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Monday, 15 August 2016

Happy Independence Day 2016!

The sun shines faintly, playing peek-a-boo with the cloud cover that threatens to engulf it. A cool breeze blows as I hurry across the campus quadrangle, past the students and staff already lined up, to reach the college office. We’ve been free for 69 years, but as of now, there appears to be no freedom from practices like marking your biometric attendance at the Independence Day celebrations. 

A few minutes later, the guests for the event – the President and Secretary of the Trust running the Vivekananda Group of Institutions – arrive. They are welcomed and led to their designated position near the flag pole by the NCC Cadets. Just one small tug on the rope and the tricolor unfurls to shower flower petals on the map of India recreated below. 

As the National Flag flies proudly in the sky, there is a smattering of applause that is drowned out as the strident voices singing the National Anthem reach a crescendo. As the entire campus reverberates to the chant of “Bharat Mata ki Jai,” I find an inexplicable divine peace in this routine chant even as my eyes grow slightly moist.

The NCC Cadets go through their routine as do the children of the School Band. They’ve been practicing hard the past few days, forcing faint-voiced teachers like me even on the fourth floor to take short breaks in between a lecture. Their efforts lend fruit – the entire routine goes off as planned and it is then time to troop into the auditorium for the small cultural program. 

I head to the front of the auditorium to join three of my students who are to sing a patriotic song. After everyone settles down, the program begins. Tiny tots come up and make a valiant effort to give a speech in which they say a few sentences about the significance of the occasion. Older kids and college students present group songs, dances and a skit. The skit ends with a soulful rendition of the National Anthem by Lata Mangeshkar and spontaneously, without any instruction whatsoever, the entire auditorium stands as one. The performances are not master-class; but they serve the important purpose of anchoring these kids to their country and their culture and imbue them with gratitude for the sacrifices of those who got us freedom.

The guests speak, narrating their experiences of a pre-Independent India. The Secretary was in Class 2 and the President was studying his B.Sc. Honours in Chemistry when our country gained freedom from the British. They exhort the younger generation to cultivate the right values that will help lead the country further.

Quoting the famous Kannada poet Sri. D. V. Gundappa (fondly called DVG), the President makes a strong appeal to everyone to try and serve society in whatever small way they can without looking for any reward in return. He also talks of the need for teachers to be role models to cultivate values in their students. I smile inwardly at a thought many people call typical of “idealistic me.” Perhaps, the day this advice is taken to heart by each and every person serving in an educational institution, that will be the day when biometric attendance systems will grow redundant.

About two hours after I entered the campus, I am on my way out – back to the routine of an unhurried day at home on a holiday. But those two hours, spent in the company of my fellow-Indians, dwelling on the many privileges we enjoy in a free India, will keep my patriotic batteries charged until the next such events – Gandhi Jayanti and later, Republic Day – when the entire sequence will repeat.

I’ve been attending Independence Day celebrations since the past 16 years. Maybe it is the “mahaul” that prevails in the media discourse today; or perhaps it is just a feature of growing older and understanding what really counts in life – whatever the reason, I feel the urge to crystallize this memory of what this day is like for posterity.

Or maybe, it is to give myself yet another reason to feel fortunate to be born in this blessed land and serve in this noble profession that gives me an opportunity to contribute to creating sons and daughters who will serve Bharat Mata.

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