Independence Days

I remember the flag. I remember the anthem. Neatly dressed in the school uniform, standing obediently and attentively while the deadpan headmaster made speech, I wished it didn’t rain. The teacher said something important, since everyone was clapping. But I kept wondering how they bundled the flowers inside the flag so magnificently that with a little pull colorful petals flew like raindrops in slow motion and the flag with the smile of a birthday girl. In sync with that, the girls sung the anthem. I felt a little discourages if the flag didn’t fly. But I would wait for the band during the speech, juggling thoughts. Shortly after, we would be marching the town in two unending lines. We didn’t have parades but we-the students would march past the whole village, singing patriotic songs. It wasn’t exactly march but procession of sorts. Not exactly the whole village either, just the central and richer part of the village, the places where they would have Independence Day preparations, where they would have sweets to distribute. Some people from the neighborhoods where the procession won’t go would wait for us somewhere near a turn, giving away chocolates and sometimes pats on the shoulder. Sweets, many a times chocolates, kept the line going, starting from school. But being in the march itself was thrilling. The high school students would lead the march. Till they came along, others had to wait holding their breath. The girls were at the forefront, bit shy, sometimes giggling, random steps- high school girls, wonderful creatures for lower grade kids. Then somewhere in the middle there was the band. When I was in elementary school or the M.E school, I promised myself I would play the drum. In high school I just got the chance to walk with them. Nevertheless, the march was fun. You could stealthily break out of the line and stand there smiling at everyone passing by thumping their feet to the rhythm of the band, and sneak back in when you spot the teacher, or to your friend or your cousin in the line. She would recount that event at home, that’s for sure. Or if you were in the middle, you could sneak back at the end while the line was turning around and you got two chocolates. How cool is that!!

I still stand up inadvertently to the national anthem on TV or radio; I still pick up pieces of plastic flag and try to dispose them honorably, knowing how hard to do so. But I have moved on from the ritualistic obeisance to patriotic symbols. A little before that, I relished the live coverage from red-fort, without going out for flag hoisting. Now I take my Independence Day literally.

In a fluke, I happened to stumble upon a book “Pakistan : Eye of the storm” by Owen Bennett Jones. It reminded me many of similar books on Indian politics and culture. Furthermore, it made me realize, much of my disenchantment is shared across the whole subcontinent, as much as my childhood enthusiasm for the national symbols. I am sure, you did (or you still do) unfurl your flag, sing your anthem, participate or watch the parade with a certain pride. I am also sure the riots, the naked power play and, the stinging corruption and the ringing bells of poverty occupy your mind most of the other days of a year, whether you are in Pakistan or India.

But in a self-congratulatory mood, I decide to wake up early in morning to see if the sun is smiling back at us. That despite of the intermittent shower and a week long stretch of clouds. And if I don’t, I wish you tell me you did.

Happy Independence Days India and Pakistan. You surely share the the night, and thats just one…

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