Tomorrow we celebrate our 72nd year of Independence. Tomorrow I will get at least 40 messages wishing me Happy Independence Day. But what does Independence Day really mean?
For most of us, living under colonial rule is just something we read about in history books. But for many people it is a reality they’d rather forget.
As the years go by, the people who lived in British India are slowly dying out. However, it is important that we remember our past. So Rohan Parekh and his team at CAI have recorded the oral histories of people who actually lived through these turbulent times. It is interesting to hear these stories archived by the Citizens Archive of India. I would urge everyone who is reading this blog post to just swing by and take a quick look. You will be amazed by the stories you will find.
Just the other day, I was sitting in the garden with the Garden Ladies and the conversation veered towards patriotism and nationality – trending topics in today’s political scenario. All of these women have lived through Partition and shared their thoughts and experiences of this momentous time in our country’s history. I felt shivers run down my spine as I heard the stories of Mrs. Dighe who till today can remember the screams of the political prisoners at Gamdevi Station who were beaten black and blue for refusing to say ‘ God Save the King’. She was a boarder in the school adjacent to the police station and the cries were particularly disturbing in the silence of the night.
“I was just a child, ” recalled Mrs. Jajodia,” but I remember the whole household spinning yarn with our own little spinning wheels. And when Independence was declared we stayed up to listen to Nehruji’s speech on the radio. And there were fireworks in our town and my dad distributed sweets to everyone”.
My own mother-in-law added to the conversation with a piece of family lore- a fact kept secret because of the family’s desire to keep things low key – ” we too were made to wake up early in the morning and spin a bit of yarn before going off to school,” she said ,”and we didn’t know it at the time, but my father actually made large donations to the cause.”
I remember how she used to tell us with pride about the bust of Tilak that was prominently displayed in her aunt’s home . Tilak was the aunt’s maternal uncle.
And whenever we passed the statue of Gopal Krishna Gokhale standing quietly alongside the Oval, my husband never failed to mention that he was the grandfather of one of his aunts.
My father-in law would tell us stories of the political figures who gathered at his lawyer father’s home in Nagpur. This house is now the headquarters of the INC headquarters. Several political figures (Mr. Hedgewar among them) were frequent visitors to their family home.
I haven’t really discussed the Freedom movement with my own parents but I remember my father telling me that a single British constable would put the fear of God in all the little boys of the neighbourhood as he patrolled the neighbourhood on his bicycle!
I am glad that I didn’t have to grow up in an atmosphere like that and am grateful that I grew up in an Independent and Free India.
But there are many people for whom freedom and Independence hold little meaning. Especially those who are economically and socially challenged and still feel trapped in a society that hasn’t intrinsically changed.
And there are several grumblers who can’t find a single thing good to say about our country. They question our ‘freedom’ and doubt the character of our democracy. Granted things are far from ideal but then Utopia is a country that doesn’t exist.
This evening I made a quick trip to the market to buy T shirts for my grandchildren in the colours of the national flag. I thought this was blatant commercialism.
But if Independence Day will become more meaningful for them along with paper flags, parades, balloons and now tri-coloured Tshirts, I’m willing to go along with that.
For the past one year I’ve caught them humming the tune of our National Anthem or lustily singing Jana Gana Mana. I hope they sing with the same enthusiasm tomorrow as we unfurl the flag downstairs.
I also hope they grow up to remember that freedom comes with duties and responsibilities
Happy Independence Day my fellow Indians.