Around August 15 every year, Indians tend to get more correct and prickly. The 15th is a precious day for us. We demand a salute to our state and status as a great independent nation. Any critique is summarily dismissed, often at the cost to our own understanding of the nation and its possibilities. Consider a recent event. It was the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan arrival in India. It marked a great moment for India. Jawaharlal Nehru, defying the Chinese, offers refuge to the Dalai Lama and lets him set up his government in exile. It was a moment of hospitality and generosity, a Nehruvian moment which one senses as lacking today in this time of the Rohingya crisis and the National Register of Citizens threatening to extern lakhs of people.
One must thank the Dalai Lama for his courage and the sheer relevance of his story. Exile along with spirituality makes his compassion more hard-headed. He is seeking imaginations beyond the current conventions of thought. There is a search for a realism which goes beyond the hard-hearted nationalism of today. He is suggesting that the national security state living on surveillance is too arid a concept. Compassion opens minds and opens us to the mind of the other. His was not a knee-jerk critique of Nehru, but he was imagining a Nehru beyond the current pantheons of Nehru ambushing history instead of being ambushed by it; a Nehru who could have jump-started an unbelievable era of history. We could have had an alternative polity which would have been an experiment in pluralistic federalism. All the Dalai Lama is suggesting is that a playful civilisation like India must not be a blinded nation state. He is opening us to ideas that are futuristic and lifesaving. I think India needs to remaster the art of listening, the acuteness of debate and discourse from our spiritual past. We need to listen to the Dalai Lama. He was not insulting us or our hospitality. In fact, he was repaying it with gratitude, with laughter and humour, with sincerity.