Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The Soul of a Nation
This was triggered by a comment from a friend. We were talking about patriotism (more on that later), and I was trying to explain my point of view that patriotism does not lie too high on my list of virtues. It’s a personal issue, and I am not for once claiming that I am not confused about the subject, like most things in life, the issue of patriotism too is one about which I veer unpredictably. However, my point is that patriotism has a tendency to place walls and fences on universal virtues like love, kindness and respect. As part of my argument, I claimed that patriotism is a fleeting virtue. A man in Karachi would be a patriot if he loved India and was willing to give his life for the country on 14th August 1947. A day later he could hold the same views and be labeled a traitor. I said that India as we know it didn’t even exist up until the British united the large landmass so that it would be convenient to govern. This was when my friend said something that made me stop and think. He said that the soul existed. The soul of the nation.
The soul of the nation. What is, after all the soul of a nation? Can a nation even HAVE a soul? And at the end of the day, what IS a soul? It’s a very ill defined concept, or maybe it’s just been defined too many times, in too many ways, by too many different people for there to be any kind of consensus. As a person who constantly hovers between atheism and agnosticism, I don’t really put much stock in the whole eternal soul concept; I don’t believe there is anything that transcends the lifespan into eternity. To me, if there is a soul, if there is something that can be called by that name it is more akin to the glow of a lamp, something that just flickers out of existence when extinguished, but when it is there, defines the lamp far beyond its physical components. In fact, I have seen the bodies of dead men and women and that’s just what they remind me of –lamps without the light of life. From living creatures to objects, shells - cold, hard and unfamiliar.
So what is soul then? I guess the word closest to defining it in my book would be personality. Those little things, those thoughts, those movements, those quirks, the way you wrinkle your facial muscles and move your hands, the way you talk, walk, sit, concentrate, the way you ooze life and living in every step and every breath, they way you display fear, hunger, pain, joy, glory, envy, and all the hundred shades of human emotions in-between….all of them. They are all parts of your soul. The unique mix of DNA, society, upbringing and a hundred other factors that go into making you YOU, beyond the eyes and nose and lips… that is the soul.
So what then, is the soul of a country? Especially a country like India? If we had to compare this nation to a person we would have the most schizophrenic, multiple-personality-disorder affected, paranoid psychopath outside of a Batman villain in our hands. India is possibly unique in the history of the human race in the sheer and frankly scary amount of diversity bubbling within its borders. However, unlike that mythical personification of the nation, it survives. And here’s my take on it.
It survives because it DOESN’T have a soul. Not A soul. No, it has a more than a billion souls, each throbbing to its unique beat and rhythm, each attuned to the ones around it , forming links and connections, spreading out into a symphony that reaches the nation’s borders and keeps going, keeps growing, changing and diversifying but still somewhere connected to each other until it envelopes the world, the entire globe in a crescendo that we call humanity. There are strong links and weak links, tight connections and loose, and some of the souls want to shatter and sunder the chain because of reasons of their own, and reasons planted by people who want there to be walls. But at the end of the day, the web still holds tight, simply because there are more people who believe in unity and harmony than there are not. The soul of a nation does not work for me, simply because I feel it is a limiting, constricting concept, and also because people are not slaves to geography and politics. A nation is necessary, for safety, for security, for a place to call home, but for me, there are only two souls, the personal which makes me who I am, and the other, of which I am part of as a member of the human race.