‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Old times are still a-flying
And the same flowers that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.’ –
Robert Herrick (To the virgins, to make much of time)
The restlessness of being stuck in traffic worsened by the glaring stare of the afternoon sultry sun ,is a pathetic state to be in. I look outside the taxi’s window and it is a spectacle of buzzing life. The zeal of the pre-Independence Day is shown by hawkers who sell flags gazing at passers-by as though they would be doing the nation a favour by buying their miniature wares; children waving them frantically; cars mounting them behind their wind-screens, and music blaring out from buildings, like a clarion call, beckoning everyone to pay attention to the sentiment of patriotism.
At home too, the surge of patriotic sentiment does come alive during Independence Day, even if only for a few hours. It is represented in the breaks we take form our household chores to give the nation the respect it deserves. That respect is the glueing of our eyeballs to the screen as we try and catch the Independence Day Parade.
Patriotsm, or a variant of it is manifested in biased passing comments, such as, “where else can you find such vibrancy, tell me?” and “Modi is progressive, see how the temporary pinch has gained us long term relief?”
There are also the generic and annualy-reproduced statemets of how governance has failed or succeeded to live up to the visions of the county’s great fathers.
No sooner than our attention span meanders away from the televison screen than we realise that the household chores are still undone. The house has to be maintained,children have to study for good grades. And rarely is much thought given to the umbilical chord that binds us to Mother India.
But amidst all these visual manifestations, there is always a deeper tension of finding out, “Am I really independent or do I just follow the throng in the popular belief system?” Independence means different things to different people, of course, be in the freedom of expression or the freedom to marry anyone or to be a non-conformist without fear of being ridiculed or even lynched.
For me, the idea of independence is continuously moulded with my age and womanness. As a twenty-four year old Khasi millenial, I do wonder if I am living up to what the country expects of me.
Independence means self governance of a country, which in turn would mean self governance at the household level and at the individual level. We all have ethics to live by, our duty towards the country, etc, etc.
Do we really act on it, even if no one is watching? For example, I speak against rape yet never did anything when I was confronted with it. A few years back, I had experienced what sitting in a taxi next to a pervert felt like. The fear and utter disgust that I encountered, was vile, despicable, and threatening. When he reached out his hand to touch me, I was paralyzed with fear; I could neither move nor speak. I know that I should have glared at him, asked for help, anything. I could have complained, but yet, I did nothing.
Then, like a second and third kick to the gut, I realised that letting him go off the hook so easily was a mistake; as horrendous as letting loose a sexual predator.
The realisation was magnified when my sister became victim to an identical situation. It was the same perpetrator.
The fact that I did not do anything had its repercussions in the form of the fear that she developed. The fear of walking alone in the streets even during the day.
This is what I have come to know as the ‘Spectator Syndrome’ .It is what makes us sit back, and do nothing. We wait for someone else to voice our concerns, to stand up for our rights, to fix the mess. We do not realize that in that process, we are partly responsible for the harm done to others. Harm that could otherwise have been prevented.
Experiences such as mine and my sister’s are two of numerous examples when we should have spoken out and confronted the situation but for a number of reasons did not. It is my hope that if Independence Day is supposed to be any basis for freedom and independence, vigilance and confrontation of the wrong that we encounter daily need to be high on our priorities.
Author: Karen Lyndem
Karen Lyndem is a Staff Writer. She has a B.A in English and a Masters of Social Work from St. Edmund’s College, Shillong.