Vive la Republique

Today the government gave out its gallantry awards, and as the Malabar Hill-Cuffe Parade glitterati watched over their champagne and caviar, the Ashoka Chakra was awarded to the men who died defending them - Ombale, Karkare, Kamte, Salaskar, Sandeep U. and Gajendra Singh. They must have had tears in their eyes (or so I hope). And then NDTV proclaimed them the Indians of the year for 2008, as a crowning glory, for it was held by popular sms voting.

There were five more who got the Ashoka Chakra posthumously. Five more men who showed equal valour and equal lack of concern for their life while fighting India's wars for it -

Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma (Delhi Police)
Pramod Kumar Satapathy (Orissa Police)
R.P. Diengdoh (Meghalaya Police)
Jojan Thomas (Jat Regiment)
Bahadur Singh Bohra (Parachute Regiment)

Five men who were not voted Indians of the Year by popular sms voting.

I don't intend to explain why they died for this country, for that isn't the point of this blog. I just wonder why they died at all, when the event wasn't being covered live on TV.

That fateful November, some men died trying to prevent others from dying. There were cameras to record them, there were powerful corporate men in hotels piddling in their pants, threatened by the mad gunmen. And there were the frenzied millions who saw it all on television. These were the men who became heroes - because the media thought they died for them, because the suit-boot-wallahs thought they died for them, because the nationwide television audiences thought they died for them.

The men in my list weren't heroes. Most of our countrymen will see them tomorrow as passing mentions in the papers, for getting medals for god-knows-why. They died in some remote locations, where there were just a few poor chaps carrying on with what life throws at them, not sipping martinis in a South Mumbai cafe.

But their widows, their mothers, their fathers won't see them as passing mentions. As they cope with their tragedies, they'll know that some one remembered - the republic remembered them. It is this funny, democratic government, with its procedural whims and red-taped fancies that mints medals for its men in uniform, and gave them out proudly on the presidential dais for the whole world to see.

This republic doesn't build roads, it responds to pulled threads, it takes a long time making up its mind. A whole lot of our citizens would like it to disappear, replaced by a Hindu state or an Islamic one or a Communist one or anything but the current contrivance. Yet the damn thing survives, finishes sixty years, fights off wars and recessions, repays its debts, it holds on somehow. And so it will, for eternity. Because whether we admit it or not, it's made up of us, because everybody it's better than the paradise we imagine.

If someone died doing something worthwhile, and didn't get covered live on TV, nor had the rich hold candle-light vigils for him, nor had a hysteric populace put hoardings on every street corner, he still knows he can die in contentment. For this republic will ultimately commend him, known or unknown to its own people. And we shall see it as a passing mention in the papers, knowing that something right was done, something just was done. For us, by something we gave unto ourselves.

Vive la republique.


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