This time, I am writing this column from a small city called Kiel in Northeast Germany. I have come here as a guest for the city’s annual festival. My lecture is about the future of human languages. During the journey, in my flight from Dubai to Hamburg, I was engrossed in writing my lecture when I suddenly noticed that the lady in the next seat was trying to draw my attention. Her name, as I learnt, was Kubra Mostafiq. She was 85 years in age. She said that she could not resist talking since she thought I was from India. I confirmed that indeed I am from India. She said that at one time in her life, she had spent ten years in India and cannot forget the friendship and affection she received from our countrymen during those years.
Of course, her story was not just that. She is a Pashto, originally from Afghanistan. During the occupation of her country, first by Russia and then by America, she lost her husband. Having no other means to support herself and her four children, she had to seek help from the UN forces. They re-located her to India. Her children grew up here. It is not as if everything was fine during her years in India. She recalls times of communal riots and the aftermath of demolition of the Babri Masjid. Later, her children moved to Australia. So did she. I asked her what it was in particular that made her think of India as a great country. Pat came her answer, “Love and Peace.” I wanted to understand her better. She told me, “Indians do no hate outsiders. They do not hate each other. They do not indulge in violence. They respect Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals.” She added with joy, “During my school days, I used to read Persian translations of books by Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. They taught me courage and tolerance.”
Nations become great by creating an atmosphere where thinkers, scientists, artists, singers, writers and citizens can live in peace and talk to each other and the world in the language of love
Our conversation was short. My flight to Hamburg was long; but after that conversation, I could not return to my work on my lecture notes. I wondered if she had seen any Indian news channel in recent years, whether she was aware that an eminent newspaper editor had been shot dead only a few days ago, whether anyone had told her that mob-lynching has started replacing court trial as a method of justice. Being outside India, I could not tell her that unfortunately Jawaharlal Nehru has been made to look like a self-serving tyrant. I could not tell her that ‘love’ has been replaced by a wide spread hatred in our public discourse and social relations. I could not tell her that ‘peace’ is made to look like an outdated commodity and war mongering a sign of patriotism.
Indeed, when one thinks of the outside world’s view of India, one notices that, despite India’s poverty and economic time-lag, it is our ideals such as peace, tolerance and love that the world admires. It is Buddha and Gandhi who makes us special. It is our writers, now widely read in many countries, our cinema viewed by audiences all over the world, our sportspersons in tennis, chess and cricket who bring a good name to our country. Nations do not become great by creating a false and unfounded pride in the minds of the citizens. Such pride often results in hatred and strife. Nations become great by creating an atmosphere where thinkers, scientists, artists, singers, writers and citizens can live in peace and talk to each other and the world in the language of love. These really can be called good nationalists. Those who promote hatred and demean the stature of our country in the eyes of the outside world should be seen as anti-national. We need to think of this.
(GN Devy is a literary critic and a cultural activist)