India will celebrate the 60th anniversary of her Independence this year, two days from now, on August 15. Sixty years ago the Union Jack came down from the top of Red Fort, and the tricolor shimmied up the pole, heralding that famous tryst with destiny, drenched in the bloodbath of Partition. [(Youtube) I've heard that crackly recording so many times. Gives me goose-bumps every time.]
This is the third year in a row that I've been in India over Independence Day. This year seems a bit more special, mainly because there's retrospectives and analyses and stories (and I-Day sales) everywhere for the big six-o. On the streets the beggars at the traffic lights are hawking paper flags and plastic dash-top ones. These ones, I am pretty certain, are not (unlike similar things I've purchased in the US), made in China.
The headlines right now are dominated by the devastating floods in the northeast (and in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and parts of Gujarat too.), which have killed over 2000 people, and have affected some twenty million and, yet again, have exposed just how the callous Indian state fails so spectacularly in its basic duties. The Pope has appealed for international aid. The bigger culprits seem to be a near complete lack of planning by the authorities, infrastructure that has just disappeared, lack of coordination. And it's not yet over. This story from Sunday's Indian Express introduces us to one village which is now an island, and the lives of its residents in the past few weeks.
The other big story is the fate of the 123 Agreement (as it's being called hear), the historic India-US nuclear deal. And more than that, the fate of the government hangs in the balance. The Left parties, which support the coaliting government from outside, have made increasingly threatening noises opposing the deal (and thus, ironically, putting themselves in the same camp as their arch-rivals, the right-wing BJP! But irony is completely lost on India's politicians.) The Prime Minister has called their bluff: we're not budging. If that means you try and topple the government, so be it. This afternoon, I flipped the idiot-box on, and there was Dr. Manmonhan Singh valiantly addressing the Lower House, completely drowned out by idiots from the Left who were standing across the rotunda from him, shouting slogans. It was spectacularly absurd. Shekhar Gupta takes the Left to task in the Indian Express.
What a bizarre reality is India. As part of that small, Westernized, urban, English-speaking elite (and part of the even smaller subset in the diaspora), I feel like such a firang at times. Well, I am, of cousre, in so many ways. Still, this is desh. Native land.