My country is a house of wine

There is a Himalayan press
Where wine is oozing from the snow;
Deep rivers serve as Saki-girls;
With wave-trough cups abrim they flow;
Their banks are hands with which they pour
Unceasing wine on every shore;
My country is a house of wine
Where drunken corn sways to and fro

Harivansh Rai Bachchan

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“Anniversaries are our way of drilling into history’s groundwater and sending it up to splash briefly on the surface of the present. Still, anniversaries can be an enlightening force as well as a patriotic indulgence. They can uncover history and revise it.” Ian Jack writes in the day’s Hindu

Our generation is lucky in a queer sort of way. As our perspectives about India get moulded, we had occasions to remember; and to have memories is an important part of our learning. I am a sucker for lists and Collectors edition anniversary supplements. I have a big collection back home.The oldest is Malayala Manorama’s 100th anniversary supplement which came out in 1988, which is perhaps the largest, and the most impressive is India Today’s ’97 Golden jubilee of Independence issue which began every paragraph with a “Because”.

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Fifty years of independence, that sounds a decade old today. Another big anniversary is 25 years away and I plan to address the nation from the Red fort then, rather from this blog. I am collecting as many “Collectors editions”  and waiting for Wednesday’s much hyped Hindu supplement. Usually the lists thingy is India Today’s forte (Ha the lists they come up with), but this time around Outlook has a more interesting list despite a few misgivings. Personally I got carried away when I saw OV and RK Laxman figure in the list of Sixty Great Indians in 60 years of free India.(and the learning is Pu Laldenga)

There is a lot to celebrate indeed. It is our birth right to be cynical but once in a while its nice to watch Rakesh Sharma reply “Sare jahaan se acha” and Madam Prime Minister take a step back and break into her charming smile. Not quite often do you see Indira Gandhi caught off guard and that is a moment of intoxication. If not intoxication, then what is India.

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Ramachandra Guha writes in Newstatesman,

“When Nehru goes,” wrote Aldous Huxley, “the government will become a military dictatorship – as in so many of the newly independent states, for the army seems to be the only highly organised centre of power.” When Nehru died in May 1964, the army remained in the barracks while a successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, was chosen democratically. On his death in January 1966, he, too, was followed by a democratically selected successor. This time it was a woman, Indira Gandhi. A year after assuming office, she led her party into a general election. On the eve of these polls, held in the first months of 1967, the Times of London ran a series of articles entitled “India’s disintegrating democracy”. The paper’s Delhi correspondent, Neville Max well, was certain that “the great experiment of developing India within a democratic framework has failed”. Indians, he told his readers, would soon vote in the “fourth – and surely last – general election”.

I like Aldous Huxley, then it is important to prove he is mortal. India does not exist to prove a point, then it is nice to watch one billion people go directly to the polling stations and prove the intellectuals wrong. The intoxication of seeing an elephant dance. Our country is a house of wine. Sheer pleasure 🙂

Dilip echoes the new confidence we have gained over the decades when he suggests a solution for the Kashmir issue in his prize winning essay,

Time for a change. Time, I believe, for a simple thought that the singer Sting once expressed like this: “If you love someone, set them free.” With Kashmir, put it this way: “If you want to keep Kashmir, set it free.”

As Gopalkrishna Gandhi said once “India enfranchised is not enough. Ask the man and even more so the woman who did not vote. And ask why”. No we don’t want to be a super power. No, thanks. Perhaps a bulb, tap and toilet in every rural home will do.

Ian Jack continues,

Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee made a far bigger splash than her coronation, though in that example lurks one of the dangers of anniversary-itis. The British empire was outwardly at its most confident in 1897 — the Queen’s 60 years on the throne simply provided a good excuse for imperial celebration — but beneath all the parades and naval reviews there lurked worries about hubris and how long the show could last.

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There are a few of us who remind the rest of us why the show should change, who keep a constant vigil while we sleep, like P. Sainath,

Duties are not raised. We’re glad to trade the interests of our poor for another 30,000 H1B visas. The government tells us over 112,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1993. A gross underestimate but the figure is bad enough. These are suicides driven by debt. And the indebtedness of the peasantry, so the National Sample Survey tells us, has almost doubled in the past decade. It is not as if there is no resistance, no voices raised. The people have spoken to their governments and all of us in election after election. In protest after protest. And good things, too, have happened. Like the NREGA. But the larger direction is overwhelming. And it is one that races towards catastrophe, disaster having already been achieved.

The Communists may not agree, but Winston Churchill said, “It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.” The most powerful critic of India’s ability to “somehow” exist who wrote history for himself, saw very little into the future. Tonight as sun sets on Kennington Oval and the United Kingdom, Chruchill’s nation is defeated. Its not just that England has lost a test series today, England has lost cricket to India. India somehow exists, India won.

Then it is tough for anyone to understand us, as Arundhati Subramaniam wrote, To the Welsh Critic Who Doesn’t Find Me Identifiably Indian

This business about language,
how much of it is mine, how much yours,
how much from the salon, how much from the slum,
how I say verisimilitude, how I say Brihadaranyaka,
how I say vaazhapazham
it’s all yours to measure, the pathology of my breath…

Good Night and Good Luck!

6 Responses to My country is a house of wine

  1. anish August 14, 2007 at 12:13 am #

    beautiful

  2. whoever... August 14, 2007 at 2:15 am #

    It is indeed a tough task, but such a lousy list outlook has … the villains are nearly OK though..

    But I am releived that they didn’t include TN Seshan or Abdul Kalam ….

  3. bvn August 14, 2007 at 2:41 am #

    Anish, India is 🙂

    whoever, who wud you rather have, I wanna know I wanna know 🙂

  4. whoever... August 14, 2007 at 3:04 am #

    25 yrs down the line, i will suggest ur name ;))) (haven’t made up my mind on if shud b for the heroes list or villans ;)))

  5. bvn August 14, 2007 at 7:45 am #

    thanks a lot for that. I wud prefer the heroes list 🙂

  6. Bombaydosti August 21, 2007 at 1:38 pm #

    that was a good one.. !
    all these lists and more… it is infact so damn difficult to come up with a list… well then thats how its india … i guess!
    but then ur post, for the space its taken, is quite comprehensive… 🙂

    yours
    BD

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