Lest We Forget…

If you are one of those cynics that think patriotism is corny, please do not read any further. I make no apologies for a lot of things in life –  being proud of my roots is one of them. I do not wage arguments with the head for things that are ruled by the heart.

Yes, I left India over a decade ago. And I love Australia and will probably not move back anytime soon. I have learnt to never say never, because life is nothing if unpredictable. But this is not about me and my journey. You leave home one day, we all do. The ties that bind are the ties that keep you going. You do not love your mother any less because you moved out of your childhood home.

In another time and another place, the 15th of August meant getting up early and dressing in house-colours for a special day ahead. On most Independence days, the temperamental Indian rains washed away the carefully marked chalk lines on the school courtyard.  Brown rivulets crisscrossed the soccer grounds and the muddy footpaths that one had to navigate if you wanted to be at school by 8:00 AM. The air was damp, the school assembly hall leaked and if there had been a storm or a power failure the night before, the loud speakers that were supposed to blare the national anthem were reduced to a whimper. Shankar, the school peon was normally in charge of getting the flowers and garlands for the dignitaries and for the photos of the freedom fighters that resided on a ledge in the assembly hall. He almost always messed it up. The freedom fighters had bouquets placed under the ledge where they presided, the dignitaries spent the day with bright yellow chrysanthemums hanging from their necks. The speeches were usually the same – history does not lend itself to variety after a while.

After the speeches, a motley group of kids sang a bunch of patriotic songs and the day’s proceedings always ended with a loud and joyful whoop that was the national anthem. The teachers handed out sugar lollies and then shepherded the kids away so that the school could be cleaned up. You walked home through the same slush and rain. Every corner store worth its salt played a medley of patriotic numbers – the lyrics of which you knew even in your sleep. A friend usually turned up for a play later. You chased her around the garden even as the Prime Minister addressed the nation, even as the old freedom fighters association marched past your house with their tinny old brass band, even as black and white footage of the freedom struggle was replayed on TV. Every year, every Independence day, the nation was born again. More vignettes from the past were added to the list of birthday milestones, more plans for the future were made.

There is no sound made when a nation grows, when a nation fails, when a nation falters or when a nation surpasses itself.  Sometimes when the friend was getting ready to head back home, the TV would recap the horror that was the Jallianwala Bagh. You would watch wordlessly, a burning knot stuck midway in your throat, a tell-tale tear poised to give it away all. You did not know who these two dimensional black and white women were, the ones that jumped into a well even as General Dyer ordered for more ammunition. They are long gone, but their screams are still a silent echo in your collective memory. You will never truly know their horror, their final moments, the shackles that brought a people to its knees and did not allow them the luxury of primal grief – there can be no greater tragedy than losing your life premptively and therefore being robbed of the dignity of your death. You did not know this then, of course. And even today, all you have is a sepia clipping of a struggle that defined your past and therefore your future.

This is not so much a day for dissecting where we as a nation faltered. There is more to us than failed roads, bad infrastructure, an ailing moral compass and dizzy visions of the future. This is not a day of stock-take, this is a day of Thanksgiving. To those that walked before us, carving a path out of the woods so that the rest of us had a chance for a journey. To those that paid with their lives, hopes and dreams so that the rest of us got a chance to get a slice of much criticized nationality back from the pawn brokers of fate. To those that tried. And succeeded. And didn’t live to tell the tale.

The country they fought for was not perfect. The people they fought for did not always want bluer skies. For all those of you that talk of your roots in such abysmally realistic terms, spare a thought for these freedom fighters who gave you that gift of luxury. Of being able to ridicule a nation because it is now yours, to have, to hold, to cherish, to mock, to denigrate, to leave, to come back to, to love and to loathe. It is a free country – you have earned the right to love it or to hate it the way you see fit. But there were those that died to give you this freedom, this choice, this opulence of an opinion.

And so I am thankful. For my culture. For being able to say that I am an Indian. For the fact that I am an offspring of the world’s largest democracy. For the fact that I can tell my child that I come from a country where we fought inch by painful inch in less than fair conditions and reclaimed our nation. For the fact that I come from a land where we do well even when we are not always happy. For knowing that no matter how bad the roads are or how late the trains are, this brown sun-swept land has enough love in her to gather me up and take me home, no matter how long I have been away for.

There are no permanent abodes for those that ventured into battle a 100 years ago for a pristine freedom they believed in – their names are now a hazy memory, their photos accumulate dust behind yellowed glass, their sacrifices accepted at the altar of a country coming to age.

To those freedom fighters, the famous one and the inconspicuous ones, the nameless ones and the ones that believed enough to fight – Thank You. From the bottom of my heart. For giving us a free home. At the cost of losing yours. Lest we forget.

Vande Mataram.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Captain Nemo
    Aug 15, 2010 @ 16:34:56

    I hope we do not forget those who fought to create a free country where and gave us the luxury of taking our freedom for granted. Thank You too for this wonderfully articulate piece. And yes… वंदॆ मातरं

    Reply

  2. scarlettletters
    Aug 15, 2010 @ 18:59:24

    Vande Mataram, Captain.

    It is so easy to be a deckchair cynic isn’t it? But how often do we forget that people died so that we could afford the luxury of cynicism!

    Thanks are due to those wonderful souls indeed.

    Scarlett

    Reply

  3. Altoid
    Aug 15, 2010 @ 19:35:37

    Vande Mataram Scarlett!

    Reply

  4. Gauri
    Aug 15, 2010 @ 22:01:50

    Vance Mataram, Scarlett

    Reply

  5. Vic Krishnan (Mr. Gauri)
    Aug 15, 2010 @ 22:20:09

    Exactly our sentiments…took out the paper Indian National Flag today…a tradition we began last year and watched Gandhi…a most satisfying Independence Day…Greetings on the occasion…

    Reply

  6. Ardra
    Aug 16, 2010 @ 12:31:55

    loved this post…

    http://ardramaamsandhyakal.blogspot.com/2006/08/its-just-there.html

    WHERE the mind is without fear and the head is held high

    Where knowledge is free

    Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

    By narrow domestic walls…

    Reply

  7. scarlettletters
    Aug 16, 2010 @ 13:26:41

    Alty, Gauri – Independence Day Greetings to you too.

    Mr Gauri 🙂 – what a lovely surprise. You have a very nice tradition going there. I might borrow it. And thanks for the visit 🙂

    Ardra, dont know how I had missed your lovely blog back then….it is beautiful. And I agree with everything you say.

    Reply

  8. Rajavel
    Aug 17, 2010 @ 12:17:24

    🙂 !That was lovely VJ ! A gift of a nation is something we cannot and will not forget.

    Reply

  9. Aria
    Oct 10, 2010 @ 03:44:02

    “I come from a land where we do well even when we are not always happy. For knowing that no matter how bad the roads are or how late the trains are, this brown sun-swept land has enough love in her to gather me up and take me home, no matter how long I have been away for.”

    heart-tugging post : ) was reminded of the school days.. Independence day had a different flavor back then..

    Reply

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