Whenever we celebrate Independence Day, a wreath is always laid by the Prime Minister at the plinth of the Unknown Soldier at India Gate early in the morning. Remarks by some crazy politicians aside, we, as a nation pay tribute to those whose sacrifices have kept the nation together. Don’t think that I’ve become all patriotic and nationalistic as 15th August approaches. Nope, it is neither that nor have I been drinking too much of Anchorman’s Gatorade (who doubles as a supremely arrogant fear-mongering loudmouth – or whatever the opposite of mild-mannered gawky reporter is – when not saving us from the clutches of Swine Flu/Somali Pirates/Obama/Random Chinese bloggers/Barkha Dutt/Rajdeep Sardesai – his terminal weakness being Pakistani journalists who can shout him down). I genuinely feel that our soldiers get a rather poor lot. Defence deals are invariably cloaked in secrecy and involve Swiss Bank accounts.
Five years ago, thanks to a close friend I ended up travelling to the Allied graveyard at Monte Cassino, the site of one of the most ferocious battles of the Italian campaign. The one thing that awestruck me were the number of Indian names. Soldiers who died fighting a war in a strange country, against a enemy who wasn’t their enemy, and for a cause they didn’t know themselves – Freedom. Tens of thousands of our soldiers fought and died across Europe. But the other day, during one of my Wikipedia diversions (where I just surf from article to article on the site rather randomly, it is great fun, well I think so any which way) I came across an interesting article of the East African campaign. And guess what, thousands of young men, contemporaries of my grandfathers I guess, died in Africa in wars that made next to no sense. On an aside, the BCCI logo looks suspiciously like a Raj hangover - you decide.
What is weird is that the Australians and New Zealanders remember their war dead of the World Wars as ANZAC Day. The Brits wear poppies on their collars around Rememberance Sunday. We get away with the occasional wreath. Even wars fought after independence get forgotten – in all the brouhaha about random Chinese bloggers, we all forget India’s darkest hour (well, not including the time that VP Singh and Chandrashekhar bankrupted us) – 1962. The war that is never mentioned – the History and Civics textbooks of my time spoke at length about 1965 and 1971 and I guess books of the future will talk of 1999, but 1962 – despite Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon - is a war that we like to forget. Well, I guess it is obvious.
Here is my simple point. We celebrate three national holidays and have holidays celebrating most religions to advertise our secular credentials, but why on earth don't we, a country that has lost so many in Wars and a country that still loses far too many every year fighting the fires lit by the politics of inequity, why don't we celebrate our soldiers? I'm sure the average Indian soldier will bristle at the thought of having a dry day declared in their honour (could there be a bigger travesty?). But as people take advantage of the long weekend and I stare blankly into a computer monitor endlessly editing and fine-tuning my story, this is just a thought I had.
PS: Its I-Day, I'm allowed a post like this, and anyway I did make fun of Anchorman. Though he actually does it himself. Hey and if you're in the media and don't have a long weekend like your Civvie friends, I salute you too! I just hope you stocked up on booze yesterday. As for me, I'm giving my liver a rest.