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It took me a prolonged period of time to understand what Independence Day actually meant. As an NRI, I don’t think you fully learn to appreciate Indian history – in any sense, pre-colonial, and post-colonial, unless you study in an Indian school – and I wasn’t one of those NRI kids.

My History lessons focused on personalities – I ended up learning about the lives of Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Napoleon, and so on, while slowly picking up the context and constructing a timeline around when they were born. It helped me understand a bit of how the world developed. I thought I’d have to work significantly harder after moving back to India, but my school ended up teaching me Ancienct Greek and Roman History, and not much about India per se. After which I dropped History altogether.

Essentially, for an extended period I was ignorant about the circumstances that caused a day like “Independence Day” to be “celebrated”. What was worse, was that coming from the UAE, you celebrate “National Day”, which is sort of like a Foundation Day where each Emirate leader decided to come together and put aside their differences. It seems pretty peaceful to a kid. No revolutions, very little bloodshed in the process. Just a commonality of vision.

And, for a very, very long time, I felt that most countries were “birthed” the same way, so to speak.

That began to change when I slowly figured out how ignorant I really was. I couldn’t identify national leaders, couldn’t identify my own national identity. Today, I’ve learnt to scoff and understand that I find the “nationalism” business (it is a business to me) a little overrated. But when I was in 11th, I found it really confusing. Especially having lived here for 4 years (at the time) – I didn’t understand why exactly I couldn’t identify with these things.

So, I read. Which seemed like the only answer to the confusion in my head. I think my mum was equal parts confused, equal parts proud because I started picking up heavy non-fiction books around 12th especially.

My reading solved very little, initially, to be very frank. Yeah, sure, I now had a more concrete timeline of events, but not much else.

To me, Independence Day was still this day flag hoisting happened, I sung my national anthem, ate some sweets, and then went home to watch “Gandhi” (the Ben Kingsley movie), because of course, that was one of the only English movies every single channel would choose to run. My other picks were either Swades or Chak De! India.

Exemplars of the national spirit.

But other fond memories I associated with Independence Day were things like visiting my grandmother’s old college – because I used to inevitably be in India everytime on Independence Day. I’d fight with them about what to wear, because all I wanted to wear was something comfortable. (That I had worn 109482 times on the trip already.)

Anyway, I digress.

Today, I’ve learnt Independence Day has become this day of over-enthusiasm. Over-enthusiasm both in terms of “patriotism” and in terms of the criticism people choose to establish against the country. It’s this mass day where one half of the population believes it’s the best day to tell India exactly what remains to be achieved, while the other half of the populace believes nobody should tell India how to live her life.

And that’s the problem, for me.

I think experiences like nationalism and patriotism and these concepts are things that occur differently to different people. A country is an identity that is thrust upon you when you are born – and you choose to embrace it (or not) as you grow and change. It shouldn’t be something that is forced, nor something that is given a singular direction. No one group or community should ideally be allowed to dictate how a person chooses to celebrate his or her identity.

And this is true across all forms of identity – not exclusive to Independence Day.

I know that sounds supremely idealistic, but it’s what my brain believes.

The crucial thing to remember however, is that History has taught us the identity of a few national leaders – so much so that we often forget the others who participated in the Independence struggle, and what their stories are. Rani Gaidinliu is an excellent example (thank you, 3000.)

On Independence Day, it’s a useful reminder that a lot of people had to fight for our freedom from colonial rule.

And a useful reminder that there are certain freedoms guaranteed to us as a result.

How you choose to celebrate and find your national identity is something unique to you. Just try not to hurt people in the process, is all.

Additionally, on Independence Day, it’s probably useful to remember that being a colony had lots of pros and cons. India would’ve been very different without the Brits – and recognizing that has helped me in some ways. Maybe it’d help you too.

Happy Independence Day, folks.

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