Among the many messages I received early morning on this Independence Day, the one shown above was very different – and left me deeply moved.
And then there was another thing too.
Since it was a holiday, I left home late, and on the way back after a leisurely morning walk, got stuck in traffic because a group of young men, who looked more like goons, had blocked the road with a truck and many motorbikes.
“Excuse me, I need to get home.” I said to one of them, as politely as I could.
“Don’t you love your country?” He asked me.
“What?” I was confused. Why was wanting to go home against national interest?
“Are you from Pakistan?” He again asked, confusing me even more.
“Of course not!” I asserted myself, still quite politely, and enquired, “But what is happening here?”
“Don’t you know today is our Independence Day? We are preparing for a flag hoisting ceremony.”
I realised that I had no choice but to wait until the ceremony was over. Any hurry on my part would have exposed me as a non-patriot, even a traitor.
“When is the ceremony going to start?” I asked them with feigned enthusiasm, when I really meant to ask, “When will it end?”
One of them pointed to a large flex board hanging there and said, “Netaji is coming at Nine o’clock.”
I looked at my watch and it was already 9.15, so I began to observe the flex board that the gent had pointed to. That board had pictures of many leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, many past and present national figures and some regional ones. The largest picture was of the local leader, or Neta.
I was surprised to see that the pictures were of people from all political parties. I thought it was his way of showing unity across the political spectrum despite the principled differences of opinions, till it dawned on me that the Neta was simply keeping his options open for the next elections!
Then the Neta arrived in his imported car, half an hour late – for even patriotism must wait till a comfortable time – resplendent in spotless white, crisply starched, designer Khadi, complete with a Gandhi Cap. After the initial round of toothy grins with folded palms, he yelled unprintable expletives at the flunkies for not being ready on time.
The minions were still busy digging a ditch in the middle of the road to erect a flag pole. Hurriedly, they pushed the pole into the ditch and filled in the debris to level the area, trembling under the gaze of their popular leader. Then they folded a flag quickly and attached it to a rope on the pole. On commands by the aides, we the people were herded around the flag in the semblance of a military parade.
Then the Neta walked to the pole in slow, dignified steps, conforming with the solemnity of the occasion, and stood next to the pole, rope in hand to hoist the flag. He looked around at the crowd and unexpectedly shouted in Marathi, “Love your Country!”
As his mouth was full of tobacco, his pronunciation was not clear and the perplexed crowd thought that it was yet another of his expletives, till he repeated that sentence in broken Hindi and yet again in even more imperfect English. The crowd, egged on by his aides, clapped at his multilingual love for the country!
Then he took a deep breath and pulled the rope. The folded flag rose slowly up, reached the top of the pole and remained folded. He yanked the rope, but nothing happened. Then he tugged hard at the rope angrily. The flag still remained folded but the pole leaned towards him. Someone shrieked as the pole leaned a little more, and the leader, dignity forgotten in a frantic flight for safety, ran and hid behind a roadside tree.
The pole was caught mid-descent and, after another round of still unprintable expletives, the ditch was deepened and the pole was erected again while the leader glared and mopped his sweat from under the tree.
Then, wisely, the flag was unfurled before hoisting and the leader just raised it to the top of the pole. Wish I could proudly say that the flag swayed majestically in the morning wind, but in the narrow street surrounded by tall buildings, there was no breeze, so the flag hung there limply, looking as demoralised as I was feeling.
“Our beloved leader will now say a few words about our brave soldiers…”
“Wait. That flag is upside down!” I protested.
“What? What do you know? Who…who are you?”
“I was in the Air Force.” I said.
Then followed another round of expletives involving the ancestors of the underlings and finally the flag was hoisted correctly. Thankfully the leader was in no mood for a speech, which he indicated with none too polite a gesture, and loud music burst forth from huge speakers. The song, surprisingly, was, ‘I am a Disco Dancer’!
“What is this? Don’t you have any Country Music?” Asked the leader angrily.
I wondered why he wanted to hear Kenny Rogers on Independence Day, till he clarified, “Put on something about love of the country,” and I realised that he wanted patriotic songs!
“We…er…forgot.” Confessed his Lackey-in-Chief. The Neta was about to burst out when one loyalist announced, “I’ve sent for a CD.”
“I have a pen drive!” Said someone and got it from the truck. Thus the truck driver became the man of the moment when the Neta patted him on the back.
As they distributed sweets to celebrate seventy years of freedom, the pen drive was connected and the songs began.
Evidently, the truck driver was a man of multiple interests, because his pen drive had only one patriotic song sandwiched between a devotional melody and an erotic ditty. So our poetic patriotism began just as Meera was immersed in prayer (Meera ho gai magan) and ended when Munni was defamed! (Munni badnaam hui)
As soon as they allowed, I hurried home to close my windows and doors in meek defence against their deafening decibels, because they played patriotic songs all day at what I thought was full volume – but I was wrong.
After sundown, those Part-time Patriots probably imbibed energy drinks – for I envied their enthusaism – and started dancing, when they turned on the disco lights and switched to ‘item songs’. Then they kept increasing the volume till the electric transformer blew up with a bang louder than the cacophony, and the entire neighbourhood was drowned in darkness and, mercifully, in silence.
Next morning, it being a working day, I set out for my morning walk before dawn, and in the absence of streetlights after the blown transformer last night, I sprained my ankle when I stepped into the deep ditch where the flag pole had been, and was moved to a nearby hospital.
So, twice in twenty four hours, I was deeply moved by two contrasting faces of patriotism.