Tag Archives: Nationalism

Songs of Nations

The Tale of Kings, Rajkahini, (2015), has a song of warning. And its warning is meant to rise above the complex dialectic of opinions on why audiences will listen to it and why they should not.

Some will say, with painstaking accuracy, that the song ‘Bharot bhagyo bidhaata’ is not the Indian National Anthem. The Anthem is comprised of the few lines of Rabindranath Tagore’s original poem, this song in the film is the rest of the poem. Artistes will stress they are producing culture, Bengal, music, Tagore, mela-mesha, aman ki asha, tolerance, even warning, and certainly they are not promoting nationalism. India is not their focus, Bengal is, Bangladesh is. What will be heard of their fine distinction?

Some will listen and be roused by the familiar notes of an anthem they had forgotten to sing, and then felt forbidden to sing (it is surely too parochial, too unmodern, too jingoistic to sing for a nation whose structure gives you the mediocre benefits of its citizenship) and all in conjunction with the faces and names of singers and actors they admire.

Some will be moved to tears by the beauty of the words and the symbolism of the music, in which they will hear longing and belonging to a home, see memories of a fair place, a distant ‘city on a hill,’  and remember a time before the intensification of religious and ethnic tensions in the subcontinent. They won’t stand to attention and salute a flag or a symbol, but they will feel the pull of love and longing for the spaces they call ‘bharot’ in the same place in their hearts where they keep all songs of lost innocence. Nation, god and fate are powerful words to put into any memory, any song.

And some others will see a critique of nations. They will see the blood and corpses that built the wall of the Partition of Bengal in 1947, and will warn the masses that such are nations. At least, such are nations whose boundaries were drawn by modern colonizers, and that is why, they will say, we must seek to re-draw those lines to suit better the nations and tribes and kingdoms and dreams we had before the world entered the age of nations. We need to re-order and keep re-ordering our world for the ‘better.’ Let’s start with the concept of ‘India.’

This is a time of confronting the nation, accepting it or rejecting it, a time of denunciations, and a time for the making of art about it. A time when nationalist sentiment roused by wayward echoes of anthems can be denounced as negative, and people can be taught what to think of the fate of the land beneath their feet. They will be taught to choose against whatever primal defense they will be roused to by the echoes of the Anthem. And many will do so. This is still a safe time.

Some others, good audiences, will see a warning of what happens when too many divided peoples begin to fight for what they want with axe and gun and knife. Perhaps they think that films and scenes such as these will tell people to turn away from militant nationalism.

I think yet some others will look at the path to a separate nation, will see it made possible by a bridge of corpses, and will think they can pay the price and do it.

Nation, god and fate are powerful words to put into any memory, any song.


Accusations of Belonging I

Because I have been accused of patriotism, I remember and quote Binyavanga Wainaina. He says it so well:
Our national spirit is in a coma
BINYAVANGA WAINAINA: CONTINENTAL DRIFT – May 28 2009 06:00

“Patrick Henry, a prominent figure in the American Revolution, known and remembered for his ‘Give me Liberty, or give me Death’ speech, once said: “‘It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts … For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst, and to provide for it.’

“How long shall we continue dreaming of a great and glorious Kenya? Isn’t it time we accept the painful truth and provide for it!!

“The republic is dead, my good people, the republic is dead!”

What kind of Gikuyu are you? This question has been circling around and inside me for many years. Especially now. Kenyan’s fate is uncertain, and people are running around looking to firm up their certainties.

Not a Gikuyu at all, is one possible answer to this question. If we want to get all nativist. I do not speak the language. My mother’s family was not Gikuyu. I did not vote for Kibaki. In Kenya, of course, this means that I voted for Raila — because it turns out that we have become black and white. The truth is that I fled to Lamu and listened to the 2007 election on the radio, feeling too nauseous about the tone of public rhetoric to vote.

In the MeMe Post-Modern world it turns out I have a lot of options. I am a field of identities picking here and there: I can be a whole Gikuyu, be a Kenyan, be an internet conspiracy theorist called Bob from Iowa. I am a Gikuyu because I say I am, a national school Gikuyu, who spent much time in good state schools with the children of professionals from many tribes. I am a Gikuyu because I read Decolonising the Mind when I was 17, and at the time it seemed to have been written as a very special admonishment to me personally.

According to Gikuyu cultural law, I am a Gikuyu, whether or not I want to be one. My father is Gikuyu, and so I am Gikuyu.

To find this ethnic certainty is to seek a kind of insanity. Confused and cosmopolitan elites “discover” their “true selves”, partly on the back of grievance: perceived or real. These elites have come to believe that the larger cosmopolitan state as presently constituted cannot represent their desires and hopes, their dreams and ambitions.

Now we have on the internet a new fever of self-searching. Often sober and thoughtful, these conversations are already being drowned by the primal scream of those who want absolute certainties. If the tens of thousands of Gikuyu refugees in Kenya remain in camps, this is an open wound. If they look like refugees, they are refugees, they are not “internally displaced people”. It means that there are other nations in Kenya who are hidden from the Constitution, and who unite to decide that we are not of them. We heard this said, by members of the opposition, that the elections were a battle of 43 tribes against one. This became the unifying moment in the ODM election campaign in 2007.

So, the ethnic nationalists say, if this is the case, this pretence by you, Binyavanga, yes you, that you can be all fluid and undecided, it is a betrayal. You have to choose. Your true nation.

There is more, our lost brother, Binyavanga, some of them say. There are those of us who seek our secret history. For we are Jews, yes, Jews. We came from Israel, we are Kabbalah, we ruled Axum. Our origins are Cushitic. We are biblical people. We need our Canaan. We are in pain, in villages across Gikuyuland, Binyavanga; Gikuyu are butchering Gikuyu as our directionlessness sinks us even further and faster.

There is no time to think about it, Binyavanga Wainaina, they say, come across and join this certainty, for it is certain and you shall sleep well.
There is such a thing as a spirit of a nation, the intangible thing that animates all action and policy. Our national spirit is in a coma. We cannot pretend anymore that our crisis is about “governance” and “corruption”. Or an election.

I know that I have no tolerance for a Kenya made up of Luos or Gikuyus or Somalis or Gujaratis who cannot examine their own role in our crisis. What I am sick of, what I hate even more than I hate our corrupt politicians, is these defensive intelligentsia — from all our communities — who seek to save “their people” by only pointing fingers at the others. This attempt to make an unnatural nobility of the self turns the rest of Kenya into beasts, and has only one possible conclusion. It will not lead to noble self-determination, no Gikuyu Canaan or Majimbo Nation. It will lead to the kind of bloodshed that does not stop, that cannot think, that will only end when the fever is exhausted.

We are not done with the violent tests to our common nationhood. I keep telling myself that on the side of this seemingly irresistible surge towards a grim end, there must be some immovable good, a force for us all, that we cannot yet see, that grows with every dark act, something from the hearts of citizens, and not the games of leaders, or the secret desires of the vengeful.

Source: Mail & Guardian Online Web Address: http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-05-28-our-national-spirit-is-in-a-coma
2 of 4    6/7/09 3:56 PM


Our own holy things

On nationalisms, and other gods

We imagine our origins and our gods above and beyond us, building with the partitions of our selves the means of our own happiness and sorrow. These are the “Archimedean points” from which we move our worlds, so precious to us that we are willing to pollute our Ganges to wash away the stains from our dreams. Nothing discredits our cherished dreams, nothing is rendered unusable. We might speak in parentheses sometimes, but the dreams endure tenaciously in the middle, between ideals and any resistance to them. We condemn what we must and shift our borders of purity, assert what we can, but our hearts hold close their own holy things and anoint them with clay-myrrh. The vast freedom of our personal gods.

“And no one will ever know / whether the picture he saw clearly

as in a mirror was pre-determined / by his discipline and study

of old lore and by his innate capacity / for transcribing and translating

the difficult secret symbols,  / no one will ever know how it happened

…whether it was a sort of spiritual optical-illusion

…no one would ever know / if it could be proved mathematically

…that he saw

(or thought he saw) as in a mirror

…No one will know exactly how it came about, / but we are permitted to wonder

if it had possibly something to do / with the vow he had made–”

[from H.D.’s  “The Flowering of the Rod” Trilogy (40)-(41).]


Love

makes no sense to the thirsting mind.

 

She has my heart. My love. What is this, this love of a place? A place of birth, an arbitrary nation, a land torn and tumultuous, troubled in prediction, anomalous in progress? Is it distance? What is this tearing anger and grief of a place not yet real? So hard to meet childhood’s end? Will I mourn the child I will give birth to in the same way, remembering what I parted from in the moment of birth? This body and soil, bound in the same way, body and soul, leave the reasoning mind ungentled, free, and it escapes its prison for a freedom enticing to itself. Is peace the marriage of disparate yearnings, then? Is it marriage, union? Harmony? Meeting? Peace will be acceptance of this willing halter, and the abdication of doubt. Where shall I put this love, this welling? How shall I hide it from the mocking, grown-up world? A child must have playthings, and adults their respite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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