Commentary

My experiences of the ‘Day of Independence’, and the lack of it

Date: 15th August, some 10 years ago.
Place: Kolkata.

A schoolgirl wakes up early in the morning. She jumps off the bed and rushes off to get ready.

She loves going to school and especially days like these where the teachers don’t ask her whether she has revised a chapter or memorised a poem by heart, or how a toad’s heart looks like.

Gobbling up the sandwich and milk she wears her school uniform and runs from home as soon as she puts on her shoes. Her mother shouts at her from behind, warning her not to get drenched in the rain.

She reaches her school which is organising a small function and a flag hoisting ceremony. Her friends notice and wave at her. She joins them in the assembly line. The teachers standing in front look like humanised versions of the Indian flag, dressed in three colours. The principal gives a long and boring speech while the girl and her friends gossip about school romances, and the newly released Harry Potter book. The music teacher brings out the harmonium. The function starts.

After an hour or so, the onlookers and pedestrians see a bunch of happy smiling faces in school uniform emerge out of school, shouting and laughing, some arguing what to do with the rest of the day. Some guys, not being able to resist the temptation of playing football in the rain, run off to the nearby field. Some budding school romances decide to make most off this romantic rainy day. The girl and her friends decide to attack a fuchka stall.

After eating the spicy street food, and almost dying of hiccups, the group of these teenagers start walking from Ballygunge to Golpark, a short stretch but a long and fun walk for someone who doesn’t have the option to walk with friends in any normal school day. They start walking in the rain. The absence of school books in the bag makes the walk more enjoyable.

She feels free, she feels independent. She forgets her worries and the impending test about the toad’s heart for a while. She eagerly awaits another Independence Day to feel this free.

 

Date: 15th August, some 4 years ago.
Place: Delhi.

A college girl gets disturbed when her roommate’s alarm goes off early in the morning. Half-woke she grunts some gibberish and goes back to sleep not paying attention to her roommate’s warning about missing breakfast. She has classes for 6 days straight. One extra holiday like this seems like a rare gem. She decides not to let the holiday go waste and gears up for some extra sleep.

Her hungry stomach awakens her after a while. Realising that she doesn’t have any noodles stored for emergencies like this, she curses herself and goes to the washroom. The roommate, being recently inspired by the book ‘The Monk who sold his Ferrari’, tries to study hard. She disturbs the roommate.

‘Let’s go out for lunch, please,’ she pleads. The roommate reluctantly agrees after a few pleads. They decide to ask some more friends.

Around 12 noon, a group of five young college girls emerge out of the fortified gate of the college hostel in Civil Lines. They see that some girls are coming out of the college gate, across the road. They just ‘celebrated’ Independence Day.

The girl and her friends decide to take an auto. After bargaining with the driver using lines like, “Bhaiya hum students hain, please thoda kam paisa lo,” they all board the same auto.

Reaching Kamla Nagar, a market nearby, they go to a restaurant. After having a sumptuous meal, the young girls walk towards the nearby VC lawns. They sit there on the grass, discussing various things. The young girl didn’t have a quality free time with friends amidst classes, dance practice and hostel curfew. Sitting on the grass, surrounded by friends with crimson hue of the setting sun as her backdrop, she wishes the day to never end.

 

Date: 15th August, 2017.
Place: Srinagar. 

An adult woman wakes up in a hotel room. She reaches out to check her phone as usual. There is no internet, no network. She goes to the window, the streets are deserted, the shops are closed. The ever busy street with buses and cars honking are uncomfortably quiet. There is a curfew.

She worries about her mother who will be anxious if not called. Being an anxious person herself, she starts panicking and pacing across the room. She gets a headache. While looking for a painkiller she realises that she is out of them.

Her headache gets worse. She feels suffocated. She tries to go out. The guy in the reception informs her that all shops will be closed. He urges her not to go out today. He is genuinely worried.

She comes back to her room feeling more anxious. She tries to write but her hands are shaking. She plays some music. She feels caged.

At 12:30 her phone buzzes. She pounces on it. Network is restored. She dials her mother’s number. The mother picks up the phone in a fraction of a second.

After some comforting, the mother informs that she is in a program organised by People’s Film Collective regarding the irony of ‘Independence’. They are watching documentaries and discussing about the largest democracy of the world. They just finished watching ‘In the shade of fallen chinar’.

Now they will discuss and dissent about the Kashmir issue.

The irony hits the woman hard. She looks out her window again. The curfew, the throttled voices and the deserted streets make her sad and angry. She wishes never to witness this day again.

 

Utsa Sarmin is a research scholar from Cambridge University, United Kingdom. She has completed her M.Phil in development studies. 

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Free Press Kashmir.


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