James Bond is also a patriot, though not sanskari

I read somewhere that in a movie with a patriotic theme, Manoj Kumar did not touch his heroine in any of the scenes. Perhaps it is one of those apocryphal stories but it sums up not only Kumar’s but the entire country’s attitude towards patriotism. And the attitude is problematic.

For it is premised on the belief that the country or the nation is something other than and above the people of the country, some metaphysical entity that has to be worshipped. In this context, it would be instructive to know what the great economist Milton Friedman said about former US president John F. Kennedy’s famous 1961 quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

Critiquing the quote in Capitalism and Freedom (1962), Friedman wrote:

“In a much quoted passage in his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.’ It is a striking sign of the temper of our times that the controversy about this passage centered on its origin and not its content.  Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society.”

“The paternalistic ‘what your country can do for you’ implies that government is the patron—the citizen, the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man’s belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, ‘what you can do for your country,’ implies that government is the master or deity—the citizen, the servant or votary.”

“To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not over and above them. He is proud of the common heritage and loyal to common traditions, but regards government as a means, an instrumentality—neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served. He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive.”

“The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather ‘What can I and my compatriots do through government’ to help us achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom?”

Unfortunately, Indian nationalists have always been keen in maintaining the nation-citizen duality; they regard the nation as a deity. This transforms patriotism into some sort of piety, worship; and you don’t mix carnal love with devotion for divinity. Hence Manoj or Bharat Kumar’s abjuration.

James Bond, however, is not inhibited by such constraints. Not many people have noticed that he is also a patriot, “Her Majesty’s loyal terrier,” as one of his opponents described him (Golden Eye). But his patriotism is not akin to that of Manoj Kumar and Sunny Deol; Bond doesn’t scream about his love of his country. In fact, he doesn’t express extreme emotions—no loud protestations, no big speeches extolling the virtues of his own country, no kutte kamine main tera khoon pee jaaunga, no crying, no smearing of soil on face.

Bond’s equanimity, however, doesn’t make him a lesser patriot or less tough. He doesn’t break during his 14-month stay in a North Korean prison (Die Another Day); he doesn’t yield in the face of dreadful torture and imminent castration (Casino Royale); in fact, he jokes with his tormenter, even teases him.

Despite such unflinching patriotism, Bond not only does not wear it on his sleeve but also considers his existence as an agent of the British government as a job, not some holy duty. He says so to an adversary (Tomorrow Never Dies).

Evidently, he also enjoys his job. And he doesn’t find any incongruity in simultaneously working for his country and making love to women. As he once said while disrobing a lady, “The things I do for England!” (You Only Live Twice)

The votaries of Hindutva will find it distasteful to know that James Bond is a true, patriotic karmayogi—unwavering in his love of his country, risking his life, liberty and limb in the line of duty, detached from and unmindful of the consequences of his actions. Well, not sanskari, but a great patriot nonetheless.