15th of August , as far as I can remember, has been a non event my entire life. The holiday aspect had been the only highlight during the student years. A terrible sense of disappointment ensues when the day falls on a Sunday. I have never even bothered to go to school/college on the day for the flag hoisting ceremony. So it was just a holiday like every other holiday, with nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the red letter days on the calendar. I wonder how many of us born post independence feel anything for those people who gave up their lives for a free India, even on Independence day.
But one year, not so long ago, was different for me. I was in a small village in the heart of Uttar Pradesh, working (for a change!) for an N.G.O. in a small school. Over the course of several months I got close to most of the kids. Due to a genetic anomaly, I seem to communicate better with the shorter version of human beings. Most of them seem to look at me with a mixture of awe and bewilderment, as to why a guy who could ‘enjoy’ life in the city would want to spend time in a god forsaken place. Most of the little ones have never been outside the village and the only information they have of the city is through the television.
Yet they definitely saw me as a hero. Not in the bollywood league but someone who cares to stick it out with them, share their food, homes, dreams and life. Anybody from the city who visits a village school and cares to stick around to help will definitely earn the admiration of the kids. Definitely much easier to impress kids from the villages than the city !
So here I was having a whale of a time and suddenly it’s Independence Day. All the kids are lined up in assembly waiting for the unfurling of the tri colour and the more important part, sweet distribution at the end of the ceremony. I was chatting up a newly joined not bad looking ‘Miss’ when the Principal comes and pulls me along with him.
Principal Sab whispers something in my ear.
‘What ?!! Are you insane? You can’t be serious!’, I say.
‘No, I’ve talked it with all the staff. It’s all fixed.’
Principal Sab doesn’t look like he’s kidding coz he’s dragging me to the flag post. I pinch myself to confirm that I am in the real world and not in a nightmare.
The thing is I have a very bad case of crowd phobia. I don’t see the flag pole, only 300 faces looking curiously in my direction. Then there is a bloody announcement of who is doing the dirty job. Princiapl Sab rubs it in real nice shouting over the microphone:
‘Do you know who this is ?’ pointing in my direction as if I am an exotic animal behind bars in a zoo cage. Funnily, I don’t feel much different from a caged animal.
A big roar from the kids. They are loving this Independence day surprise. Principal sab gives a short account of exactly what I am doing there for the school, just in case anyone has forgotten. By the time he’s finished I feel it would be a good idea if the earth opened up and swallowed me. My shirt is soaked in sweat and my heart is going around 300 beats/minute. The suddenness of it all took me completely unawares. I managed with great difficulty to convince the authorities that I was in no position to deliver an extempore speech. Then came the big moment!
I zombie walked to the podium. Principal Sab explained in detail how to pull the string to let the tri colour free. After two failed attempts, I was third time lucky. The kids were cheering as if India had won the World Cup. The relief I felt was indescribable !
But that Independence Day changed something inside. I felt a certain commitment and love for this country. Maybe it’s up to the privileged among us to help those in need, in whatever small way we can and not wait around for the Government to set things right. Even if it means having to be out of our comfort zones . A small sacrifice compared to what our countrymen did 60 odd years ago...