Sunday, January 27, 2013

Requiem for a Republic

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

One of our favourite national pastimes is to invite people into our home and put all of our best wares on display. Whether they’re material or human, doesn’t matter. We’ll brag about whatever makes us feel superior to our guests. Oh, the chair you’re sitting on smells of cheese and body odour because it’s an original Louis XV. No off-the-rack mass market furniture for us, please! Yes, that chunk of drywall proudly residing on the mantelpiece used to be a part of the Berlin Wall. I’m so embarrassed you saw that picture of me with the Dalai Lama. No, I don’t like to talk about our ‘close friendship’ that is why I put the picture on display where everyone can see it. And now, for dessert, I’m going to spend the next half hour trying to coax my four year old child to recite all the passages from Shakespeare I made him learn while your shitty child just sits there playing with his own spit.

We do that collectively as a country when we invite a leader from a foreign country as the ‘chief guest’ to witness our Republic Day parade. Oh that little thing? We picked it up while on a shopping excursion in Russia. Yeah, you see, we like our fighter planes like we like our politicians: old, decrypt and of no use to anyone. Those pencil-shaped missiles - pointed towards you for some reason - are from last quarter's Sears Ballistic Missiles Catalogue. Those large guns you saw at the entrance were an impulse purchase. We bought them after the Swiss offered us a ten percent ‘cash back offer.’ No you’re not crazy! That smell of glue is coming from those tanks passing by right now. We made them ourselves, using nothing else besides hard work, ingenuity and lots of papier-mâché.

At least all the cultural floats participating in the parade are a truthful representation of the country. Did you see them yesterday? They were awesome! The parade began with the float from Chandigarh, which consisted of college students shouting the f-word at each other, representing that city’s contribution to our reality show heritage. The float from Rajasthan had a beautiful replica of an ancient fort under whose shade two children who hadn’t even achieved puberty yet were getting married. The Travel Ministry float showcased its dedication to tourism by letting a few unsuspecting members of the chief guest’s delegation fleeced by touts. The north-east was well represented by the float from Mizoram which had six hundred men with goatees playing the guitar. The float from Chhattisgarh was simply an appeal from its government asking you to hire its citizens to paint your house. The actors in the float from Delhi had no idea what they were supposed to represent because all of them had bribed their way onto the float. This wasn’t a problem for the political party activists in the float from Maharashtra because all they had to do was pelt stones at the float from Bihar. Everyone appreciated the edgy float from Goa which depicted a couple of mobsters’ wives snorting cocaine. There was just one awkward moment in the whole parade when everyone realised that in lieu of sending an actual float, West Bengal had sent their chief minister to shout at all the dignitaries.

Unfortunately, some floats were conspicuous by their absence. There was no float from Haryana because the idea for the float was killed as soon as it was conceptualized. The UP float was kidnapped by ‘dacoits close to the administration’ and is now the feature performer in a seedy bar in Kanpur. The float from Assam was erroneously deported to China. The Andhra Pradesh float went nowhere because both its drivers couldn’t decide on a common route. The float from Kerala was the first to arrive at India Gate but was still not able to participate in the parade because it stopped at the entrance and was handing out tea and ‘light snacks’ to the spectators throughout the festivities.

On Republic Day, we celebrate the official adoption of our constitution. A constitution is perhaps the most important document in the life of a Republic. Being part of a Republic is like being part of an arranged marriage. You get grandfathered into making this huge commitment with someone you don’t know anything about and you spend the rest of your life being passive aggressive towards them. And even though the sex is sad, awkward and unenjoyable, you still stay together, not because you want to but because all the better options are already taken and you’re too old to find someone new anyway.

A republic’s strength does not lie in its symbols. Nor does it lie in the number of weapons it has. It lies in the ability of that republic to tolerate dissent, to have arguments without resorting to violence and to creating a safe environment for all of its citizens. A strong republic doesn’t need constant validation from its peers. A strong republic strives to create equal opportunities for all its citizens. A strong republic realizes that denying even a single person their freedom enslaves the whole country.

Most importantly, a strong republic doesn’t celebrate the anniversary of its foundation with a dry day.

Hey, if you don’t believe me, ask the constitution.

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