Thursday, February 14, 2008

Awards overdue

It was a shame that the UPA government did not confer a Bharat Ratna this year (again), making it the seventh year in running that the award hasn't been given. In my opinion, and the opinion of several like-minded, smart individuals, the award HAS to be given to Sri R K Laxman. Nothing more needs to be said about it.

As far as knighthood and the Nobel go, I can't think of anyone other than Prof Richard Dawkins of Oxford University (who holds the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University) for his work in evolutionary biology and his endeavour to make science, and evolution and Darwinian natural selection in particular, easy to understand, and he has now become the face of the atheist movement.

Even if the establishment takes forever to confer at least the knighthood on you, in my eyes, and the eyes of many, you already are a knight, Sir Richard, and we the humble, the rational and the humane, salute thee.

Friday, February 01, 2008

To stand or not to stand

Another Republic Day, and again, as always, I was glued to the TV set watching the parade with awe and a little lump in my throat (I always wanted to join the Army, but an injury to my leg prevented me from doing so). What was different this time around was the a woman commander-in-chief took the salute at the parade (and she saluted pretty well, I must say, compared to some of the lame ducks we had before, like Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma). As always, as soon as the Prez unfurled the national flag, the national anthem played and as always, I stood, in spite of being in the comfort of my living room. No big deal I thought, the constitution requires me to do it, and just as it gives me a lot of freedom, this little deed it asks of me was such a trivial matter I didn't even think of it as a deed.

The following week I was watching 'We the people' on NDTV, where the topic for discussion revolved around what actually constituted insult and/or disrespect to the country's symbols. It arose from the controversy generated by Sania Mirza (she's making this a habit now), who happened to keep her feet on a table next to the national flag which was on the table. Inevitably, some extremely jobless petitioner happened to notice this and filed a suit in a local court against her. The discussion on the show later moved away from this and questioned the need to stand during the hoisting of the national flag and singing of the national anthem. I had never really thought about this, as to whether we actually show disrespect to the country by sitting down during the hoisting of the national flag or singing of the national anthem. To me, it seemed (and still does) that a rule in the constitution was there for a purpose and wasn't meant to be broken, plain and simple. Well, I guess not, at least not anymore.

There happens to be a large section of our urban, semi urban and political population, who seem very comfortable using the phrase 'my right', extremely chummy with the idea of bandying about their 'rights', without really understanding that the rights a citizen enjoys in a country is but in fact something that the country has provided them with, a tribute to the country and hence demands that the person shows respect and gratitude to the country and it's symbols (in this case the flag and the anthem). Sure, the national flag and anthem would not make a sad face if you didn't stand up, and they wouldn't even let you know about it in private, but isn't that besides the point.

A prime argument the 'opposition to standing' crowd cite is that just because some bureaucrat mentioned it while framing the constitution doesn't mean we actually need to do it to show respect. Huh? Well, then after you finish reading this article, when you hit the road, starting driving on the right side of the road (like in the USA) because why should you drive on the left side just because the British introduced the system in India. Seriously, at times, arguments are made for the sake of putting up an argument (and invariably this ends up in showing the person as a complete fool).

Ask any of our soldiers who guard our borders in the extreme heat of Rajasthan or the frigid heights of Siachen and they'll tell you that the flag and the anthem mean a lot to them, and not standing up during a flag hoisting or rendition of the national anthem is an insult to the sacrifice made by them to protect these symbols. Ask them if they would want every Indian to stand during the national anthem and you will get a unanimous reply in the affirmative. If as a nation we cannot heed to this simple, selfless request from the men and women who guard our country's frontiers with their lives, a request that doesn't take more than a minute from us (no money, no taxes, no blood), what kind of a society are we? Do it, if not for the sake of the nation, for the sake of those who guard us and make it possible for you to go about clamoring that you have the right not to stand. Let's not bring in politics or religion or any other mundane excuse we can find which is quite clearly just for the sake of opposing the system (which seems to have become a fashionable way to get noticed). For once, put a leash on your tongue when it comes to jabbering about about your rights, and stand up the next time the national anthem is played, even if it's on TV.
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