Viplav was elated at how well his exam was proceeding.
Just one more question and I’m through.
He turned the page and read the next question:
33. Where is the Indian flag hoisted at midnight on Independence Day instead of the morning?
He knew this one. He’d heard the story enough times from his grandmother. As he bent forward to shade the little circle marking his answer, a smile brightened his face and his imagination went to the day this happened for the first time.
11 pm, 14th August 1947
Sulekha knew tonight was different. It was way past her bedtime but no one had bothered to shout at her to go to her bed. Everyone seemed busy: the numerous guests who had gathered uninvited at her house, drinking endless cups of tea; the ladies gathered in the kitchen keeping up a steady supply of the same and the servants hauling in coal, stoking the stove, and serving the guests, even though it was late.
Sulekha wondered if all the excitement was about Azadi. Were the British going back to their country? She wanted to ask someone but Rameshwar Singh, her father, had been very busy the past few days.
The radio in her father’s study, which had been constant background noise, had been silent for long. Earlier the whole family would listen to the news. The practice had stopped once partition and killings became the daily mentions. However today she could once again hear the radio’s chatter. With soft feet and careful steps, she inched towards the study. Low voices from inside reached her ears.
“Who would’ve thought we would see this day in our lives?” Ganesh Kaka exclaimed, with childlike excitement.
“It has come at great tragedy. Just look at the senseless violence people are meting out to each other in the name of religion. This isn’t what we fought for. Mahatma Gandhi has announced he will be fasting tomorrow in solidarity with the people of Calcutta,” the deep baritone of Shamsul Chacha’s voice brought comfort and silence to the room.
“Shh…!” It was her father. “The ceremony is beginning.”
The mellifluous tones of Vande Matram filled the room. Everyone fell silent but as the last syllables of the song faded away, the radio sputtered.
The sound of frantic tuning reached Sulekha’s ears. The fiddling however seemed to have had no effect. The radio refused to come back to life.
“This had to happen now!” Rameshwar exclaimed, his voice full of irritation. “How will we listen to the proceedings?”
“I don’t know of any other family that has a radio but Mishra’s shop has many,” replied Shamsul Chacha in his thoughtful voice. “Let’s go there.”
Chairs were pushed back and shuffling feet reached the door. As her father came out, his gaze fell on Sulekha, trying hard to hide behind a small teapoy.
“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you in bed?”
Ramjatan kaka interrupted just in time.
“Let’s take her with us. After all, today’s going to be a historical day. In fact, let’s take the ladies too.”
“Ladies?” Her father frowned.
“Why not? Didn’t the ladies stand shoulder to shoulder with us in the struggle for freedom? They deserve to be present at this time.”
Convinced by Ramjatan’s words, her father informed the ladies. The whole group was soon moving towards the radio shop.
“Are O Kamal, nip to the shop and tell Mishra ji to keep things ready. We’ll be there in no time,” he instructed.
Kamal Dev Kaka soon went briskly ringing his Raleigh Cycle. The streets weren’t dark as many of the households were awake and the dim tangerine lights of the lantern hanging from the doorways provided enough light. As they moved more families joined them. By the time they reached the radio shop, the crowd easily reached into thousands.
Mishra ji had set up a radio on a wooden chowki and Rajendra Babu could be heard speaking..
…to make our contribution to the building up of freedom for all and peace among mankind…
He was followed by Dr. Radhakrishnan. With his wise words and vision of a strong India, he managed to move the crowd to claps. And then Nehru ji’s voice crackled from the amplifiers.
…Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny,…
Everyone heard the words spellbound. This was the moment they had toiled and struggled for; had laid down their lives for. Joy seeped into their souls as the speech progressed and their hearts felt full, near to bursting. They had to do something to celebrate this occasion. To mark the memory.
So when Sulekha’s father spoke up, he gave voice to the tendrils of thought sprouting in the corners of everyone’s minds.
“Bring some bamboo poles, ropes, and the tricolour. We will hoist the flag right here, right now.”
A spark went through the crowd. Ganesh Das and Kamal Dev broke away and within no time were back with the required materials. Meanwhile, the ground had been dug at the crossroads by eager hands. The pole was erected and as the national flag was presented in the Delhi Constituent Assembly, deft hands tugged at the rope one minute after midnight. Hardly visible in the dim light of the lanterns, faith made the flag fly proudly in the imagination of all those present.
The notes of Jana Gana Mana blaring from the radio were drowned by the enthusiastic singing of the crowd. When the voice of Rajendra Prasad was again heard asking the members present in the Assembly to pledge their future efforts, the crowd raised their hands and as one took the pledge alongside. However, their pledge had one extra condition.
As India made its tryst with destiny, the proud people of Purnea forged their own moment on the anvil of history. The promise to hoist the flag every year at midnight on Independence Day. A tradition to be honoured and endured forever.
Azadi – freedom
Chowki – A wooden cot
Author’s note :
This is a fictionalized account of the events that took place on Independence Eve in Purnea which has maintained the tradition of hoisting the national flag at midnight in remembrance of the historic moment of 15th August 1947.
Event Sponsored by Kasturi Patra, Published Writer, A Mother’s Goodbye
Can a woman be a mother at the cost of being herself? Can circumstances force a child to be a mother? To know the answers, do read Kasturi Patra’s A Mother’s Goodbye, a poignant tale of a woman, her children, and a mother who said did not say good bye.
Pic credit : Avinash Mishra on Pixabay