By Jamie Alter
Today is our country’s 73rd Independence Day. I wish all of you a very happy Independence Day, and hope you are in good health.
August 15 is a day that should instill pride in each Indian, and unite this great and vast country. I hope that in 2020, a year of unprecedented uncertainty, pain and upheaval, India’s Independence Day brings a smile to your faces.
It has been, for me, a special occasion. My earliest recollections of August 15 are of the flag-hoisting ceremony on the terrace of the building in Bombay where we lived when I was young. A gathering of residents, society officials and karamcharis. Humid, sultry and often drizzly monsoon mornings, but we all stood in unison on the terrace and our chests swelled with pride when our voices, as one, sang the national anthem.
From here, the mind wanders to Mussoorie, and several Independence Day celebrations in the outdoor flag pole area on the Woodstock School campus. As a precursor, a customary August 15 photograph outside our home – my mother always insisted on these – before I walked to school in the monsoon rain and joined my class-mates and the rest of the school in the ceremony.
In middle school, more celebrations atop our building back in Bombay and also at school.
Then, while studying college in the USA, on a scenic Midwestern campus, this tradition continued owing to the sizeable Indian student body. We had a vibrant South Asian Students’ Association, headed by the affable Dr Ishwar Harris, and every August 15 we could gather, along with students from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and others, to sing Jana Gana Mana and raise the Tricolour and partake of tasty Indian sweets and food prepared by local community NRIs. I loved that phase, because it brought us South Asian students together, irrespective of where we were from. Celebrating India’s Independence Day became a reason for all of us to celebrate.
This annual custom became somewhat irregular once I returned to India, ironically, and began my journalism career. This is because many times I was at work – yes, international cricket is often played on August 15 – and barring us editorial staffers there was nobody else in office. Granted, various HR departments arranged for similar festivities the day before August 15, given that Independence Day is a holiday, but the feeling was not the same. But, yes, there were times when a few of us colleagues celebrated together.
I remember, in particular, being on tour in Sri Lanka in 2008 and celebrating Independence Day at the P Sara Oval in Colombo. The Indian cricket team played a warm-up match that day, and Yuvraj Singh struck a century to set up a 92-run win over the Sri Lankan XI that day, a fine way to celebrate the 61st anniversary of the country’s independence.
Before the tour match, the Indian team and management cut a cake to mark August 15th and a few of us Indian journalists were able to watch from close quarters and partake in the celebrations. The Indian flag was hoisted at the P Sara Oval and we stood in the press box and sang the national anthem.
In recent years, especially since the birth or our son Cayden, my wife Meha and I have made it a point to participate in our society’s festivities on Independence Day. Cayden likes dressing up on festive days and sketching and colouring flags, so August 15 is a day he especially has fun on.
A few days ago, on International Youth Day 2020, I was invited to be part of a panel discussion on the youth of today, the youth of India. Among the topics discussed was the importance of today’s young Indian in understanding our country’s history and where we are today – culturally, socially, politically and economically. Today’s young Indian is, arguably, more informed, confident and entitled than ever before in the country’s independent history.
I hope India’s youth uses these privileges to shape the country’s future in a better and constructive way; in a way in which the fabric of independent India is upheld, the values on which this great country became independent and the spirit and sacrifices of those great men and women who fought to gain independence is respected.
(Jamie Alter is a sportswriter, journalist, author and
Jai Hind. Vande Mataram.