Back in the 70s, as a 6 year old growing up in a small town of Nazira in Assam, my first memories of our Independence day was getting up lethargically at 6 am on a ‘holiday ‘ and going to my ‘Kendriya Vidyalaya’ for the ‘Swatantra Diwas’ celebrations.
These included singing of our national anthem which I would mostly lip sync as reading-wise ‘Jana Mana Gana ‘ had some pretty tough words for a 6 year old ! A long winding speech by the principal telling us how we were enslaved by the British for almost 200 years until we rose up against the rulers and finally achieved independence on August 15,1947.The highlight of the morning after the flag hoisting were the free gifts of the small flags, ‘laddoos’ and couple of toffees.
Those days there was no TV in Assam and for English and Hindi news one had to depend on daily half hour broadcast from All India Radio,Jorhat station between 2.30-3 pm.
My father would ensure that on 15 August all four of us gathered around that huge ‘family’ Radio set that told us how Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi ” unfurled the tri color from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi.”
The above remained the most difficult English sentence I ever heard until Shakespeare hit us with his ‘ thou and thys’ later on in academic life. Mrs Gandhi hoisting the flag year after year was such a regular phenomenon that I came to believe that she was the only one authorized to make a speech and hoist the tri color on Independence day.
Then India discovered oil in ‘Bombay High’ and working for ONGC my father got transferred to Bombay( it became Mumbai only in 1995) and in 1977 the family moved from a sleepy little town in the eastern corner of the country to the city that never slept in the western corner of the country.
15 August in Bombay was different from the one in Nazira.To begin with, we could actually watch the new Prime Minister Morarji Desai unfurling the tri color,on our most prized possession,the 21 inch B&W Solidaire television set.
Going to the school for flag hoisting was optional but what was quasi compulsory was going down to our ONGC Colony grounds and attend the flag hoisting ceremony and get those free gifts of ‘ladoos’ and toffees.
Overall, Independence Day remained as something that our grandparents and parents had experienced and about which we learned from the history text books or something we saw in a B&W films division documentary before a Amitabh Bachchan blockbuster.
That changed in November 1982, when the movie Gandhi was released. Thereafter the words ‘freedom’, ‘independence and ‘sacrifice’ had much deeper context and meaning for me.
Life went on, grew up with good education and a decent job in the overcrowded Mumbai where a large chunk of the work day was spent in commuting to and from office.
During those days,Independence Day meant a welcome break from office, although the tradition of attending the flag hoisting ceremony was maintained. Independence Day also meant that one had to ‘stock up’ on the 14th as August 15 was strictly a ‘dry day’ across the country.
Meanwhile India went from strength to strength thru the 80s,90s and 2000s and so did I.Tied the knot and my own family grew from the two of us to four of us.
Mumbai kept getting over crowded and so like many aspiring Indians, we decided to move to Dubai,UAE.
As anybody who has lived in Dubai would tell you,the Emirate is Arabic in character but mostly Indian in human numbers as approximately 30% population of UAE is made up of Indians.Majority of Indian kids go to Indian Schools which follow CBSE curriculum and sing both the Indian national anthem and UAE national anthem at the start of each school day.
Independence Day celebrations in Dubai typically begin when one notices the presence of miniature ‘tri colors’ in various grocery and convenience stores owned by the Indians. Although unlike in India, there are no young kids selling the flags on Dubai’s traffic signals.
As schools in UAE are closed for summer break in July-August there is nothing to mark the occasion in schools.Typically Indians living in Dubai celebrate by displaying the miniature tri color inside their vehicles and outside their apartments.As it’s not a ‘dry day’ in Dubai many families gather together in the evening and raise a toast to India and its unrelenting advances globally.
Also,on August 15,traditionally, UAE’s two major newspapers Khaleej Times and Gulf News bring out thick ‘special supplements’ which are full of articles about India’s progress through the ages.These supplements are full of advertisements from every kind of business house with connection to India.
Cut to the present. Since moving to Canada with family,a few years back, I have been celebrating 15 August mostly digitally by changing my facebook, twitter and WhatsApp display picture to that of the fluttering Indian flag with the text ‘Happy Independence Day and wishing the same to everybody on various social media platforms
It is my firm belief that since making a home outside my country of birth,I have a better appreciation of India achievements and progress in the last 70 years. And yes,listening to ‘Jana Mana Gana’ still brings on a rush of those goose-bumps.
For all Indians living outside the country,Independence Day evokes nostalgia and typically I try to watch a bit of ‘Gandhi’ on the DVD while also encouraging my son and daughter to do the same.
As they say, you could take an Indian out of India but you cannot take India out of an Indian.
JAI HIND !