India Celebrates Her 64th Birthday
“What shall I wear?”
“How about that cream-colored saree with the red border, Mi? You have the perfect blouse for it”
“No, Vidya, that cotton saree is a little difficult to manage”
“Then, how about that printed silk mustard colored saree? It is soft and comfortable, Mi”
“Hmm… okay. I’d better prepare my speech”
“You’re so good at extempore, Mi. Don’t bother”
“Never say that, Vidya. Preparation is the key to not being embarrassed”
We both laughed at that. I always found it amusing that my Mom, who could speak anywhere on any topic, always sat with a pen and a notebook to note down points. She believed that failing to plan was planning to fail. Confidence, she had. Over-confidence, no.
So, a few minutes later, she had her notes ready.
“Vidya, just go through this and tell me what you think”
“It is perfect, Mi.”
“Do you think it is too long?”
“Nah! Barely takes two minutes to read through”
“Oh, but I plan to quote poetry in between”
“What? Not one of Shakespeare’s thirty-stanza things, right?”
I got a playful punch for that. My Mom was very good at reciting poetry. I’d be amazed how she remembered everything. But she had an M.A. in Literature….and taught English. Anyway,
“Don’t be silly. I’ll just quote a couple of lines. I am not going to bore the kids, you know. I don’t believe in long speeches”
“So what are you going to recite anyway?”
Nobody could say she didn’t have a sense of humor.
What was the occasion for this conversation?
My Mom was invited as the Chief Guest of Honor for the Republic Day Celebrations at Vidur’s school on January 26, 2006. Vidur was in the third Grade at the time. We were very excited, of course and were all looking forward to hanging on to her every word.
Finally, the day dawned bright, clear and slightly chilly. Naturally, Mom did not wear what she planned to, because her little pet Vidur insisted that she wear a deep blue silk saree instead and of course she agreed. We set out to school, with Vidur in crisp whites. There, she was ushered to the Principal’s office by a guard of honor.
When itwas time, School assembled, and it was time for the flag hoisting.
Then everyone stood at attention to sing the National Anthem.
After that, we proceeded towards the stage, where Mom was to deliver her speech. Here it is – I hope you are inspired as much as I am.
Respected Principal, Teachers and my dear friends,
I am very happy to be at this gathering with you all today, and I wish you all a very happy Republic Day.
Did you know, that Jana Gana Mana was adopted as the National Anthem on 24th January 1950 ?
On Republic Day regional identity gives way to national identity. Neither caste, creed nor religion matter. What is predominant is the Indianness of the people. India can become a developed nation only if everyone contributes to the best of his or her ability and capacity.
I celebrated my first Republic Day when I was 5 years old…in 1950. Today we are celebrating the 56th Republic Day.
Republic Day brings to my memory a very cherished childhood incident in the year 1953..when I was 8 years old, and now my grandson Vidur is 8.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru visited our school as the Chief Guest. I was selected as the star student of my school that year, and chosen to present a rose to Pandit Nehru. He, in turn, pinned a small flag of India on my uniform. I feel very thrilled to recall this now….as I was fortunate enough to have met the first Prime Minister of India. All the students who were born in 1947 were placed in the formation of the India Map. When Pandit Nehru addressed the students, he said “Dear Citizens of free India, I salute you! Today India is in your hands!”. His words are still ringing in my ears.
Thousands of Indians struggled for a free India and had dreams of a peaceful, prosperous and progressive India. They suffered and sowed the seed and today we are enjoying the fruit of their efforts.
We all live in deeds, not years. In this context, I recall a poem by William Wordsworth and I would like to share it with you.
(I am sorry, I don’t remember the verse she quoted!)
Now, the words of the great Rabindranath Tagore, who also wrote our National Anthem, Jana Gana Mana
Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been
broken up into fragments
by narrow domestic walls; …
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way into the
dreary desert sand of dead habit; …
Into that heaven of freedom,
my Father, let my country awake.
All the best to you, children….Thank you.
This is one of the nicest speeches I’ve ever heard, and she got a standing ovation. Everyone enjoyed it because most of the children knew her as a regular visitor to the school as Vidur’s Grandmother.
After the speech there was a cultural program followed by tea with the Principal. In the course of conversation, Mom was invited to teach at the school for 3 months, as one of the teachers had to go on leave. She accepted and had three hectic months doing what she does best, and loved to do – being a teacher. I am always stunned at how she managed those three months, while being on heavy medication and a renal diet along with all her health issues. She had chronic insterstitial lung disease and CKD.
Yet, she was the most cheerful person to have around.
I have so many wonderful memories of my Mother, my mentor and best friend. I am sad to say that she passed away on Feb 8, 2010 after being rushed to the hospital with a collapsed lung that never recovered, causing internal sepsis. She was on full life support for five days before her heart just stopped functioning. She was 64.
Her love lives. Her students still remember her.
We miss her. Very much. On a daily basis.
There are many versions of India’ s National Anthem, but this one has to be my favorite.
Happy Republic Day!
Thank you for reading.