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We Are Losing Sight Of What The Indian Tricolour Really Teaches Us

28/03/2016 11:56 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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An Indian man prepares to fold an Indian flag being made at a factory ahead of Independence Day in Ahmadabad, India, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015. India celebrates its Independence Day on August 15. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

Nationalism is in the air. Indian citizens are being challenged to prove their loyalty to India by shouting the right slogan. Is it 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai'? Or 'Jai Hind'? The next question will be whether it is disrespectful to the nation to be sitting when one is shouting it. Should one always stand up? And what about the position of one's arm?

All nations have national anthems and national flags, and citizens are required to respect them. India has a stirring anthem describing the diversity of the nation. It is disrespectful to be seated when the national anthem is played. Its words cannot be altered when it is sung, not even in a burst of poetic inspiration, for then it is no longer the national anthem. Citizens are not aware that the pace at which the national anthem must be played or sung is officially prescribed to maintain its stirring tempo. It must be completed in 58 seconds. Yet, we have a version of our national anthem by a medley of India's great musicians, in a slower rhythm, which takes much longer than the prescribed 58 seconds. This beautiful, albeit non-official version is even played on official occasions. So, are the singers of this song, who have created their own way to sing about the nation, anti-nationals? And what about the officials who allow this version to be sung?

Let us raise the national flag, but not just on poles above our institutions. Let us also unfurl it in our minds...

The law says that the national anthem and national flag must not be varied. The flag must be made of khadi cloth. The proportions of its stripes, the dyes and chromatic values of the colours, and even the thread count of the material are prescribed. The guidelines are covered under civil and criminal laws with fines and jail terms. One wonders how many proud nationalists on both sides--those advocating Bharat Mata Ki Jai as the official slogan, and those opposing them--realize they are being disrespectful of the nation by flying non-official versions of the Indian flag?

Flags, anthems, and slogans are only symbols. What they represent is what matters. Indian universities have been commanded to fly the national flag on a very high pole, ostensibly to make students better nationals. One hopes that the flag is made of the prescribed materials, and in the prescribed dimensions and colours, and does not dishonour the nation. More importantly, one wonders if the students and their teachers know the meaning of the flag.

When I was six years old I was sent to a boarding school by my parents who were refugees from Pakistan after the Partition of India. There, over 60 years ago, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, India's philosopher statesman, who became India's second President, explained to the young students the meaning of India's flag.

Dr. Radhakrishnan made an unforgettable impression on my young mind. There he stood before us, in his white dhoti and his white turban, and in his calm voice explained the beauty of our country and what our flag symbolized.

He explained to us:

"Bhagwa or the saffron colour denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work. The white in the centre is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct. The green shows our relation to the soil, our relation to the plant life here, on which all other life depends. The 'Ashoka Chakra' in the centre of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principle of those who work under this flag."

Then he raised his finger, and said:

"The wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it must move and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change."

Mahatma Gandhi is known as the Father of our Nation. His nationalism can never be doubted. He said:

"I do not want my house to be walled in all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible."

He also said:

"The golden rule of conduct is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall always see Truth in fragments and from different angles of vision".

Great centre of learning must promote diversity. They must not force students to learn only one view. And they must teach them to keep learning. Great centres of learning must teach the art of dialogue. They must teach students to listen deeply. They must enable students to see the lenses within their own minds - that make them see others as stereotypes, that shut out different ideas, and create biases in their minds.

When I listen to those who I have classified as 'them', who I do not consider 'us', and listen to their truths, and see the world through their eyes, I will become aware of many angles of vision through which truth can be seen. I will become aware of the lenses in my mind through which I unconsciously filter out realities that others see, and which have led me to believe that my view of the world is the only view. Through my lens, I may see the world coloured as saffron. Another through his lens may see the same world as mostly green. Thus, by listening deeply to others, I can learn about the limitations of my lenses, and I can broaden my vision, and see the beauty of the world in its entire range of rainbow colours.

[B]y listening deeply to others, I can learn about the limitations of my lenses, and I can broaden my vision, and see the beauty of the world in its entire range of rainbow colours.

Higher learning develops new lenses in one's mind. Higher learning enables one to clean the dust of dead habits of thought on one's lenses. The greater the learning, the wider becomes the angle of the lens in the mind. Wide angle lenses encompass many points of view. To build a great nation, we must shed monochromatic lenses through which we see only the saffron view or only the green view of the reality of India. We must come together in the middle of our flag, where many colours come together to form the white light of truth. And where, in the centre of the flag, is also the wheel of eternal change.

Let us raise the national flag, but not just on poles above our institutions. Let us also unfurl it in our minds, and let the winds of many cultures, and many points of view, blow through our great nation.

Arun Maira- Author of Remaking India: One Country, One Destiny and former Member Planning Commission.

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