Thursday, January 24, 2013

Flag Day


I remember exactly what I was doing on the day of 26th January in year 1990. I remember it because I was playing stupid that day.

Just before the winter of 1989 set in, at Biscoe school, in a crafts class, I learnt a useful lesson. I had learnt how to make the flag of India.

On 26th January, I was bored. But a thought occurred to me. Since the nation, with all its glory, had arrived at the footsteps of my house in Srinagar, with its uniformed men and bunkers and armoured vehicles, all apparently to guard us from something horrible, I decided to celebrate the Republic day of India in grand style. I decided to make Indian flags, not just one or two but as many as I could and put them all over the house. The process of making the flag was simple and I had all the materials it needed. The process went like this: You tear a fresh page from a notebook, you turn this page around so that the length become the breadth and the breath becomes the length. Then using a pencil you draw two parallel lines on it in such a way that it divides the page into three equal part. If the partitions don't look good, erase the lines using a rubber and start afresh. If you still fail, tear a fresh page and start all over again. Once you get the division right, in the center partition, make a circle touching the two lines and inside this circle draw exactly 12 lines dissecting each other and meeting in the center of the page, inside the circle at a single point. They will magically give you the Dharma wheel of Ashoka with its 24 spokes. Now, take two sketch pens, one orange and other green, and using your teeth pull out the caps from both of them and get their wet spongy innards out. You might get your hands dirty and colored in the process, but that's the fun part. After this, take the orange filler,  leaving the center partition untouched, paint one of the partitions orange. Take the green filler and paint the other partition green. Your flag is almost ready but have to attach it to a staff to be able to hold it or stick it somewhere. For this you will need a broom and some cooked rice. Get them from your grandmother. Don't tell her what's it for. There is good chance your will be denied access to both, if you do tell her. Once you have the broom, take a twig out of it, and using the rice as gluing agent, attach the flag to it. While attaching, keep in mind that the orange partition is supposed to be at the top of flag and green at the bottom, and not the other way round. If you follow all the steps to the T, you will have your Indian flag. The symbol of your nation.

I repeated the process over and over, till I made about two dozen flags. Then I went about putting them all over inside the house. I put them on windows and on doors, looking for familiar cracks on the ageing wooden structure. I stuck them inside rose bushes and on evergreens. The last one I put on the wobbly old wooden handle-lock of the main door to the house. This one hung outside the house for everyone to see. There was no curfew that day, there was much movement on the road, so a lot a people could see it. I wondered if the men in bunker could see it, but there was no movement there.

It was done and it had taken me less time than I had expected. The afternoon was over but the day still remained. I was again bored. I decided to play another game. I had seen these other kids on road outside who would nail a used and empty boot polish tin pack to one end of a stick and would then run the contraption around like they were driving a wheel. A wheel-stick. That seemed fun. I was going to make me a wheel-stick. I already had a stick with me. A stick from a cloth roll. It was perfect for the job. I knew where to find the nails, a box in the dark storeroom. All that was missing was a pack of Cherry Blossom. No matter where I looked, I couldn't find a single empty pack. I found some filled one, but somehow decided that in the end the play may not be worth a beating. However, a lack of a wheel was not going to stop me. I held the stick in my right hand and just imagined that there a wheel at the end of it and started running around, with the other end of the stick touching the ground. I ran and ran, faster and faster, past all the fluttering flags greeting my parade from the rose bushes and the evergreens. It was fun till the stick suddenly caught a bump in the courtyard and in response the other end in my hand slipped out in recoil, catching me in my nutsack. In a never experienced before kind of pain, I fell down on the ground and rolled and rolled, hoping it would end before the white stars that I was seeing would engulf me. Saw saw Shankar Bhagwan laugh. A single tear rolled down my face. It was over soon enough but felt like an eternity. I threw away the stick and swore on the name of all the gods I knew, I would never play this game again.

I was still lying on the ground when an unfamiliar old man walked into the house. A man unlike anyone I had ever seen. This man had a black karakul cap on, and was dressed in all black. He walked upto me and in a very respectful manner asked if this is where the Razdans lived. I looked at him and although there was a gentle smile on his face, a smile that a dirt rolled kid would elicit, I could see this was face of a sad man. A very sad man. Smile couldn't cure the deep lines on his brow. I told him, he was at the right place and pointed him to the building that was our house. He walked on slowly keeping his head low. It seemed like he was climbing up Shankracharya hill.

Much later, in fact decades later, I learnt that the old man was the boss of my Choti Bua. Since Bus had stopped going to office, he had come to enquire if everything was okay. Nothing was okay. There were direct threats in papers. There were dress diktats. He was told that Bua had already left for the safety of Jammu.  

While I was still in the courtyard, I saw the old man go out the way he had come, out the main door. As he opened the door to go out, I noticed that the flag on the main door's handle was missing. I ran out to the door, indeed it was not there. I looked around. And found it. On the outer top floor window of a house just across the street. I knew the kid who lived there. We had recently become friends. My parents were probably worried I spent too much time playing with my sisters or inventing too many games that could be played alone. They probably thought I had reached the age when some male friends would be more appropriate for proper all round personality development. So this kid from across the road, a gour boy, son of a priest was introduced to me as a friend. He would often come over to my house and we would play cricket. And now this phoney friend had stolen my flag. I would not let it pass. I walked over to his house, called him out and asked him to return my flag. He denied stealing it and said he had made it himself. Had he not planted it so high up on his house, I would have just taken it and ran. But in this situation, there was one one thing to be done. I went back home and complained to my grandmother. I told her how this nasty kid, the one they call my friend had stolen my flag. Her response wasn't the one I expected.

'What flag?'

I told her how I had spend much of the afternoon making these beautiful flags. She walked out into the courtyard and was for some reason horrified by what she saw. She looked at all those flags I had placed all around the courtyard and yelled, 'Myani Bhagwaano! You are going have us killed! Why? Why would you do such a stupid thing?'

Then she went about pulling out the flags from all the places and tearing them up.

'That old man too must have seen them. We are going to die. We are going to get struck by lightening! Reign of darkness descends!'

I wanted to protest. I couldn't understand what it was that I had done wrong. But there was nothing I could do to stop her. She was angry about something and I had never seen her angry about anything, ever. Even when one time I got her to catch an injured parakeet for me and it bit her fingers. And yet here she was tearing these harmless flags with such violence that her hands were shaking. And her hands never used to shake, never, never ever even as she would descale and cut to pieces quivering big fish using a knife. Yet here she was, meting out violence on pieces of paper and twigs. Then her eyes fell on something on the ground that made her a bit less angry and a bit more sad.

'And you destroyed my broom too! My la'tchul!'

A few days later, I overheard the news about some members of a Kashmiri Pandit family living across our street getting shot in their house by 'militants'. Many years later, as I first tried to understand the concept of nations, I wondered if it was the flag thief's family that was killed.

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Summer 2008. The courtyard where it happened, in front of the old house that doesn't exist.
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