Sunday, April 7

One fine independence day...

We decided to celebrate 15th August with some local school kids, it was a small government school, near our city. We all were very excited and thought, what an immense activity we all are going to be a part of, on a national holiday we are going to do a small play followed by patriotic songs and a painting competition. Wow big day, big responsibilities and a feel good factor, and a satisfaction shouting out load, ”aaj maine apne desh ke liye kuch toh kiya hai"                                 

We all arrived very early to the venue. It was a huge ground with a structured wooden stage, had arrangement of chairs in rows and a tall pole with our national flag tied at the top. Flowing and fluttering in its own glory. I saw few kids fixing paper flags on a rope and some cleaning the ground, while others collecting the garbage in the basket.

My friend called out ,”Hey chotu, Yahan Chai Milegi?“ An ordinary looking guy of an age around 8-9 years came and said, “Bhaiya chotu nahi huin mera naam Bikas hai“ and smiled back, "Chai abhhi lekar aata hun".

We saw him running across the ground and in few minutes he was back with a Steel Jug and some disposable cups. As he poured the tea into the cups, I looked at him, When he turned towards me, I simply said “Nahi chaiye, Vikas”. He smiled back nodding his head. I walked up to him, while my friends chatted and sipped the hot tea. He was fixing the rope with flags and tying it to the a wooden pole in the tent. I offered him help but he refused me. Then I called him, while I sat on a chair, he asked me if I wanted the tea now, I refused again. I asked him whether he studying in the same school? He replied, he didn't, he was just called to work. I was little surprised and asked, whether any one among st these kids working here, were studying in the school? He replied none of them, he said, they work in a building nearby the village and were called to help for this event.

He then innocently asked me,”Didi, yahan kya ho raha hai?.  I replied, 15th August ko manane ke liye hum sab aaye hai". He kept looking at me with questions in his eyes. I continued,"I hope you know what 15th August is all about, It’s when we got our Independence (I was in full patriotic swing), soon the chief Guest will come and host our National Flag". He listened to me with his mouth open and scratching his head as though he didn't get what I was trying to explain. He then interrupted me and said that he knows this all, there will be group song followed by a Play (which he said “Natak”) or a movie and joyfully said “Peechli bar yahan par humne Aamir Khan ki picture dekhi thi” . (He could not recall the name Rang de Basanti), aap jaise kuch Bahiya -Dee log le kar aaye the yeh picture", He continued.

 Unknowingly, I also started laughing with him, And said its much more than that, But again he interrupted and said, that he is more keen on what, Babu will give him at the end of the event, some 50 Rupees and 2 Ladoos. He said, from past 2- 3 years he looks forward for this time, as he get to see people nicely dressed, get food and money.

It gave me a little crunch in my heart, the feel good factor of doing something good on 15th August was fading away. I was feeling guilty, What Independence day  is all about ? When I still see those uneducated kids, child labour and eroded childhoods, is this what I was about to mention in my Independence day speech at the podium in few hours from now, “My shinning India” . We, young people are the backbone of this country? For Vikas, 15th August is just another day when he will earn an extra Rupee and get Ladoos. Is that what we all came for making a difference today? I really don’t think so.

I saw him going back to his work and smiling back to me whenever we made an eye contact.
Slowly the event started. School children had gathered, honorable chief guest, from Zila Parshid made a quick speech and hosted the flag. As I saw our Flag and sang the National Anthem, I saw Vikas..who was standing near the wooden stage with a tray of glasses, his eyes were gleaming and he looked all around. The event went on as scheduled, and yes I had my speech as well (somehow it went very plain) , to which my friends asked, where did the whole enthusiasm and spark vanished, which was unlikely me. The last part of the event was a painting competition, we distributed the drawing sheets and crayons. The children were all excited to paint as they also knew that there were prizes awaiting for each one of them.

I saw Vikas sitting behind the chairs and looking blankly everywhere. I quickly grabbed a sheet and a set of pencil colors and gave it to Vikas, he looked amazed and asked me, whom should he give this to? I told him, its for him, He again looked surprised and there was a question in his eyes. I replied, patting his back that I want him to paint anything he feels like on the sheet. He looked happy and sat down on the ground and I drifted away so that he doesn't get conscious seeing me around. But to my surprise he was very excited, he opened the pack and one by one, scribbled the crayon pencils on the sheet, One of my team member went to him and asked him to seriously draw, he then asked, what should he make? My friend gave a suggestion; anything around that he feels is good, he can draw.

We had given every child one hour, during this time the chief guest, took a round of the school premises, spoke to the teachers and had snacks. We started collecting the sheets. I was looking forward to Vikas' sheet. As soon as I came close, he stood and presented his sheet. I looked at the sheet and stood silently amazed for what he has drawn. Our National Flag,“Isko Tiranga Jandha kehte hai” He said and smiled at me. I looked at him with happiness. There was neatness and correct use of colours. I really felt proud holding his sheet.

When I turned back, he had already left. This time I saw him collecting his share of “Ladoos”. He was thrilled as he got them in his hands and smiled and ran with his friends happily.

His little sketch made our group really proud and we thought of sharing the same with our honorable chief guest. I quickly gave Vikas’s introduction to him and showed him his colored sheet, and indirectly passed on an offer of making some arrangement for his studies as well, (Our group collectively thought on the same ). To our happiness, The Chief Guest agreed and said that we can give the boy a consolation prize. I was over joyed and quickly grabbed the mike at the podium. I announced the Prizes one by one and children started coming to the stage, they bowed and folded their hands in gratitude to the chief guest and their head master and the collected their respective prizes. No doubt we got to see extraordinary presentation of their imaginations in the sketches, but for me Vikas’s sheet was priceless. Last announcement was made, and I called out Vikas’s name. There was a huge applause, whistles  and hooting from our group followed by applause from the gathering. Ofcourse, he was the hero of the day for all of us but I didn't see him at the gathering. I saw  the Chief Guest guest taking out a 500 Rupee Note from his pocket and placing it on top of gift wrapped box. I felt good and again my eyes searched for Vikas. I asked my team members to quickly find him. 10 minutes passed by, the headmaster prompted me to complete the event and thank Mr Chief Minister and I followed the same. 

As the guests moved on, leaving the fog of dust behind, I quickly ran to find him, I called few boys who were in the same group and inquired about Vikas, They replied “woh toh gaya didi”. I asked, where, but they just replied that they don’t know.

I felt defeated and puzzled, where did he go? and why did he go? I considered this whole episode meaningless without Vikas and I recalled what the boy had said to me, that he eagerly waits for his ladoos and his money. My eyes filled with tears and inside of me, was screaming, this not my independence day. I can’t see the childhood being slayed like this. I could recall the innocence in his eyes, none of us had witnessed such a life when we were his age. Working hard to make living. Lost in these thoughts, I joined back my friends who were packing their bags and making a move. Just then, Headmaster came to us and offered us “ladoos”. I simply said no, when he offered me, politely saying that I don’t relish sweets that much. I was sad that I couldn't meet Vikas and give him acknowledgement that he deserved, but suddenly a thought made me pick one “Ladoo” from the box that headmaster had left on the chair. The thought was very simple, for Vikas,15th August was getting a Ladoo at the end of the event and enjoying it happily. And I didn’t want this happiness to fade away in my mind..

Nidhi Sood Mehta

Note : This story is written by Nidhi Sood Mehta under Captive Of Thoughts :)
Do Share, Like If this article thrives you to think about true Independence.

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