My husband and I regularly struggle to find movies that are good viewing for both us and the kids. On a recent Friday night, snuggled up on our couches after dinner, we watched the evergreen box office hit Independence Day. Halfway through the movie, my 6-year-old son asked, “Mum, what does Independence Day mean?”
At first, I was tempted to say that in our present circumstances, Independence would be the ability to return to our lives pre-Corona virus. To me, independence would literally be the ability to eat at random restaurants, to go shopping, to touch random things and elevator buttons without fear or sanitiser. Nevertheless, I gave him the contextual explanation for “Independence Day” and told him a bit about India’s struggle for independence from the British – quite different to the alien invasion we were watching but entirely more significant.
Talking about Independence Day in India immediately took me back in time. The 15th of August has so many great memories. I remember the pride with which we gathered in school to hoist our national flag and sing the national anthem. I remember the little celebrations held in our suburb. I remember the many treats allowed to us simply because independence is worth celebrating.
Most of all, I remember my time as a young military cadet.
Not long after I enrolled into the Cadet Corps, I found myself selected to be part of the group that would endure countless rounds of training and filtration to form the contingent that would be part of the state-wide Independence Day Military parade. I was beyond excited to be experience my personal version of independence as I left home to attend the first in a series of camps. As a 16-year-old, I had never left home before – let alone leaving to go and live in a tent, on a field campsite with several strangers. The months rolled on and I would return home in between camps with an ever-darkening tan and an ever-increasing appreciation for ceramic toilets.
Life in camp really lent itself to the outrageous and hilarious. It was not uncommon to see people running around holding a rifle high above their heads or to wake up in the middle of the night to a stray goat or cow snuggled up inside our tent. The fact that the toilets were ‘Deep Trench Latrines’ separated by panels of tarp was a never-ending source of laughter – best used just before daybreak so one’s eyes never beheld the wonders of the trench. Yet, as the days progressed, the occasional splash from the ever-filling pit below would remind us that the time to go home was (thankfully) drawing near!
Among the many disciplines we were taught, we spent nine hours a day practicing the discipline of marching together. We dug our heels into the ground with knees locked. We swung our arms with stiff and starchy precision. We slammed our feet into the floor in ‘Savdhan’. We did it all over and over again as our Commander bellowed ‘Jaise the’ in his never-ending quest for perfection.
When we marched out on D-day, resplendent in uniform, alongside several other military contingents, it was the finest display of unity, heart, strength and loyalty – we did it with pride and zeal because our nation deserved the best of ourselves.
As a mum and a wife now, Indian Independence Day here is Australia looks a bit different. It is still a display of unity, heart and loyalty albeit over Indian food. We love to wander down to Harris Park – our local version of India. Or better still, to Udaya supermarket for some filter coffee and greasy street food. The sights, the delicious aromas and the driving immediately take us back to where our hearts belong – so seamlessly that Hindi expletives become the automatic response to the antics at roundabouts.
My children may never understand the full significance of the day that India won her independence. How does one explain freedom to one born into it? Yet, as a mother, I never miss an opportunity to invite them into the richness of Indian culture and heritage. They continue to unravel parts of their identity through food, music, ethnic dress or henna. To me, it is always a celebration of the land that fed, nourished and equipped me to take on the world.
Roots are traced and cemented in many ways. Yet, every root still anchors in the soil of freedom undergirded by the bedrock of struggle and sacrifice. For this reason, I believe Independence is best celebrated and understood through deep gratitude.
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