Has this ever happened to you? You are traveling on a long distance international flight and are staring outside the aircraft window, planet Earth is slowly trundling under you and you see a stunning vista of a vast desert or snow-capped mountains or a little town in a verdant valley. You think to yourself – what place/what country is that? Then, you turn to the little screen in front of your seat and switch on the “flight info” channel to look at the location of your aircraft on the world map. You see that its Algeria or Kazakhstan or Austria because the screen shows the digital aircraft flying over a conveniently penciled-in world map with borders and names of the countries. You are pleased with the recently acquired knowledge and you shift your gaze back to the scenery outside the window.
The point I am making (if it isn’t obvious), is that boundaries and nations are artificial and aren’t apparent when you look at the Earth from up above. Elementary, you think, and elementary it is. What I really want to say is that the creation of these artificial boundaries has led to the phenomenon of a) being attached to, b) identifying oneself, and c) subsequently taking pride in ones “nation”. This is commonly referred to as “nationalism”. It has been around as long as we have been marking the planet with “this nation” or “that kingdom”. I strongly believe that “nationalism” is an orthodox, divisive, and a regressive concept, an unnecessary by-product of the our race’s act of creating nations. You can very clearly draw parallels of nations and nationalistic beliefs to the creation of religions and religious beliefs. Both are equally divisive, equally unnecessary, and highly volatile when people from antagonistic beliefs (nationalistic or religious) get together.
From early childhood, we are told, nay – we are indoctrinated to be “of a nation” and to be “proud” of being from our nation. While this may seem innocuous, it actually instills a false sense of pride that somehow my nation is better than any other. Those of us who grew up in India would remember the countless recitations of “saare jahaan se accha hindustan humara” and “hum sab bharatiya ek hai“. I find it quite ironical that we are taught a lesson of unity on the foundation of divisiveness – as in “we are united as Indians”- subtext being – we are not united with the rest of the human beings who belong to other nations . In my opinion, such nationalistic indoctrination is no different from religious indoctrination of children. Don’t get me wrong, teaching children their heritage, their culture, their arts, is one thing, but teaching them that theirs is the “best” or “better” than anyone else’s in the world, is what I take objection with. This may sound like a “mountain out of a mole hill” issue, but it won’t take you long to go through any history book of the world to understand how nationalism has been used (along with religion) to wage many wars.
Of course, the extent to which one adheres to this nationalistic pride varies from person to person (just like how people vary on the scale of their religious beliefs/fanaticism). Regardless, of what the degree of ones nationalistic leaning is, it clouds the way we look at the world. Objectivity gets lost when pride takes over. I have seen seemingly open-minded, well-read, well-travelled people get agitated when they hear criticisms about their nation, regardless of how reasoned that criticism is. The roots of this irrational reaction can very well be traced to the early indoctrination of nationalism. Take this to an extreme and you can very well see how some individuals took (and continue to) full advantage of a mass hysteria of nationalism in their populations for their own egoistic conquests. Fanning nationalistic emotions are as easy as fueling religious sentiments and are time and again used by the ones in power for exercising control, wielding power, and vanquishing reasoned voices. I see it happening in my nation of birth (India) and my adopted nation (United States).
One may say that this world without boundaries is an idealistic, impractical, and a naive idea – and that’s a fair statement. But, for any naive and impractical idea to take root and thrive, all it takes is enough of us to believe in it. In my travels, I have come across people who share my view of the world, who are absolutely border-less and do not care what nationality I, or anyone else wears. So I believe, I am not alone in this romantic border-less view of the world. I am not very optimistic that we will realize this vision of the world, but for now I find solace in actively trying to propagate this idea (this blog post is one such active step). Trying to stay away from conversations which have nationalistic leanings and not associating myself with groups that are purely based on the basis of national origin or language is a passive way of dealing with this. What gives me most joy however is when interacting with the little ones – when I try to bring up the idea of belonging to the world and not to a certain nation – this notion summed up so beautifully in the Sanskrit shloka:
”अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसाम् | उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् || ”.
Loosely translated as : This one is a relative, the other one is a stranger, these are traits of a narrow mind; for those with an open mind, nothing less than the entire earth makes up their family.
I can only hope that this border-less idea of the world reaches critical mass in my lifetime and eventually all political and physical maps are rendered irrelevant. All we would be left is the natural and truthful beauty of a topographical map of the planet!
(Photo from NASA’s flickr feed)