Independence day evokes memories of outsized displays of patriotic fervour for me, from loudspeakers blasting a medley of songs centred around watan, desh, and bharat, to the upright posture of bodies staring at a flag fluttering happily, oblivious to the demand for stationarity. Dignitaries ranging from the Prime Minister (on TV) to the Secretary of my housing society (on podium) delivered eloquent and evocative speeches, after which sweets were distributed. My expectations on my first 4th of July in the US were primed by these memories, amplified by the usual trope of Americans being “patriots”. They were summarily dashed by the complete lack of any significant marker except for a damp squib of a firework display barely better than the one that my housing society puts up for Diwali. So much for American patriotism, I thought.
But then on deeper reflection, I realized that there is a significant difference in the two countries that I’m not accounting for here. The US is a nation at its absolute prime, secure in the knowledge (belief?) that it is in many ways the best. Its current identity is far removed from whatever state it existed in two hundred or so years ago, having had enough time and success to mature. India, on the other hand, still suffers from the insecurity and ailments that it did seventy years ago. We are still a nation of former glory and wounded pride. Of filthy riches and pathetic poverty. Of terrific potential always tantalizingly just out of reach. Our outsized displays of patriotism are not meant to convince anyone else about our greatness – they are meant as a plea to ourselves to continue to believe in it.