India is independent, but we've thrown her to the lions -- bribe-loving, paan-chewing lions who sing Hakuna Matata, says Sanaya Dalal.
Have you ever thought about Independence Day when you're getting home from a ten-hour day at work, stuck behind a truck with loudspeakers blaring as revellers dance ahead and behind it, not giving a shit (pardon my French) that they're occupying the whole road and are in the way of an entire working class of people?
Drums roll, cymbals crash, looms of firecrackers are set off in deafening succession, drunk oglers stare you down and wolf whistles sound from every direction, as you pray for a sudden bolt of lightning to come crashing down from the skies and have them scurrying for cover.
Yeah, me too.
And then I slowly break into a grin, picturing it.
Sixty four years ago, the British Raj stopped treating us like second class citizens -- let me rephrase that, some of them still treat us like second class citizens, only they packed up their bags and left Indian shores to look down their noses at us from their home turf.
Just recently, a 57-year-old farmer from Gujarat made headlines by moving the British courts in a bid to migrate to the UK. According to him, the country's laws, which require immigrants to have a basic command of the English language are, ahem, brace yourself -- 'racist', 'discriminatory' and 'a breach of human rights'.
Said farmer has studied up to Class Eight and wants to settle in the UK with his wife, entitling him to benefits at the cost of the British taxpayer.
So basically, we kicked out the tyrants and now some of us are fighting tooth and nail to get into their backyard.
On a more personal note, I have heard of eight Indian students illegally rooming in a single bedroom apartment in Melbourne; of another Indian student in the UK secretly cooking in her home when it is expressly forbidden by the landlord so that the whole place (which is insulated, given the climate) smells like a curry puff; and a desi in America who has two televisions in the living room, both from the junkyard -- one screen delivers only the sound, the other only the picture. All true stories, cross my heart and hope to die.
So much for the citizens of 'Independent India', hmmm?
And for those of us who haven't secured the visa to a 'better life' and are still here, freedom is a real hoot. We have the liberty to piss in the streets, multiply like monkeys, take out processions and create massive traffic jams whenever we feel like it, proclaim bandhs and upset the whole economy if we're grouchy about something or just dig four poles into the ground, become squatters and then try to strong-arm the government into giving us free housing (as if it will!). But if you try buying a Valentine's Day card, God help you!
We've always prided ourselves as a moral, traditional society. It's the West that corrupts, with their high divorce rates, bikinis and hamburgers. And yet, we have enough aspirants scrambling for the four corners of the globe.
Once we're there, we work hard, try to raise our kids with 'Indian' values and dab at our eyes recalling the good old days back home. Walk into a Mr Patel's home in New Jersey and you'll probably be offered a seat on a dandiya sofa. Walk into a Mr Singh's and it'll be a Patiala peg. Anything Indian, or with an Indian connotation, is held sacred. Except India, of course -- why else would you leave?
India is independent, but we've thrown her to the lions -- bribe-loving, paan-chewing lions who sing Hakuna Matata. We like the Big Fat Indian Wedding and the Big Fat Indian Tandoori Chicken, but we prefer to forget the garbage-lined streets and the starving farmers.
Don't get me wrong -- I love my country. The sunset on the Ganges, the Taj Mahal, the buzzing, vibrant spirit of our cities... I've seen a homeless man share his one square meal of the day with a stray, a young boy in the street pray before he settles on the sidewalk that's his bed for the night, a little girl struggling to peer into a book by the light of a streetlamp. Cynical you may be, but these little snatches of life cannot fail to make an impression on you.
What I don't love is watching India run into the ground by corrupt millionaires and a people who don't give two hoots about it.
It's the government's job to see that that the money we pay as taxes is well-spent -- to better the life of those who need it most. So what do they do? They round up the poor from rural areas and have them brought to the cities in buses during election-time, giving them 10 bucks and a vada pao per vote. The rest of the year, let them starve -- that's preferable, as long as the votes are being reeled in.
Enforcing rules they don't like and which are for their own good isn't the way to get elected to office.
This, our 'Independent India' -- I wonder what fate awaits her six decades from now? I try not to think about it.
Sanaya Dalal is Chief Features Editor, Rediff.com