Our Independence Day just went past and so did the celebrations.
What celebrations? Plenty that I can think of. The radio stations dust off the old CDs of the choicest few songs from the even fewer patriotic films. Traffic signals see a host of cheap replicas of the Tricolour being sold to car owners as décor items, Bollywood celebrities couch baloneys on what freedom means to them, malls offer deep freedom discounts and TV channels show politicos from one state after another hoisting the sometimes-stubborn national flag covering the so-called ‘nation celebrates I-day’ news. So banal. So uninspiring. So perfunctory.
The 15th day of August, any year for the last few decades, somehow in my mind has always stood for the biggest event with the smallest celebration. It is typecast as the most boring day, subjected to so much routine that the spirit of the once-new-found independence fails to stir even an iota of patriotism in me, leave aside a sense of anticipation for the big day. Celebration by definition means lights, colour, noise, festivities, merriment, coming together of countless people — familiar and strange, and much sharing. We celebrate Diwali, Eid, Christmas. But when it comes to our Independence Day, we observe it rather than celebrate it.
I am fascinated with how governments and people in other countries celebrate their I-Day. Sample some interesting stuff here:
One day is not enough for Peruvians to celebrate their Independence Day, so they dedicate two days: July 28, the date of Peru’s independence; and July 29, which hosts a celebration in honour of the Armed Forces and National Police. A giant parade which involves hundreds of Peruvians dressed up in colourful costumes, accompanied by energetic drum lines takes place in city centre of Lima.
Every major city of Australia has its own unique way of celebrating the national holiday: Sydney does so with the world-renowned boat races; Perth with a colossal firework show; Melbourne holds a People’s March, to celebrate the diversity of the nation. During the march, people from different communities walk together, often in colourful costumes, to celebrate Australian unity. Across the country, numerous concerts are held, featuring numerous performers from every genre you can imagine.
Street parties are not enough? How about beach parties? The coastal region of Ghana celebrates Independence Day on the beach with music and dances that marry the elements of West African tradition with hip-hop. A famous regatta competition takes place in the fishing villages.
Mexico’s celebrations begin the night before, across the nation. In Mexico City, the epicentre for the festivities is one of the world’s largest city squares; more than half a million people gather here each year. It is a tradition for the President to repeat the cry of patriotism, followed by enthusiastic response of “Viva!” by the lively crowd. At the end, spectacular fireworks light up the night sky.
Firemen’s galas - is a French tradition in which fire stations open their doors to the French public for dancing, drinking, and partying. The firefighters are dressed up in their uniforms, and occasionally, they perform some live demonstrations to entertain the guests.
In Indonesia, non-competitive sports like panjat pinang, which challenges people to scale slippery trees in hopes of grabbing the prizes that have been placed at the top, are the main events. Panjat pinang symbolises the struggle of Indonesians to achieve their independence from the Dutch.
The trouble with us in India is that every other celebration dwarfs the I-Day ‘celebrations’. Indian people do not seem to feel a part of the ‘I-Day celebration’ as it is symbolic only of a forced respect to martyrs, a struggle to hoist the flag and scripted and rusted speeches by politicians.
The intermingling of the people and polity and the spirit to celebrate is conspicuous by its absence. There is kite-flying on this day but the grander occasion for kite-flying is Makar Sankranti; there are fireworks, but India feels real fireworks only on Diwali. There is our desi panjat pinang but Krishna Janmashtami has a different meaning and ‘matki phod’ a different goal. A national celebration and partying on streets happens too but only for the cricket World Cup victory.
Why is that when we think of our I-Day, our dominant thought is our own personal freedom in going to the nearest getaway? If a tiny country like Peru, almost the size of Jharkhand, goes all out with its spirit of celebration for its freedom, then what stops India, forty times its size, to celebrate its own at least four fold? Must we see this day as one that has the trappings of ‘everything official about it’? Does this line of thought not contradict the very meaning of freedom? Think about it.
(The writer is managing consultant of The Key Consumer Diagnostics Pvt Ltd, a Mumbai-based qualitative research company)