Swara Bhaskar on Bollywood Bole Toh: Patriotism and prejudice
After watching The Sword Of Tipu Sultan, I developed hatred for the British
Love is a complex emotion, especially patriotism or the love of one's country. Sometimes, patriotism is most potently expressed by hate. The easiest, most unthinking, perhaps even instinctive expression of the love of one's land and people is hating another country, community or people. I know this first-hand!
When I was seven, my life was overtaken by a new TV show on Doordarshan – The Sword Of Tipu Sultan. The historical drama, starring Sanjay Khan as the braveheart Tipu, portrayed the life and times of the 18th century ruler of Mysore. A significant part of the drama featured Tipu and his father Haider Ali's struggles against colonial British domination.
I was obsessed. I wouldn't blink while watching the show. I waited all week for it and spent hours daydreaming about living in that time and fighting the British. I became a passionate anti-colonial activist, albeit about four-and-a-half decades late!
Also, I developed an intense hatred for the British. At first, it was a hatred of all white people. I announced this to my Nani. "Nani, I have decided something."
"I hate all white people," I declared.
"Achha…" Now, my nani was not particularly politically inclined nor was she one for political correctness, but she was a practical woman – if ever there was one!
"Par tumhare Joe uncle bhi toh white hain. Tum unko bhi hate karogi?"
"Oh!" Joe uncle was the American husband of my youngest masi. They had got married a year ago and Joe uncle was the nicest. He was always smiling, had twinkling grey eyes and always read the Archie Comic Digests I brought to him – in a bid to make him feel at home in his new Indian family. Every time a grown-up shooed me away, Joe uncle said, 'It's okay' and read the comics. And he laughed at jokes I told him, which I knew he didn't find funny. My seven-year-old's mind had sworn allegiance to Joe uncle.
This new resolution to hate all white people was presenting a family crisis to me.
Nani intervened in the turbulent emotional labyrinth that was my seven-year-old mind. "Achhaa, tum white logon ko kaahey hate karti ho?"
"Kyunki unhoney India ko gulaam banaayaa tha. Aur woh Tipu Sultan ko hate kartey hain." We were midway through the series then and I didn't know how the ruler's life would end.
"Arre, ooh toh angrezon ne hamey gulaam banaayaa tha – Joe toh Amrikan hain," she pointed out.
"Angrez matlab white?"
"Angrez maaney Britisher. Amrikan maaney American. Dono white hota hai."
That's it! Problem solved. I resolved to hate all British, henceforth.
In Delhi of the early nineties, surrounded by North Indian relatives and population in general, I didn't really see many British people, let alone whites. So, my resolution found no expression.
Weeks later, The Sword Of Tipu Sultan aired its final episode. Actor Sanjay Khan playing Tipu died a heroic death in battle, fighting the conniving British. I cried through the episode and all night long.
The next weekend, my parents were hosting an old family friend and her husband for dinner. I was made to wear a nice frock. My brother and I were fed dinner a bit early, and told we could stay up and say hello to the guests.
The bell rang, and entered Aabhaa aunty ... and a tall beaming white man! My mother hugged them and turned to us.
"Swara, Abu – this is Aabhaa aunty. And this is Bill uncle, her husband. Say hello." She turned to them and said, "So, how was London?"
The seven-year-old me knew London was the capital of Britain - the birthplace of the hateful British!
"Well, hello!" beamed Uncle Bill, stepping forward. I was bristling with righteous rage at the memory of Tipu Sultan's death. I jumped onto a chair and screamed, "I hate you! I hate you!"
"Swara!" gasped my mother.
"Why?" asked said poor Bill, genuinely stunned. "What did I do?"
"You killed Tipu Sultan!" I said and began to sob.
The adults began to laugh. I was scooped up, and lectured about history and generalisation and the perils of blaming an entire people for the ills of some. And made to apologise to Bill, and put to bed.
Tuning into the political discourse of the country today and in the week of India's Independence Day, I remember this precious childhood lesson, wondering at how easily adults forget it.
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