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Indian Independence Day

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on August 14, 2009 2 Comments

This evening, Sunehri Market, the local bazaar, was awash in green, white, and deep saffron, the colors of the Indian flag. There were tricolor kites, delicate (miniature) paper flags, exercise wristbands, streamers, paper caps, garlands, towelettes, artificial flower bouquets, and cloth flags. Tomorrow is Independence Day, the 62nd anniversary of Indian freedom from British colonization. It marks the end of an ugly and oppressive era in Indian history, and the birth of a sovereign nation. As a native of New Delhi, I have always felt pride that my hometown, the capitol, witnesses the biggest celebration of I-Day (televised nationally); the PM (Prime Minister) hoists the national flag at the famed Red Fort, a symbolic gesture that makes me as teary-eyed now as it did when I was a little kid. I haven’t been in India for 15th August in 8 years, but I will be celebrating it here tomorrow. And the celebrations got started a little early…

At the Bazaar, I picked up a beautiful khadi (coarsely-spun cotton) flag for Rs 90/- (approximately $1.90 at today’s exchange rates). There was a shiny, faux-satin one that the shopkeeper kept trying to sell me, but there was something earthy, quietly charming about the khadi flag. The Ashoka Chakra was handpainted, and that made the flag even more endearing. I paid for it with nine 10 Rupee notes, picked up some patriotic stickers at a next stall, and headed towards my last stop, my neighborhood tailor (I had a couple of salwaar kameezes that needed to be altered). He sits every day with his sewing machine placed precariously on a concrete slab, which itself is perched atop an open sewage drain. His “stall” is by an Ashoka tree, whose leafy canvas provides the only protection against the elements. I started putting away the flag before getting down at my tailor’s, when I noticed that the brand new flag was coming apart at the seams! I mentally cussed out the shopkeeper who had sold it to me, then grabbed it and gave it to my tailor. We discussed the alterations needed on the clothes, and then I asked him to retailor my flag. As he gently touched the unraveling seams, I said, “पता नहीं इतने ख़राब तरीके से क्यों बनाया, भैय्या. देश का झंडा है, इसे तो प्यार से बनाना चाहिए था, नहीं?” [Hindi; Lit. “I don’t know why this was made so badly, no, brother? It’s our country’s flag, you should make it with love, right?”] My tailor’s lips curved in a smile and he nodded. I then said I’d come pick up the clothes Sunday, two days away. As I turned to walk away, he said-“अरे, आप झंडा तो लेती जाओ! कल न हो तो कोई मतलब ही नहीं हुआ!” [“Oh, take the flag with you! If you don’t have the flag tomorrow, what will be the point!”]. He asked me to wait as he fixed the flag. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had just bought the flag so I could put it up in my room in Berkeley, California. He thought it was for I-Day. I stood there in silence, a foot away from him. The open drains were stinking up a storm, and the mosquitos nibbling at my legs, as I watched him lovingly, gently, restitch my flag.

After a few minutes, he was done, and he gingerly folded up the flag and handed it to me. I fished out my wallet from a small jute purse, and asked him, “कितना दूं, भैय्या?” [“How much do I give, brother?”]. And he smiled, and said-““मैं क्या बोलूँ, यह तो मेरा भी झंडा है, हमारा झंडा है. आप को जो देना है, आप दो. नहीं देने से भी चलेगा. देश तो हमारा है. [“What do I say, this is my flag too, it is our flag. Whatever you want to give, you give. If you don’t pay, no problem. The country is ours.”]. I teared up and hurriedly turned to my mother waiting patiently in the car. When I asked her what to do, she said, just tell him we’ll pay him extra when we pay for the other clothes on Sunday. I repeated that, and sat down in the car, the flag lovingly folded on my lap.

As I write up this post, the flag is right next to me, and I am filled with gratitude that so many millions fought so the Tiranga (tricolor) could be mine, could be ours. India is not a land of flag-flying; even in the capitol you can go around for hours and not see a single flag. But that makes the flag all the more precious, more meaningful for me. I just began to write that “I reverently hold my very first flag in my hands,” and I remember the tailor’s words: “यह तो मेरा भी झंडा है” [“This is my flag too.”]. I reverently hold our flag in my hands, and…wish my glorious, glorious India a very happy Independence Day!

My khadi Indian flag.

My khadi Indian flag.

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2 Responses to “Indian Independence Day”

  1. Dr Kishan Ajjampur on: 13 September 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Hi there,

    I was looking for images of Indian flag, when I came upon this page. I live in Australia, and am very patriotic, at least thats what I think, and believe. I work in a place full of Indians, and have worked prior to Australia, in Scotland. I know that Indians really love foreign stuff, they can embrace every new thing with open arms including, culture, and accents, but its really heartwarming to know that even in this new world Indian patriotism is alive and well even abroad. Kudos to you mate.
    I also wanted to point out that the picture you have put up on this site is upside down. Please change it ASAP.

  2. Usree Bhattacharya on: 13 September 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Thank you so much for your comment! I fixed the image.

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