August reminiscences

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Living away from home, the smallest of incidents can bring forth a rush of patriotism

I remember Independence Day from my childhood as the day we wore whites to school and saluted the flag.
Can’t remember much else of what we did except sitting in the hot sun, listening to speeches and patriotic songs, watching dances and skits as part of the celebrations. And having sweets at the end!
The first time I remember actually being aware and understanding some of the significance of the occasion was when I was in Year 4. I had changed schools.
In the old school I was usually one of the ones on stage either giving a speech about freedom fighters or participating in a dance or skit but this time I was just one of the kids.
However, in the preceding weeks I had learnt the words to Jhanda ooncha rahe hamara. I was very taken with this song. I still hum it sometimes.
I had also learnt that our flag was called tiranga. That morning when the flag unfurled and the flower petals fell out of it, I remember feeling a wonderful thrill going through me. It was like I knew this flag, it was mine!
Several years ago at my workplace in Adelaide, flags used to be hoisted every day. The Australian flag as well as two more flags from any two other countries. Sometimes it would be to make a visiting delegation feel welcome or because it was the national day of that country. That day as I walked in, I saw the person in-charge hoisting the Indian flag.
“Hey!” I said, “What are you doing with my flag?!”
I was stunned that he was holding my tiranga! I had literally stopped mid-step and was truly shocked that he had this precious piece of cloth. Who was he to be holding it? What was he doing to it?!

My tone of voice and manner must have conveyed a bit of this to him too, for he looked a taken aback, but made a jocular quip (that India was losing at the cricket) and the moment passed.
But I didn’t leave until the flag had been hoisted and I made sure it wasn’t upside down or anything. I nearly saluted it, I remember, but stopped in time.
That was the most patriotic feeling I had ever had, in a foreign country… just the sight of my country’s flag had brought on a rush of feeling that just blew me over. I have never been able to forget that incident.
Another one more recently was when I was speaking about Indian culture to a group of professionals. They wanted to know a bit more about Partition and Indo-Pak history.
I was surprised how emotional I became during the discussion. I realised how much it meant to me that they understood the toll that the division had taken, on people of both countries. How it was a huge human tragedy that had affected, and continues to affect, a whole generation and more.
I had this sudden insight on that day that I had not even been born in 1947. None of my relatives had been directly affected by Partition. My family lived much too far away from where it all occurred, and yet it affected us all in ways in different ways.
All that I knew came from what I had read, seen in documentaries and movies, and heard from friends who might have been directly involved.
I had always thought I had an intellectual viewpoint towards Partition and the Independence era. However, that day I realised how inextricably it is woven into my feelings of patriotism… desh bhakti!
But most of what has stayed with me from chats with friends who were directly affected, is their positivity and lack of rancour. Love for their country of birth, whether India or Pakistan, shines through when they speak of those difficult, displaced times.
They don’t speak of the whys or hows, the narey-baazey-ing or what they lost, they seem to have learnt to have a positive outlook and real hope for the future.
That is what carried them, those courageous people then, and it is what will carry us forward now.

Vinaya Rai
Vinaya Rai
Vinaya Rai is a counsellor by profession with interests in writing, radio, emcee'ing, organising and attending events.

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