INDIA: A Muslim man lighting the funeral pyre of a Hindu friend as the deceased’s family helplessly watched on a mobile phone screen, from a locked-down city. Sikh youths running ‘Oxygen Langars‘ by creating facilities on the gurdwara premises for people to walk in and utilise the oxygen on offer for free. Doctors and nurses selflessly putting themselves in danger and death in the line of duty. The heartbreaking story of a doctor dying by suicide, unable to bear the trauma of his patients. Gut-wrenching scenes from makeshift crematoriums and burial grounds where total strangers pitch in to help bereaved families. Stories abound of selfless acts of kindness that provide a real peek into what makes us truly Indian.
With hope as a strategy, luck as a pre-ordained factor, puffed up Indian infallibility to disease, and misplaced value of Jugaad (setting), we have unleashed the biggest humanitarian crisis since partition on ourselves. The full intensity of what is transpiring is not yet internalized by us. Future generations, indeed, the younger ones even now, will ridicule and hold us responsible for our false nationalism, political jingoism, chest-thumping and sheer ineptitude as we prematurely hailed a new India. These will not bring back the dead and will not provide solace to the surviving. It was like putting a cherry on dung and assuming it had turned to cake.
For the minority liberals shouted down by the adrenaline-charged hordes of the educated and uneducated new political elite, there is a sense of inevitability. We have chosen many ineffective leaders in our history, but none as criminally accountable as now. We are collectively responsible for whichever side we voted for. We have let ourselves and our future generations down. Demonetization did not sensitize us to the pain of the poor, GST implementation to the cruel closure of SME’s, neither did mass scale selling of national assets to the newly minted billionaires tug at our conscience. Hijacking of every constitutional office was lustily cheered as a necessary step to build a new India that was going to take its rightful dominant place in the world order, ruled by a single religious majority whose past oppression was justification for a new order.
No logic, no common sense, no rationality, or parallels to similar phases in other countries’ histories that had led to their devastation and ruin, would be tolerated. Whether it was your dining table at home, office, or society; you were either with them or an anti-national minority appeasing liberal. Terms not found in the very constitution, our elected leaders were meant to uphold. The same leaders who we chose to change our future, busied themselves changing the past by rewriting history books and renaming cities as nature stamped our future consciousness for posterity, with the pandemic. Their contempt for public good overtaken by vanity as they build grand physical monuments of their folly as hundreds die gasping. Ignoring expert opinion for over a year on the need to ramp up medical infrastructure and facilities. But this is not the time to reflect on our failings. Our rage can wait, but our praise should not.
There is something about India that every Indian has ingrained in their psyche. A quality that has provided India the soft power over time immemorial and brought spiritual seekers to its shores. Our capacity for compassion, universal brotherhood, empathy, care, and love for humanity. These have been around for over 7000 years and thankfully do not change with recent rhetorical brainwashing. This India stands proud, as all around us we see stories of hope, courage, and strangers helping each other without expectation of any gratification. In hospitals, crematoriums, factories, and on streets; people have come together as never. An India that will survive and excel despite its political class, regardless of its ruling political party.
We need to cheer this India and these Indians. The minor acts of kindness that provide that ray of hope, that all is not lost. This is the India to nurture, the Indianness to cherish and amplify stories that reflect care rather than those that scare. This too will pass, albeit with immense horror and scarring to our souls, but save that for 2024. Now is the time to treasure that part of us that is truly Indian and worthy of leaving for future generations, Our Care.