Growing up in the 1960’s and seventies, I fell in love with my country over many little things. Those long train journeys watching lush green fields, rivers & forests go past, waving at strangers who smiled back, studying in schools in different towns and cities across many states, making new friends and experiencing the warmth of our people despite differences of language, religion & way of life.

Fast forward to 2020. Much has changed since and yet some things remain just the same. Feeling ‘at home’ no matter where we go, thanks to the warmth of people we meet for the first time, remains just the same. Distances seem much shorter and hardworking people who once migrated for work are able to experience the thrill of a flight home, while their children are getting the education they themselves were denied.

On the negative side, more engagement happens on Social Media than in homes and neighbourhoods. More worrying is a negative air and anger that seems to overtake the natural cheer and brotherhood that bonds us all as Indians.

Change is inevitable and taking things in our stride needs patience and strength. This year has been among the most challenging ones for India with extensive protests, enemies threatening our borders and since March, the Covid 19 pandemic. Citizen engagement and participation in dealing with the pandemic has been a huge plus. Also many sane voices are emerging in the influential melée of blame and shame by those with divisive agendas.

It is time for us all to reflect on how our country’s long and hard-fought for Independence has been defended and protected since 1947 by young blood. Seventy-three years, four wars and countless battles since, soldiers who paid the price of our freedom finally have a brick each in the majestic National War Memorial in our Capital city. One of them has my son’s name on it.

The last house up the narrow path of a village on a hill near Nagrota, J&K belongs to Rifleman Sohan Lal’s old parents. When we met them to pay tributes and asked if there was any help they needed, the braveheart’s father kept his tired eyes on a bundle of dry wood which he tied with shrivelled hands and then hauled onto his stooping shoulders. The frail mother of the soldier from Assam Rifles pulled her frayed shawl closer to stop shivering and repeated one sentence again and again. ‘Beta desh ke liye sab kuch chod gaya. Bus mere bete ka naam yaad rahe….yahaan uske liye hum ek smarak bana sakein’ (My son gave up everything for the nation. All I wish for is that his name is not forgotten. In his honour, we want to build a small memorial outside our home’).

In the midst of last year’s Kargil Vijay Diwas commemoration, mother of well-known hero Capt Anuj Nayyar MVC made an appeal on social media. ‘Can I request someone to please clean the signboard on the road named after Anuj? It hurts to see my son’s name covered with dirt and neglect. Please help…. I will pay for its cleaning’.

As a patriot, I sometimes worry. Do we truly value the freedom we enjoy in independent India? In the past year we saw our soldiers led by the bravest of braves in Galwan giving the Chinese a lesson with single minded determination and we felt pride. Do we realise the immense courage, commitment & sacrifices of those who defend our freedom? If we do, why do we allow short sighted, self-centered, hungry for power, break-India forces cloud our minds and create bitterness in our hearts? Can we not rise above divisive agendas? Or do we want to pull each other down to prove ourselves stronger, better and superior?

I refuse to be labeled, grouped or cornered. Every negative experience makes me reflect on all the positive engagements happening across our great nation, because individuals and groups are taking responsibility to go beyond self-centered lives. From corona warriors to concerned citizens reaching out to help, support and appreciate, we see how actions and not reactions matter. Although our young people’s lives have been disrupted in terms of education, employment and relationships, I strongly feel that they will emerge more aware, united, resilient and focused on doing good for India and the world. This too shall pass.

We as nation builders have a job to do. The choices we make today will shape the future for ourselves and for generations to come. Are we going to allow challenging times to break our spirit to contribute to our country or will we take this as an opportunity to do our bit by steering ahead of muddied waters?

In a gathering that represented the magnificent diversity of our motherland soon after the Pulwama terror attack, everyone wanted to do their best to help families of our 40 martyrs. Many questions were asked about the possibility of border tensions escalating to war. ‘We want peace but war is always a possibility if the enemy attacks’ I said and added, ‘if there is war, our soldiers will defend us. But are we citizens willing to stand in support of our country and accept tough times like food shortages etc. or will be crib and blame?’ Even people with disability came up to me to convey their feelings of love and unity. ‘If war breaks out, we may not be able to fight for our country… but we will make whatever sacrifices are needed. Please guide us to volunteer our services wherever they can be utilised’.

What more is needed to keep faith in our country and its people? Independence Day greetings to one and all. Jai Hind.



Meghna Girish’s son Major Akshay Girish was killed in action leading the quick reaction team (QRT) to counter a Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) terror attack in Nagrota (Jammu and Kashmir) on 29th November 2016.