifting of a billion people across the great nation that is India.
There is something I have been wondering about though. It has been a few years since I have been in a situation where I have been required to pay someone money to get a certain job done. I have not bribed an Indian cop in years. I wonder if I would do such a thing ever again, given the mood I have been in these past few months. Perhaps, my integrity will be put to the test at some point in the near future.
I realize that I am unable to contain the random and bizarre nature of my thoughts but I will come back to the question I started off with. I know deep down inside where I want to reside a few years from now. I live in the US, a country that welcomed me with open arms, made me a formidable entity by providing me with titles of education and great opportunity. However, I am made from the soil of my country, and into the same soil, I wish to perish. Until then, I wish to serve that very same soil that has done so much for me.
Another wonderful song that comes to my mind as I end this post is
“Aao Bacchon tumhe Dikhaye Jhanki Hindustan Ki,
Is Mitti Se Tilak Karo Yeh, Dharti Hai Balidaan Ki.”
Come children, let me show you a glimpse of India,
This land is marked by sacrifice, so apply a ‘tilak’ to your forehead with the soil.”
*Tilak is a mark applied to the forehead (made of a vermilion paste) and is usually applied for religious or spiritual reasons, or to honor a personage, event, or victory.