She sat on the kitchen platform, legs dangling over the edge. I moved about putting dishes away and generally pottering around.
“Mamma,” she said suddenly, “Do you know what I want to become when I grow up?”
I looked at her serious seven year old face. I was as used to these sudden questions as I was used to her silences when she pondered and turned things over in her mind.
“What do you want to become?” I asked
“A patriot!” she announced gleefully!
“And what will you do when you become a patriot?” I smiled at her innocent enthusiasm.
“When there is a war, I will become a soldier and fight for my country. Then I will win medals and tell everyone that I am a patriot.”
“And what kind of wars are you going to fight?”
She looked at me in confusion, “What do you mean mamma? I will go up in the aeroplane and throw bombs on our enemies.”
“And who are these enemies?” I prodded.
“All those people who want to take our country away from us. I will shoot them and I will kill them and then our country will be safe.”
“And where do these enemies live?” I was surprised at her thoughts because this was something we had never talked about before and I was sure neither had my husband.
“In foreign countries like Pakistan and China.”
“Sweetheart,” I said now, “do you know that there is also another way to be a patriot? And that a lot of our enemies live in India itself?”
Her eyes rounded with wonder as she thought about it. “Really?” she asked. “Who are the enemies who live in the country?”
“People who do not bother about keeping the country clean. People who hurt other people because they belong to another religion or caste. People who do not allow children to go to school. People who make fun of people just because they are different from us. People who are cruel to animals. People who destroy the environment by cutting trees and forests.”
“But how can I kill all of them?” she sounded really upset.
I hugged her. My poor innocent baby. “Darling, you don’t have to kill them. In fact I hope you never ever kill anyone!”
“Then how can I become a patriot?”
“You can become a patriot by loving your country. And by loving every single living thing in your country. Be kind to people, animals, plants, the earth. Don’t refuse to make friends with someone just because he or she is a Muslim, or Christian or Hindu or any other religion. Don’t make fun of those who are poor. Treat them with the same respect you would treat the Prime Minister because that is what democracy is all about, everyone being equal.”
She sat in deep thought for some time. Then she wriggled down from her perch and said, “Okay, I am going now.”
“Where are you off to?”
“I am going to become a patriot. I don’t have to wait till I am grown up to become one no?”
“No, you can start right now.”
“Okay. So I am going to start right now. I am going to clear up my room.”