Thursday, 15 August 2013

Impressive Independence

The invitation came in my husband's mail box. Over the years the invitations have come with clockwork like regularity. And why shouldn't they? We are Indian passport holders after all! But despite being out of India for eleven odd years neither my husband nor I had ever attended a flag hoisting ceremony in the Indian Embassies or the Indian High Commissions. In Russia we did not live in the capital city Moscow, in Tanzania our son was a baby and then a toddler and who knew if children were welcomed at such high brow events! We had just landed in Kenya a week before 15th August two years ago and weren't even registered in the Indian High Commission here. So getting an invitation when they did not even know we existed was out of question. I honestly do not have an excuse for missing the event last year....So all in all, my memories of independence day were centred around my own school days, hoisting the flag in school as Head Girl, attending the event as a college student followed by breakfast with friends in Pune's own 'Vaishali' and then having to compulsorily attend flag hoisting when working as a lecturer in a Pune college. The penalty for non attendance by staff was that a day's pay used to be docked if we profs bunked! This was followed by memories of having to get up early to drop off my daughter to school in the odd year that the authorities decided to make it compulsory for younger students to attend flag hoisting...School buses don't run on such days forcing parents to double up as chauffeurs!
And so yesterday when we received the invitation, my husband and I decided, in unison, to go! The children had school, of course, so there was no way they could accompany us. So we put them on their bus and then set off, game to experiencing something new! I made sure my outfit represented one of the colours of the Indian Flag!
Nairobi traffic can be unpredictable, to say the least so we had made sure we left the house well in time.But this turned out to be one of those days when the flow of cars was specially smooth and we were at the residence of the High Commissioner in next to no time. The parking was inside the compound itself. The residence is in a beautiful area of Nairobi that is dotted with residences of Ambassadors and High Commissioners. This, sadly, was not the house that my Mother's uncle had occupied as the first Indian High Commissioner to Kenya and East Africa. During his tenure in the late forties and early fifties, this particular area was open only for the British, Indians and Africans not allowed!! Passing through the mandatory metal detector, we were ushered onto the lush green well manicured lawns by smiling Indian faces, enclosed by formal black 'Bandagalas'.What was it I felt? Was it a sense of homecoming?
The Naval Attache stood to attention close by in full ceremonial dress. He was smiling but I wondered if he had lost any of his colleagues in the tragic events that occurred yesterday on board our submarine the INS Sindhurakshak, just off the coast of Mumbai. Right next to him stood an army officer from one of our peace keeping forces based in this continent. Ironically he was from the same army core that my Dad has retired from. A glance at his epaulettes sent me tumbling into the safe and secure world of my childhood! The world, I thought, is indeed a small place.
If it's anything to do with India the saree surely makes its presence felt! A number of ladies were draped in silks of all hues giving close competition to the myriad colours of the flowers that dotted the High Commissioner's immaculate garden! A sharp nip in the air ensured that all those 'Made in India', stored in napthalene balls, woollens got a good airing today!
Soon it was time for the main event to unfold and I am proud to say Indian Standard Time does not work in Nairobi! The High Commissioner marched out of his house at the stroke of nine and our flag 'The Tiranga' was unfurled against the overcast Nairobi skies...The colours Saffron, White and Green made a stark contrast against the grey clouds, as did the red rose petals which slowly fluttered to the ground in perfect synchronization with the strains of our National Anthem which had now begun playing...Here, I will have to quote from 'Aurangazeb At His Father's Bier' as my own words are not adequate! ''O mine eyes, what means this rheum, I will not call them tears...'' I doubt that there was a dry eye in that motley crowd. No matter what we were doing in Nairobi or where we were working or how much we were earning.In that one moment the only thing that mattered was that we were all Indians holding valid Indian passports, not people of 'Indian origin' as is the norm in Nairobi! It is a different feeling altogether to see our flag flying high in alien skies!
The High Commissioner read out extracts from the President's speech of the evening before, reminded us that we face a general election next year and that we are, in our own ways, as much an Ambassador of our country as he is!Wise words.
No Indian independence or Republic day celebration is complete without samosas and motichoor laddoos.Add dhoklas and gulabjamuns to that and it was a veritable feast for us! A hot cup of tea was just the right way to end a lovely, patriotic morning. The more 'British' among us could choose from fruit juices too while there was Coke for all Americanized Indians! I was happy to settle for some well made Indian chai..

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