On the occasion of India’s Independence Day, Learning and Creativity presents a special short story by Ramendra Kumar on the true essence of patriotism.
“Nanaji, what is patriotism?” asked Ajit.
“It means going to jail like Gandhiji and Chacha Nehru or dying for your country like Bhagat Singh,” explained his sister Naina.
“Yes Naina, you are right. But it also means a lot more. To be a patriot one need not die or go to jail. One can show one’s love for one’s country in many small ways,” Nanaji said.
“By loving its culture and its people. Do you remember Ajit, on 26th after the Republic Day Parade a tune was being played?”
“Yes Nanaji, as soon as the tune started you stood and continued standing till the end.”
“Do you know what the tune was?”
“I know, Nanaji,” Naina said. “It was our national anthem – Jana gana mana…”
“Good. But do you know why I got up and stood to attention?”
“No, Nanaji. Why?”
“As a mark of respect to the national anthem. And unfortunately I was the only one to do so. Your father continued to read the paper and your mother went on with her conversation on the phone. Earlier in the cinema halls, at the end of the movie, the national anthem was played. But it was found that the people used to leave the hall midway, laughing, shouting and creating a racket. The Government then decided to stop the playing of the national anthem. The reason why I gave you this example is to explain to you that a person’s patriotism can be reflected in simple day to day things like his respect for his language, his nation’s anthem or flag and above all the love for his fellow countrymen.”
“Nanaji, I still don’t understand. I thought patriotism was all about dying for one’s country or making a big sacrifice.”
“Yes Naina, you are right. It is about big things but also little ones too. And remember, it is not the battlefield alone which produces patriots. In the battlefield of life too you will find many martyrs. Okay, let me tell you a story which will help you understand better.”
“Yahoo! Nanaji. Tell me a story about dragons and dinosaurs,” shouted Ajit.
“No Ajit, I’ll tell you a story about real people and their real problems. But not today; this Sunday I’ll take you for a picnic to a small village around 100 KM from here. We’ll spend the day there and return by night.”
On Sunday Nanaji, Naina and Ajit started very early on their ‘picnic’. They took the first train to the village Himapet.
Two and half hours later they found themselves at a tiny and rather dusty railway station. They got down and stepped outside. A large well built man wearing a white dhoti and kurta and sporting a huge turban greeted them with folded hands.
He led them to a bullock cart and much to Ajit’s delight lifted and placed him on the cart. The cart trundled on for almost an hour till they finally reached the village. They alighted in front of a large brick house. An elderly man and woman came out, greeted Nanaji and fussed over the kids. They spoke in a dialect which Naina and Ajit found difficult to understand.
An hour later, after they had their breakfast Nanaji took them to a huge peepal tree where there was a platform. They sat down and Nanaji started his story.
Around ten years ago there was a young man whose name was Akash. He was studying to be a doctor. After he completed his MBBS he worked hard and won a scholarship to USA. He got his masters degree and decided to come back. Along with him ten of his friends had also gone for higher studies to America. They all stayed back but Akash returned. Akash’s father was not very happy with his son’s decision. He was very proud that his son had got a foreign degree. He wanted his son to make America his home, earn a lot of money and finally invite his parents and sister also to settle down in America. But Akash was adamant. “My country has spent lakhs of rupees in educating me. I have to repay this debt. The only way I can do it is by serving the people here. And moreover, India and its villages need good doctors far more than rich countries like America.”
“What finally happened Nanaji? Did Akash come back to India?”
“Yes child, he did. In the beginning he worked in a Government Hospital in the city. A year later an epidemic broke out in the nearby villages. When Akash learnt about that he just packed his bags and left. He didn’t even inform his parents.”
“Why?” asked Ajit.
“Because they would have stopped him, silly. I have read that during epidemics, sometimes the doctors who are treating the patients also die,” Naina said.
“Yes, Naina is right. Anyway, a week later Akash’s father got a postcard from him saying that he was busy treating the patients and that the situation was very grim. However, Akash did not mention where exactly he was fearing that his father would land up and try to drag him back. Two weeks later his father received a phone call saying that Akash had been admitted in the City Hospital in a serious condition.
His parents rushed to see him. He was in a very bad state. He could barely speak.
“Why are you torturing yourself, as well as us, son?” His father asked him while his mother started sobbing.
“I… I… can’t help it father. I can’t bear to see people suffer.”
“Your friends are enjoying life in America, earning pots of money and look at you here – fighting for your life. I can’t understand what you are getting by doing all this. If you don’t care about yourself at least spare a thought for your poor mother. Just see her condition. She has gone half mad worrying about you.”
“Father, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to convince you about my actions. All I can say is that I have the satisfaction that I have been able to save so many lives. Forgive me if I have tortured you. But… but please try to understand that I could not help it. I can’t watch people dying all around me and not do anything.”
After battling for a month Akash died in his mother’s arms.
The entire village was there at his cremation and there was not even one eye which was dry.
The villagers decided to pay homage to Akash. They launched a drive to collect donations for building a small hospital in the village. They approached the local MLA who agreed to organise a hefty donation thinking that the hospital would be named after him. However, the villagers were adamant. They took the money, built the hospital and called Akash’s parents for the opening ceremony. Akash’s father inaugurated the hospital.
“Come, I want to show you something,” Nanaji said and taking their hands in his he led them to a building a few hundred meters behind the peepal tree.”
They stopped in front of a blue board.
“Naina, please read what is written.”
“Akash Memorial Hospital – In memory of Dr. Akash Rai, who saved this village from death.”
Naina looked at her grandfather. Nanaji’s eyes were wet with tears.
“Nanaji, Akash Rai, but your surname is also Rai… was he your… ?”
“Yes, my child, he was my son. Your mother’s elder brother. As a professor of Philosophy I always thought I knew everything about everything. But my son taught me the true essence of the term ‘service’ and the real meaning of the word ‘patriotism’.”
(The doctor’s picture used in this story is from the film Anandashram (1977) in which a highly qualified doctor decides to spend his whole life treating poor patients in a village and eventually motivates his foreign-educated doctor son to do likewise)
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