Some American (or maybe an insignificant non-American) once said, "Ask not what your country has done for you. Ask what you have done for your country."
Undoubtedly, a very noble thought, but rather outdated, in my humble opinion. I grew up in a middle class home, listening to patriotic songs on Aakashwani on Independence days and watching Republic day parades on Doordarshan. Those were the days, my friend, when I believed the propaganda and actually thought our country was progressing; that we were soon going to be a force to reckon with, that the west with all its perverted philosophies was spiralling downward towards its doom. Those were the sweet days when I was patriotic to the hilt, when I used to wake up at 3:45 in the morning to cheer the Indian hockey team (only to watch them get thrashed by the Dutch team); when I knew
that I was going to be a brilliant engineer when I grew up and would invent amazing devices which would be the final
proof of superiority of our intellect as a race; when I was innocent.
The point which I am laboriously trying to drive home, dear reader, is that a decade back I would have given up my life for the country without saying ouch. I didn't ask what my country did for me. The very thought never occurred to me. All that mattered was whether I was doing enough for the country.
The first time that I went to US, my company paid me a handsome salary in dollars. Despite spending lavishly on a tennis racket, numerous garments, gifts for every relative of mine ever conceived, flight tickets to San Francisco and Boston (and many other expenses which rather set back the amount of money I had intended to save before the trip, to cut a long account short), I managed to save upward of $3000. Most of my friends advised me to go the usual way and cash the exchange through some dubious havala dealer. But no, that would have been unethical
and deceitful towards mine motherland. How could
I? So I went to the newly launched ICICI bank where I had an account and exchanged dollars for rupees. Then, I went to State Bank of India and paid 30% of that money as advance tax (the money deposited in my bank was accountable as extra income). I walked out of the dilapidated SBI building with a crumpled piece of paper (receipt of advance tax paid) that the gruff government employee tossed in my general direction and, for a second, wondered whether people were actually squinting their eyes because of my halo. Not once did I feel that I had done something stupid.
That, as you astute observers rightly observed, is
innocence. I asked not what the country had done for me. I did something assuming it would make things better for some deserving souls (not knowing that the money probably went towards a corrupt official buying a motorbike for his son).
Would I still do that? Are you kidding me? No!
Not if God himself descended in front of me as I sipped my black coffee at Barista and persuaded me, or even threatened to smite me with weapons like Brahmastra or tazer.
I have decided to ask. Ask what I have done for the country. And what the country has done for me. Let's start with me, shall we?
- I've paid my taxes. All the time. Right to the last khota paisa. In fact, I didn't cash a tax refund cheque that the state sent to me (I was so surprised that they actually sent some money back that I wet my pants, I believe). I'm not saying I did that deliberately (forget cashing the cheque, not wetting the pants), but out of sheer laziness.
- I abide by the rules to a ridiculous extent. If I am the first vehicle at a red light and the entire population of India is waiting behind me, impatiently, for the light to turn green, I wouldn't jump the light even if there were no policemen in sight. Both times that I accidentally broke the light I paid due fines.
- I have (directly and indirectly) resisted the temptation to flee the sinking ship. I could have joined the rat race (actually I did, but eventually dropped out) and easily left the country. But I am still here, idiotically forcing myself to believe that the future is unbelievably bright.
- I am generating employment and revenue for the country which, as I mentioned earlier as well, I regularly pay taxes on.
Before we move to the country list, let me spell out my expectations. Since I pay my taxes, I expect good infrastructure, help from authorities and other benefits of this kind. Here is what the country has done for me.
- I live a kilometer away from my workplace. Even for such a short distance, there are not two consecutive meters of marked and well surfaced road. Municipal Corporation and other bodies keep digging the road up as and when they please. In fact, one of my greatest desires is to dress down someday, go to M G Road, and start digging the busiest intersection. I am sure nobody will question or stop me.
- I went out for some milkshake with my girlfriend (now my wife) around 11:00 p.m. once, and a bunch of drunks tried to get into a fight with us, and started hitting the car with their hands. There was a police jeep parked in front of our car and all cops were busy drinking milkshakes. I attracted their attention and urged them to intervene. Showing utmost responsibility and courage, the police jeep just fled the scene. So much for my taxes paying their salaries (nothing happened, thankfully, since the goons were too sloshed to do any damage and I just drove away from that place. They tried to chase my Zen in an auto. Fat chance!)
- MSEB, in the hallowed name of load shedding, cuts our power supply for three (yes, t-h-r-e-e) hours everyday. So much for my taxes going towards infrastructural development.
The list is endless and I could keep going, but you get the drift.
Verdict? I leave it to you, o revered visitor to my humble blog. I just wanted to vent some steam at your expense, so thank you for bearing with me.
Remember, ask not...