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August 18, 1997


Farzana Versey

Freedom's Child

Laura's illustration It isn't only the midnight's child who feels terribly gooey as August arrives. There is a whole breed of people who believe, come the day of reckoning, that they are in business.

Give a man a flag to hold, and he will use any available podium to declare himself a patriot. Women are more subdued in this matter.

The 'timely' patriot, for example, is an absolute nuisance. He lives in a kind of ghetto (where a Brian Lara can declare that he would rather lose to Kenya than to South Africa!) and bores you with drivel about our culture. He will undertake the tedious journey to Khajuraho to make sure what he does in bed does not damage our heritage or cause an upheaval in the slender fabric of our nation. But, often, what he sees at Khajuraho is much too difficult for him to replicate, so he diverts all his energies into building the nation.

The 'at home' patriot is the one who thinks he is vastly superior since he has not drained his country's brain. He tries hard to deny everything outside his own sanctified shores. But, like someone who spends his time in the pool and refuses to step out, he starts soiling the very waters he spends his time in.

His version of and obsession with history only amounts to brandishing a knife to preserve a heritage. But, in doing so, he ends up marring it. He desecrates everything foreign simply because it makes him insecure. I even read an article where the poor Western-style commode was blamed on the British raj. It actually insinuated that the commode was a symbol of our obsession with the Brits.

Imagine not being able to relieve yourself without having a political statement thrust upon you.

For most men, patriotism is a knee-jerk reaction rather than a genuine belief in any ideology. Pointing out the flaws of others is the only way in which they can make themselves look good. So this paunchy Indian, who gobbles stuffed parathas soaked in ghee, will deride the Americans for their "junk food culture" and lambast the promiscuity of the West, going to the extent of implying that the rapes committed in our fair land can indirectly be attributed to the influence of Hollywood and Dirty Harry.

This same guy will, of course, lasciviously covet the white woman for reasons as varied as, "Adventure only", "They are so fast and easy" and "We are only paying back the colonialists". This last reason, believe me, is a subconscious excuse. "Spoiling" a woman of Caucasian stock appears, to these blokes, the only way of righting the wrongs of the East India Company, not to speak of being able to discover that women too can get orgasms.

For the great nationalist, however, this is a secret he wishes to keep away from his wife in the manner made exemplary by Rudyard Kipling when he stated, "A woman is a woman, but a cigar is a smoke". Besides, he is happy enough to keep a devi from Bharat mata pure, leaving her to use her unrealised shakti for such momentous tasks as rolling chappatis, feeding the babies (sons of the soil, no doubt!) and waiting at the doorway for the nation's saviour.

If the local-bred Indian with a shiny tricolor is a sight, you should see the expatriate patriots. They are the classic case of never-seen-always-heard. He usually comes home to find himself a good wife or to visit the family, and what he does is unbelievable. He goes misty-eyed at the sight of an Indian style toilet. This goes on for two days, till he finally realises that squatters, in India, are all over the place and he does not really need the first-hand experience.

Mr Foreign National will come back loaded with goodies and invariably criticize the dwindling value systems of the West. He sings praises of the Indian joint family, the one he so ardently sought to escape from. After having lived with a wonderfully slim woman, he will suddenly discover the blotchy skin of these blonde women and their unhygienic ways.

If he does not succeed in finding an Indian bride with a fat dowry, he will return to his alien shores and tell the white woman (who he finally woos with stories of exotic snakes and maharajas), that the females back home are, without exception, fat cows who should to be milked dry and then revered. If at all the expatriate does decide to return for good, even if it is only following failure on foreign shores, he is heralded as a true son of India.

But the ones who take the cake, and the rum, are the fellows who join the army. They get feted for being the men to save us when, most of the time, all they are thinking about is ballroom dancing. But, then, the patriotic man is a jolly good fellow, isn't he?

Illustration: Laura Fernandes

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Farzana Versey