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NATION WITHOUT A SOUL

The splendid, spontaneous celebration that marked the British monarch’s 60th year on the throne carries a wonderful lesson for India, a civilization that was once a master of meticulously planned, inclusive ceremonies. From religious festivals that mark the birthdays of gods and goddesses to celebrations heralding the change of seasons to ‘the big, fat, Indian wedding’, Indians are experts in ceremony and ritual, pomp and pageantry. Sadly, the Indian State that has begun to dominate celebrations that fall out of the purview of religion and are organized by communities has ceased to celebrate spiritedly. The aesthetic sensibilities displayed on these occasions leave much to be desired. The tacky ambience that envelops participants and spectators kills the ‘joy’.

The queen, her family, and also the prime minister and members of the government are engaging with the people at this special moment in history. They are out there soaking it all in with the people cutting across all barriers. The mood is decidedly happy, even though the country is facing difficult times. There is an evident sense of solidarity and pride. Neighbours and communities have gathered to eat and drink, sing and dance, all anchored around a shared moment. In contrast, India has forgotten its great ‘community culture’, its street extravaganzas and roadside entertainment that were once integral to this country. The State has interfered negatively and prohibited the wandering minstrels, roadside performers, acrobats and storytellers from providing amusement. The babu, as part of his ‘cleanliness’ drive, has sent our wonderful flower mandis to the outskirts of Delhi, killing the fragrance of Bharat even though smelly urinals and open gutters abound.

Old rules

Absurd rules and regulations enforced by bored and frustrated babus have turned our dirty, mismanaged cities and towns into sterile, concrete jungles without a soul. Moreover, the present-day ‘kings and queens’ who have replaced the erstwhile royals have locked themselves inside insular, ivory towers. They remain disconnected from the people, except when they have to beg for votes. During elections, crowds are brought on trucks and buses to fill pandals and maidans. Indian rulers are detached from those they rule. There is zero engagement with the people. Joint celebrations are unheard of.

‘Security’ constraints are usually cited as the excuse. Do Indian leaders not notice the security demands on the Queen of England? Do they not comprehend that public life demands such risks as standing on the streets with dignity? Why is our leadership so insecure about itself that it cannot engage with the people? Does this trait stem from arrogance and condescension towards ordinary Indians? Why has the State destroyed our sense of pride? Why is there neither excitement nor fresh, creative energy in the manner in which we plan and celebrate the Republic Day parade? When will ‘cultural programmes’ commissioned by the State cease? When will we have a public concert — spanning decades of Indian and international music — presided over by the president and other leaders at Vijay Chowk to celebrate the idea of India?

The Indian State ‘ran away’ from commemorating the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of New Delhi as the capital of India. Why? Because that is our colonial legacy. India cannot ‘run away’ from the truth just because someone in his or her wisdom does not want to accept a historical fact. Perverse thinking and an insecure mindset have left modern India groaning. Why are redundant rules flung at us every time there are plans of celebrations on city streets? The fact is that nobody in power cares.