How does middle-class India emotionally relate to Independence Day? How do the feelings manifest, and how can the motherland be made a greater part of the emotion and celebration?
'Freedom' was written on the full moon's billowing glow. It seemed heavier than usual — pinned above the railway platform shed, as if, ready to mount itself on the next train. The quaint taluka in interior Karnataka was sleeping in its comforting shine. The loudspeakers, which were in full action a couple of hours ago, were catching some sleep. Six hours from now, the loudspeakers would be at work again — pouring out patriotic fervour, when the tricolour, with roses and marigold mingling inside its folds, would be unfurled by the locals.
A national holiday was a planned intervention in this journey and a trip for work. I was still one more destination away in the heritage triangle for this assignment. And like every year, seated on a public bench after delivering work, I was clocking erasable thoughts towards midnight, when 14th August meets 15th.
It is the day when I celebrate my own birthday with my nation's.
Spending a day at the ancient temple, in my solitude, in the temple's stately solitude, had been enormously overwhelming. The procession of a magnificent storytelling in stone at this temple I witnessed, was still fresh in my head. It emerges even today. I won't name the temple. I won't name the taluka. Find the place.
The sound of Mohammad Rafi's patriotic repertoire, which would wash Delhi's iconic Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg on the occasion, was memory now. That year, on 14 August, patriotic songs, some in Kannada, music of trains groaning through this part of Karnataka, the rich and melodious sound of festivities preceding Independence Day had taken over.
This was pretty much what I had designed to carry back — as added luggage, from this taluka to Bengaluru, from Bengaluru to Kolar, and from Kolar to Bengaluru, to Delhi. It was relieving that I had found myself sitting on a dot on the mighty map of India, in Karnataka.
Part of this luggage was middle class wisdom. The taluka, the temple, the railway station, and people, were mirroring what every evolving nook and corner of India should be in its outlook towards self and its audience. The people here came across as happier, natural, expressive in their art of using their own material to celebrate the Independence Day, than privilege-pitched popsicles of Delhi or the battle ready anti-kite flying social media alien heroes.
Six Hours Ago
Outside the station, an expression of creativity was erupting from within a small bunch of India's middle class. The inlay of actions guiding this build-up, which involved people from the taluka, mostly men, seemed to ride on an emotion. It was emotion for the motherland.
Few local men were cleaning a patch of kutcha space on a war footing. Next in the order: barricading the site. Without much noise, five to six men drove auto rickshaws towards the kutcha patch. They parked the vehicles in an arch — to form a boundary around it. A set of little intruders — children from the taluka — was given a warm welcome. The kutcha patch of ground under the trees was their desired site for laying out their humble art installation.
I stood at one corner. After some serious brainstorming and noise triggers, the children ran towards their homes to fetch something. They returned with a load of pebbles — different sizes. Girls among them turned out to be more sincere collectors. There was no sign of fatigue in these children; no disharmony in putting their ideas together. This mission was a meaningful one. The marking of ground began. A single line took a figurative avatar. It seemed to stretch in four directions in pebbles.
This motivated team of amateur creators of public art had put together a stunning depiction of the map of India with elements and symbols depicting Bharat Mata.
The loudspeakers crackled traditional music. A few familiar patriotic songs intervened. More and more onlookers bowed down to the depiction.
Music, oil lamps and conversations were placed around the depiction carefully. Finally, a pedestal was created for the tiranga. A moment was defined. A celebration of India — redefined for me.
On 15 August, the following morning, I was in Kolar, to witness the same fervour and festivity at a village government school.
In my mind, 'the place' I want to be at on Independence Day is not just one ‘place’. It is a continuing space, enlarged in recollections — some in travels for work, some from reading, and some dreams to travel, some travel in dreams. An amalgamation of these places converges before the memory on Independence Day as 'the place'.
This 'place' is a grain of the vast motherland.
'The place', in the macro context, is constantly on the move. It moves like a train wagon — staying with itself as it moves across this vast and beautiful nation, mirroring people's faces on the wagon's windows and window railing, swiftly, slowly.
The Middle Class Mirror
Birthday is a social construct, and janmdin, emotional. The core material with which the middle class celebrates this day (as my wandering on 15 August to know the day in two contexts has revealed), is a mix emanating from memory, gaze, a bit of music, and the tiranga.
A good place to witness this blend, easily, is the Red Fort between noon and evening, where people from all walks of life, mainly from Old Delhi, converge to simply indulge in a long and lively gazing of that part of Red Fort. Men, women, children, jostle for space, to place their necks and faces between the railings. And then, they gaze at the tiranga.
What deters us from being co-images of these people and their celebration of India on 15 August? What stops us from exploring 'the place' with unapologetic gusto in work, song, travel, thought? Why don't village to town, taluka to city, state to district and region to region, Independence Day-inspired travels involving people build themselves up with the force as protests build, on, say, the Marina Beach or at Jantar Mantar? Was there ever a pan-India march held on Independence Day towards our rivers, or temple complexes, or even towards a martyr's home in the city/metro/town/taluka we live? Why?
Perhaps, generations have been trained, and another is in the process of being trained, to turn away from the deep connect between India's freedom struggle and the idea of the motherland. Bringing a new culture, which is woven around the meaning of freedom struggle, the freedom fighters and their lives, would enliven the journey towards a new India. However, most of what exists in the name of 'celebration' of freedom, is lifeless, ceremonious, cynicism-struck. India's temples and monuments await the linkage between ‘teerth’ and ‘swatantrata’.
Think about it — 10 May, the date that marks the beginning of India's first war of Independence in 1857, has been ruthlessly excluded by us Indians in our celebration of swatantrata. It doesn't figure in our collective memory as the real dawn that brought a formidable resistance to British rule. It is never too late to bridge these dates and their emotional ethos.
Many of us might have had the inclination to simply make use of a voice and journey and tell children stories from the freedom struggle over a microphone between 10 May and 15 August or 8 August and 15 August in another city. No one has brought India to Indians on the small screen like Bharatbala since 1997, when his iconic work "Ma Tujhe Salaam" in collaboration with A R Rahman gave 15 August a musical foreground.
Yet, even today, only Bharatbala seems to be thinking of creating Bharat darshan for Indians through short films. 'Bharatiyon, Bharat Dekho'’ is a campaign we need to nurture among young/younger doers, givers, thinkers.
Seven decades since Independence, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak's vision of an utsav towards the celebration of our dharmic and civilisational triumph in free India, remains in Maharashtra in terms of participation and emotion. Elements from this grand utsav could have well been used as seeds and seedlings for any unity-driven, well-conceived and executed, region-centric utsav or a ‘Bharat Utsav’.
Sixth year of a 'nationalist government' in power and a programme on the lines of 'Bharat Darshan for Bharatiya' is still not a concept on paper or in practice. Soldiering up for the civilisation in free India by nurturing a culture to mark freedom — without tripping to the lure of recognition, awards, or fee, is not yet, or no more, part of their conscience for graded artistes and Akademi award winners to inspire, educate and fulfill the masses.
Why are Ramayana and Mahabharata, the two great epics of India, kept out of our collective idea of freedom, common culture and transformation as a nation on 15 August? Why is Sri Aurobindo's speech on 15 August and his own birthday still not part of school books? Why is the Cellular Jail not part of our spiritual journey in travel across India? Allow me the questions.
To delve into the idea of nation, and freedom, may be meeting Hindu migrants from Pakistan, who are living currently in India, would be a good start. Meeting them would give us a view of that strife for freedom, which many folks who live in India, after desperately fleeing religious persecution in Pakistan, experience.
Going deeper, India must celebrate 10 May as swatantrata divas before marking the Independence Day at the Red Fort each year. And for that, the celebration of Independence and swatantrata — in spirit and political construct — needs to move out of the Red Fort and Old Delhi, as much as they are required to remain at the Laal Quila for the nation's secular 'maryada'.
Would things have been different if Subhash Chandra Bose stood as the man unfurling the tiranga at the crack of a new dawn? The shehnai of Ustad Bismillah Khan would have melted into the chorus of "Laal quile pe dahaad ke, leheraaye ja, leheraaye ja”. That would have been my place in 1947.
Scratch your travels below the number of destinations you have covered to celebrate freedom and you would realise that you have met not more than a grain of India which Tilak, Bose, or Veer Savarkar envisioned through their spectacles, or what that man in olive green preserves with might, mind and muscle.
Celebrating without that man who stands on an unblinking vigil knee deep in snow in Siachen or in the boiling sands of Thar, or waist deep in jungle slush in the North East, to cradle freedom on his toughened arms, is incomplete. It will remain incomplete until we stand with a picture of the motherland this brave man continues to protect. It will be incomplete until you hold these images for him.
For this to begin, we must find 'the place' on 15 August, become tireless narrators of the India we see on this day and initiate a new culture. The laddoos soaked in ghee you discover at 'the place' this August, are on me. Jai Hind.