The phrase “Wear your heart on your sleeve” is an English phrase implying showing our intimate and deepest emotions in an open and honest manner. The origins of this phrase dating back to the Middle Ages is probably to the “sleeve” which referred to a piece of armour for covering and protecting the arm.
When participating in a joust or a duel, knights would often dedicate their performance to a lady of the court. In a gesture of chivalry and affection, they would therefore wear something that belonged to her, such as a scarf or ribbon, around their sleeve of armour, which indicated to the spectators which lady the knight favoured.
For forty one years in uniform in the service of the nation (that is a little more than two third of my existence), the national flag has been the most venerable object for me. I am sure it must have been for thousands others as well who have followed similar paths whether in uniform or in the civil world.
Every year, the hoisting and unfurling of the national flag has been a revered moment to swell our hearts with pride. In that one moment of salutation, I would somehow forget about what our country was and what it could have been. The portmanteau of thoughts always centred around what more could I do to have greater pride in the flag in front of me. But for some reason, the desire to wear my patriotic thoughts on my sleeve never crossed my mind all this time.
For want of a better mascot, the political parties this time decided to take out the cards from ‘up their sleeves’ and tap into the resident emotive value of the national flag. After all, it was the seventy-fifth anniversary of our independence. One wonders what is so special about seventy five? After all, is it not just another number in the counting book? “Is my life going to be any different a year before or a year later”, the thought crosses.
Well so be it. We all need reasons to rejoice and forget our ailing once in a while. That is what festivals are meant for. Accordingly, the clarion call came from the highest quarters that a flag should be seen outside every home. Riding on a governmental missive, a concerned organization which was first off the block, took this huge initiative to make the flags available to all and sundry.
As the sunset approaches, I can see the hired Innova van mounted with three large flags doing the rounds in the nearby colony, crying patriotic songs hoarse over a set of sore-throated speakers and distributing free flags to every household. The motivated machinery at work to make it happen is a sight to see.
And lo behold! I find the sacred harbinger of my patriotism and loyalty being suddenly transformed nationwide into an epitome of jingoistic nationalism.
Not to be outdone and trying to steal a bit of the thunder from the originals, the party in the Capital also installed close to 500 flags all over the capital from their ‘Deshbhakti’ budget. The idea was that you should be able to see a prominent national flag wherever you may be standing in Delhi. I understand similar efforts were on in some other states as well.
Incidentally, the cost of each of these monumental flags is approximately 30-50 lakhs Rupees with a recurring cost of about 5-10 lakhs every year. How I wish, the same expenditure (approximately Rs 150 crores for Delhi alone) could have been devoted towards creating and maintaining 150 world-class toilets all over the Capital city.
But I guess I am wrong. Clean toilets or pot-hole free roads do not provide hope of a better tomorrow; fluttering flags probably do.
A political analyst explained to me his theory that this flag campaign (physical as well as digital) is probably one of the biggest master-strokes of all times. In one go, the political masters who have conceived this ingenious campaign will be able to determine the political inclinations and affiliations of each household without speaking to any person from the residence. They will therefore know which groups to target and make appropriate mid-course corrections as a run-up to the next general elections. Someone comments, “Big Daddy’s Big Data at work”.
This hypothesises may be true or not but there is very little an ordinary citizen can do if his national flag is hijacked to become a touchstone, symbolic of his loyalty to the nation or the lack of it. At the end of the day it will be event over, job done and political mileage received in the currency of votes.
Back to the Innova which has halted momentarily at the traffic light. An empty used bottle of water is chucked out from the left rear window. The driver opens his door and hurriedly spits out the betel juice from his mouth on the road. Without waiting for the light to go green, he has a quick look either side and drives on unabashedly. He has targets to meet.
I am cringing inside with my heart bleeding with flagging faith, thinking of the possible ungainly aftermath of the event. How many of these flags will find their way to dustbins, chewed by stray cattle or disposed off in some other irresponsible fashion? Whatever will happen to the ultimate honour and decorum of the flag for which we were supposed to die for in battle?
The Innova has stopped at a cluster of shacks outside the colony, probably occupied by migrant labourers. A volunteer steps out and waves at the old lady moving towards her hovel. Forlorn with wrinkled brows, a worn out saree and a bit of hunch back she must be over seventy-five.
Shouts our man, “Amma, tum bhi rashtriya dwaj le lo. Free me mil raha hai.” (Old lady, you also take a national flag. We are distributing it for free.)
“Mai kya karungi iska beta.” (Son, what will I do with it?)
“Jhopdi per lagao. Akhir Aazadi ka Mahotsav hai.” (Put it outside your shack. After all, it is the festival of independence).
As Amma walks away to rustle up her dinner, she turns back and dismisses him smilingly with folded hands,
“Rehne do beta. Dil me umang to her din Diwali!”
(Spare me son. When there is joy in the heart, then everyday is a festival!)
Searching and discovering newer ways to be joyful,
Postscript : A patriot loves his country and takes pride in what right it does with a touch of pragmatic optimism whereas a nationalist loves his country and is arrogantly proud of his country no matter what it does.
I wonder if it is the blurriness of the dividing line or my myopia which is making it difficult for me to make a distinction.
First published at seekmediation.com on 13 Aug 22.
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