When I was 7 years old, we were taught how to make flags from white drawing sheets and thin sticks. First divide the sheet in three equal, horizontal parts by drawing two lines. Color top part with orange crayon, bottom part with green crayons, and make a circle with blue crayon in the middle. Draw crisscross lines with the blue crayon in the circle. Now stick this sheet on a thin stick or a straw, and voila! You are the child of an independent nation all over again every August 15.
I never did it right. Year after year, either I wouldn’t divide the sections properly or my coloring would never stay within boundaries. Or I would interchange orange and green, turning my flag upside down.
A few years later, I read Tagore’s ‘Where the mind is without fear’ in school and somehow, with my misshapen, discolored flags believed that he wrote it for the first Independence Day in 1947. Naivety, rather than ignorance, is the true blessing of our educational system. I waved at army trucks, stood straight at the national anthem, cried with all patriotic songs and movies, rejoiced at every Indian who achieved something internationally, and most of all watched all India Pakistan cricket matches religiously.
I wouldn’t lie. I still look at anything army with wonder though I have stopped waving and clapping at them. I still stand straight at the national anthem, just as we were taught as kids in school, and hate anybody who can’t do that.
I still love the country I was born in, the country that was reborn as the disfigured child of a disabled parent on the day we have come to celebrate as Independence Day.
I have much to hate, right from the way it treats women to the way it has never lived its own constitutional definition of secularism. Not to mention how as a nation, as a government, and as every single individual, we continue to either compromise our rights or run away from our responsibilities.
And yet here I am, despite being one of the fortunate people who can choose to live in another country, I continue to come back. If I hate it so much, why am I here?
I am here for Tagore’s heaven of freedom. I am here because I finally understand what Tagore wanted to tell us. I am here because I finally understand that Tagore knew what true independence was and dreamt of it, not the administrative, border, and operational independence we were handed from British. And he could have dreamt of it only because it didn’t exist, because he knew what our true chains were – narrow mindedness, lack of knowledge, reason, and logic.
I am here because Tagore couldn’t have dreamt of it if he had not seen the sparks, the possibilities, the opportunity that the nation had and continues to have. I am here because Tagore was right in every manner possible. We know what is wrong and speak about it only because we know what is right as well. By design, or because no one from politics and religious leaders was interested in us, we have been exposed to knowledge, reason, and logic beyond the commonly prevalent narrow mindedness.
Most of all, Tagore was right to hope for that heaven of freedom.
We rap for toxic waste dumped in Kodaikanal, we continue to stand with a placard asking people to love each other for years on a signal in Mumbai, and we kissed on roads though it landed us in jail. We are not revolutionaries, nowhere in the league of Bhagat Singh or Martin Luther King Jr., but we use our mind, at least some of us do.
And I think if at least some people continue to use their mind, that’s enough hope for the 69th year of Independence…