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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Idea of India


For an immigrant, dates acquire a special meaning (dates in a calendar, not dalliances). This will be the second Independence Day outside India for me.

Although, I don’t really feel that I’m actually out of India. In my building I don’t feel like I’m in Toronto. I feel like I’m in south Gujarat between Navsari and Vapi.

My mother was with me last week. She’s been in and out of India for the last two decades. She put it quite aptly when she said, “You can get out of India, but you can’t get India out of you.”

However, leaving India provides a perspective about India.

I'm reminded of Sunil Khilnani's Idea of India. It's a slim, solid and an interesting introduction to India; a brilliant treatise on the Nehruvian ideals that shaped India in the years immediately after the Independence and the Partition.

The book encapsulates all the big and small ideas that made India into a functioning democracy (although for many reasons it still fits John Kenneth Galbraith’s description of functioning anarchy), and sketches short profiles of all the people who made the transition from colonial rule to a robust democracy possible.

The one that stands out in the book is of PC Mahalanobis, the statistician who was persuaded by Nehru to be a member of the Planning Commission and then went on to form the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO).

The book provides an insight into why Nehru insisted on making India a secular democracy and not a theocratic state.

All nations have nation builders. What many nations lack are good historians.

Haroon Siddiqui's column in today's Toronto Star on Bill Davis is illustrates this point.

As a new immigrant, coming to terms with new realities of a new land and new people, one is so engrossed in the here and now that the need to understanding history takes a back seat.

That is why Siddiqui's column is important for someone like me. I got to know of Davis, who was the second longest serving premier of Ontario and helped changed Canada into a multicultural nation that it has become.

Image: Sunil Khilnani: http://im.rediff.com/news/2005/jan/19khilnani.jpg

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