Nations and individuals have one thing in common — the image, and all that comes along with it. Finally it boils down to how you reinvent yourself — as a nation or as an individual (or as a company, or a religion …). The same image (or if you prefer a more academic term, identity) that makes a nation or an individual can potentially break it. And lot of times, the image is the result of serendipity, like almost everything in life.
This introspection was started by an innocuous, well-meaning, comment by a blogger friend on a short story that I posted on my blog recently. She was glad that it wasn’t another “cynical love story”. That got me thinking: how many of my last, say ten, attempts at fiction qualify as cynical love stories? I came up with the figure of zero. But long back, long long back actually, when I had just started blogging, I had written one, a very cynical one at that. That was my first real attempt at fiction. Before that I used to write non-fiction and scribble poems at times. But this story, written as half-kidding attempt at fiction, has defined me in ways I could never have dreamed of. Serendipity is a powerful thing.
How does that work for nations? Do nations get defined, too, by the accidents of their births, or the political inclinations of their founding fathers, or the broad brush paintings by the international media… But of course they do. What about India then? What is India’s image?
Like Individuals, nations to have many images, of course. So India might be the bullying big brother in the subcontinent, a righteous fence sitter in the UN, a democratic free-market economy for the international investors, an exotic and ancient culture for the west… And really, it wouldn’t be fun without so many images.
As in individual, it’s interesting exercise thinking about oneself. How does one see oneself? Is it a single image? The alter-ego sees us differently than the, for the lack of better word, real ego. With a nation of billions, with tens of religions and languages, with hundreds of dialects, with hundreds of socio-political ideologies, with uncountable castes and sub-castes, it’s so much more difficult to say what exactly the internal image of our country is.
A day before I got a scrap on orkut that asked me to put the Indian flag’s image as my profile image for today. It was from a young cousin, who belongs to a new generation, and I am touched by the enthusiasm, the optimism, the beliefism, for the lack of better word again (for what is the opposite of cynicism?). But… but … but! There is always a but, with me, I know. But when a flag, a static, unchanging symbol of, a dynamic, even self-contradicting, entity, becomes the symbol of unity, my cynicism pushes out its snobbish head, and starts asking impertinent questions, like: have we reduced to a jingoistic, symbolic nationalism, that too bi-annual? Do we want uniform flags to represent us, or let our diversity represent itself in acts and deeds?
Individuals and countries (and corporations, and religions…) need to reinvent themselves perpetually: both internally, and externally. May be, while my cynical generation (an accidental identity again?) sits dismisses, the next generation will redefine India – as the nation of go-getters, where the pop-nationalism plays its parts too, right as I’m writing it off. Individuals and nations are good at surprising us.
PS: As I named the piece “I-Day” I realized that the title’s kind of too apt.