I wanted to write this post a few days back on the eve of India’s Republic day – 26th January. Better late than never.
A few days prior to that I had watched a few videos on Youtube like this one and this. A man went about asking questions about modern Indian history and independence movement to random strangers on the road. Most of the people were young in their 20’s, a few middle aged. The feeling that it evoked was of amazement as well as sadness. Amazement because the questions asked were not particularly difficult. You ask them to a primary school student and 9 times out of 10 you would get the correct answer. Maybe people forget these things they learn in school. Secondly, I felt sad, because of the same reason. Barring a few people, nobody in the video seemed to be even remotely knowledgeable of Indian history, or even be ashamed at not knowing basic history.
I refrain to use the word ‘shame’ as a feeling that I had because (a) it is a very strong word and (b) it would not do justice to many people like me who would not like to be associated with the junta that does not value history or would even take the time to learn about. Also, my feeling is that every country in the world has people who do not value their freedom and the associated (relatively) easy life.
But let us come back to the main idea of this post. A poem. A beautiful poem.
I was talking about the history of India with my colleague at work a few days back. He seemed to be somewhat interested and so we had a conversation for a few minutes. Towards the end we discussed M. K. Gandhi. Yes, the man we all should be indebted to. Because, before Startup India happened, before Liberalization and many other things happened, that put India on the world map, this man put us there. Not because he wanted something for himself, but because he wanted freedom for all of his fellow countrymen and the way he chose to accomplish that. Only by being himself, by leading an exemplary life.
Today is Martyr’s day (30 January). We pay homage to all martyrs who fought for the country’s independence and it also marks Gandhiji’s assassination at the hands of a fellow Indian on this very day in 1948. But before we became a free country, during tough times of struggle, what would Gandhiji have been thinking. There were many who supported a separate country; today we call it Pakistan. What would have been going on in the mind of this great man who wanted peace and non-violence to prevail. He lived his life for these principles. I told my colleague that it would be unthinkable in today’s world to have another Gandhi among us. To live with and for truth and peace all one’s life is nearly, if not completely, impossible.
Today morning I woke up earlier than usual for today is a Saturday. I went to straight to my books and, with morning sunlight pouring through the window blinds, picked up this excellent one: Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore. (Amazon link)
I have had this book since 2012 and read it from time to time. It is a collection of poems by the great poet, author and yogi. It also won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the first non-European to receive it. Every time I read a poem I fall in love. It provokes different thoughts and I spend time with different emotions for a few minutes. Today morning was one such time.
I read poem number 35 in school in my English book. “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…”. But today, I want to direct your attention to another poem.
By all means they try to hold me secure who love me in this world. But it is otherwise with thy love which is greater than theirs, and thou keepest me free.
Lest I forget them they never venture to leave me alone. But day passes by after day and thou art not seen.
If I call not thee in my prayers, if I keep not thee in my heart, thy love for me still waits for my love.
I meditated for a while after reading it a few times. And finally I settled on a thought. This poem fits Gandhiji’s life very well. I could imagine him thinking about an independent India while the country while the country was reeling under British rule and going through a turmoil among its own people searching for an identity.
Thinking as a person during that time: The masses love him because he felt their pain and dedicates his time, efforts and every breath to uplift the common poor Indian. But some Indians oppose him, specially disagreeing with his non-violent peaceful methods and the idea of all people living under one roof. But he thinks about them too and accepts the love they have for their motherland. Maybe they do not agree with him on some things but still love him for his devotion to the cause. He would think about their love, for him and for the nation. Their love sets him free from fear and prejudice. But he knows that the nation waits for his love, no matter what. Love is worship, dedication and work. And they expect from him and wait for his love. And history is witness that he did not disappoint. He showered them with love. He did not discriminate. He did not tire. He did not relent. He only loved. And you cannot love something that you do not believe in; he believed in freedom of every human being.
When I wrote earlier about people not knowing and relating with our freedom fighters, this was an important point to consider. Maybe they do not feel the love in a way that people did before. The kind that makes you free. Maybe today people are less free than they were before.
This poem made me think about those hard times, about the challenges that Gandhiji faced. Gurudev (Tagore) would have thought about such things while composing such beautiful lines. His poetry is simple but thought provoking and I wanted to share this gem with you all on this day when we remember our martyrs who laid down their lives not only on the battlefields, but also speaking to the masses through their literary works. Today is a good day to remember all such freedom fighters, defense personnel who have laid their lives on the borders and people like Rabindranath Tagore who force us to think, make us feel deeply and introspect ourselves. My respects to the heroes.
P.S.: There is another poem that I read today. Number 61. More on that in another post.