My earliest memory of the Independence Day is waking up to the sound of 21 cannon fires, and sleepily walking to the TV to hear the Prime Minister’s speech. I knew it was the Prime Minister because Dad told me so. The only thing that was special was the TV being turned on that early in the morning. True, Independence Day celebrations lacked the spark and colors of the Republic Day parade, and even the Prime Minister’s speech went over my head, but at least for once Mom would make an exception and we would get to have breakfast in front of the TV. Gradually Independence Day became embossed in my memory as a holiday laced with fear (thanks ULFA, for nothing) that I couldn’t wait to see the end of. The irony of the whole thing was that the day after Independence Day is my birthday, and all I would pray during the 15th was to remain alive to celebrate adding another year to my life. If terrorizing was what the banned outfit had intended to do, I guess they had done a pretty good job, since they managed to induce fear for life into a ten year old. I wouldn’t let any of the family members go outside that day, and my Mom says she could actually see relief in my eyes once the dreaded evening would be over. So thanks to the fact that I studied in a missionary school, and to the ULFA for declaring Assam Bandhs each year without fail, I grew up to be twenty without having witnessed a real flag hoisting on Independence Day. If that was not enough, the ban on the National Flag until then also meant that the only time I got close to one was when I had to draw it for Social Studies lessons.
You can’t really blame me for not quite getting the “spirit” of celebrating our Independence when the only thing I learnt since I was a kid was to be scared of this day. I would ask Dad, “What’s there to be so happy about the 15th August anyway? Doesn’t it always bring in blasts and curfews and chaos and fear with it?” And Dad would tell me stories of his school days when Independence Day meant major celebrations in school, and how they would spend sleepless nights in anticipation of the day. I would later hear similar stories from friends who studied in Kendriya Vidyalayas, and always feel a pang of jealousy because I could never get that bit about Independence Day being fun… something to be happy about… something to look forward to.
And then, one brutal 15th August, 11 kids in Dhemaji died in a bomb blast, and I wept for them and their families and tried to find an answer to the nagging “Why?”. I remember an event in the Latasil Field in Guwahati, where painters from all over came to pay tribute to those eleven kids, and as I walked by all alone, the only thing I had wanted to do was scream and shout even though I knew no one would hear me. I cursed the fateful Independence Day. I cursed them ruthless killers. I cursed humanity and I cursed myself for being a silent spectator. For being helpless. I turned a cynic. I lost faith as I realized, if the cost of wanting to celebrate Independence Day was your very life, then maybe it wasn’t worth it after all.
Then Rang De Basanti happened. And soon after, the protest by medical students against reservations happened. I would like to think the latter was inspired by the former. Because both made me sit up and take note. True, RDB was just a movie, but it made me think yet again. And realize that if I truly believed in a cause passionately, maybe even I wouldn’t stop to think about the consequences, as long as I stood up for what I believed in. And a year after that, when I heard the National Anthem being played right before a movie in a PVR, and I got goosebumps and weird choking feeling inside me while hearing it, I realized something else. That patriotism doesn’t need to be about celebrating Independence Day with gusto once a year, or maybe painting my face and cheering for my cricket team as it plays against our arch enemy. It is not something that you have to show off. It is not about posting status updates and changing your profile picture once a year and yelling out a happy independence day, and forgetting about it for the rest of the year. You are a patriot, as long as you know that you care.
And I do. I love my country. And it makes me sad that I am such an insignificant minuscule part of it, and the only thing I can do as a citizen is to give my vote religiously (still haven’t got around to paying taxes, jobless that I am) and abide by the laws. Even though ethical politics is slowly becoming a myth and timely justice a thing of the past. I still care enough to have hope inspite of everything. Someday, my country will be free. From fear. And that day, we will all come out on the streets and celebrate all day long. As one.