The first Independence Day I remember is, the 25th ID celebration in 1972. I was in Class V and as a part of the celebrations, the elementary school where I studied, conducted a debate competition for school students from nearby villages and I won the first prize (thanks to my teachers who wrote the script).
The topic was ‘Which is better – Village or City Life?’ I spoke for Village Life and the line I remember is – “if we stop driving our ploughs, you can’t drive your cars!” (எங்க ஏரோட்டம் நின்னு போனால் உங்க காரோட்டம் என்னவாகும்?). Years later I understood, it was line from a famous movie song. The prize was a plastic bucket about 2 litre capacity in blue colour and my grandma, appeared in my blog (The Family Autocrat – Tribute To My Grandma) proudly paraded me and the bucket around the agraharam*.
The patriotic fervour was very high and some of the leaders who participated in the long freedom fight were still alive. Leaders from my state, Rajaji (who was the first Governor General of Independent India) and Kamaraj who could have become the Prime Minister but refused after the sudden demise of Lal Bahadur Sastri in Tashkent, USSR. They spoke about the struggle and sacrifices of thousands of freedom fighters which was very inspirational. Every village had at least one or two congressmen who participated in the freedom struggle and they would influence the village folks in a positive way talking about the long struggle to freedom.
There were movies made on the lives of freedom fighters and Sivaji Ganesan, a famous actor from Tamil Nadu, brought them to life. He would be Kattabomman, a King from a small place in South India, who refused to pay the taxes imposed by the British, fought them and was hanged for treason in one movie, V. U Chidambaram who ran a shipping line competing with the British and was put in prison where he ended up pulling a chekku (oil extracting machine) substituting the bulls in another movie or Tirupur Kumaran who was killed while carrying flag during a protest in yet another movie. It was all very inspiring. Gandhi 1982, directed and produced by Richard Attenborough was probably the last movie on Indian freedom struggle but it was made for international audiences and Oscars; so did not leave much of impression in us.
Regionalism as we see today was not known in those days and leaders from across the nation were universally respected. Apart from Gandhi and Nehru, the first one from the west of the country the second from up north, freedom fighters from Maharashtra (Gokhale and Tilak) and Bose from Bengal were well-known in every single village and predominantly figured in our text books in schools. Couple of days back, I read a small book, a long poem basically, written by Azha Valliappa*** for children about how we won our freedom. It lists every single leader from nook and corner of the country who participated in the struggle; truly inspiring. I am not sure if National Book Trust has translated the poem into English. It should be made a compulsory reading for all the children in primary school.
Yes India remianed largely poor on her 25th Anniversary; let us not get into the reasons for it. Plundering by the British for couple of centuries is not the only reason. The World War II was just over around the time we became independent. Many of the countries in Europe have suffered huge losses and were totally flattened by non stop bombing. Russia and Germany had lost 70% of their reproductive population of men. But they have recovered faster and their people became prosperous by seventies. Near home, Japan lost millions of young people in war and till date, thankfully, remain the only country to have been atom bombed. Yet by 1964, in less than two decades after the war was over, they conducted Olympics in Tokyo.
Even China, the country which was as poor as India in 1947, by seventies has started pulling millions out of poverty every year and we were struggling with Hindu rate of growth (3% GDP growth) till late seventies and eighties. V S Naipaul whose ancestors were from India and a Nobel laureate, wrote a book, “India – an area of darkness” commenting on the abject poverty in India. The Indian Government promptly banned the book as if it would solve all the problems and make India look prosperous. It would take India two more decades, when Mr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Narasimma Rao opened up the economy and we started seeing a change in standards of life.
Let us forget what did not happen but see what are the positives. We, billion plus people, still remain as one country seventy-two years after we won our independence. It is a phenomenal achievement considering that we have 800 plus languages, dozen major religions, different cultures and 29 states and seven union territories.
I used to convey this message to my colleagues from Europe and USA. Some of our states are bigger in size than many countries in Europe (it’s a no brainer if we compare population). But we remain as one unlike Europe with less population, less languages and less cultural diversity. But see what happened in Yugoslavia. Within a year after they came out of communist regime everyone was at everyone else’s throats (the Croats, the Serbs, the Albanians). But here we are, still standing as one country. Can you imagine Europe becoming a single country? They can’t even stay united in the European Market. Remember India was never a single country. When we gained independence there were about 565 small kingdoms; we united after independence and we still remain united.
We have fully functional democracy (with all its flaws) and a largely free press. A citizen can choose to live anywhere in the country to make a living. You don’t need a work permit to go in live in Mumbai as you need in Shanghai.
For every twenty something who is in a tear-away hurry to go to the land of Gold (aka America) after graduation, there are thousands who stay back to work and make a living here. Sujatha, a famous Tamil writer once asked a young engineer working in a remote place where Indian Space Organisation is located, did he not think of migrating. The young engineer replied, “Yes I could have. I got the scholarship also. But if everyone goes, who will serve India?” There are thousands of people like this engineer, who want to stay back and work for India’s progress. And that is something we should be proud about. Many of the IIT graduates (the top engineering institution of the country), who used to migrate to USA for Masters and follow the Department and Apartment, Adviser and Budweiser, Green Card and Honda Accord route, now stay back to serve here. The best example is Mr. Anand Kumar form Bihar who is now training poor students from the hinterlands of the state to crack the IIT entrance, one of the most difficult entrance test in the world, a degree with a confirmed ticket to career and prosperity.
Yesterday I was waiting in Chennai Airport to pick-up Renuka and Rachna coming from Hyderabad. The airport was crowded though elaborate serious security checks were in place on the eve of Independence Day. There were young women and men coming out with just a laptop on shoulders who must be visiting the city for a business meeting or presentation and planning to catch a return flight in the evening. People who were on a small break on the ID weekend, people returning home after a business travel. The airports in India which hardly saw a thousand passenger footfalls a day a decade ago, see a million passengers passing through the airports in a quarter.
I am also happy to record, in the healthcare start-up I am working, we now see young girls just out of teens making a 800 Kilometres journey from their rural hometowns to migrate to state capital to start a career in nursing, again, unthinkable few years back. Unlike our generation which chased jobs upon graduation, today’s generation (not all) is able to chase a career of their choice.
Of course, this is not representative of the entire country. There are millions who are still not able to get a decent education and livelihood. But we are progressing. The important thing to keep in mind is the ever-widening Gini coefficient** and we need to ensure growth and prosperity for all sections of the society. But I am sure, when I write my blog on 75th anniversary of Independence (2022), I will have more positive stories to share. Yes, I am quite upbeat about our young generation and their growth prospects.
For now, let us toast our great leaders from Gandhi to the hundreds of thousands who participated in the struggle but remain faceless. Oh yeah, today is a dry day and you possibly can’t raise a toast with champagne. What the heck, let us toast with a glass of lassi or for that matter a glass of buttermilk; after all, we are from the country of holy cow.
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY DEAR INDIA
Doodle Courtesy – Rachna
* Agraharam: A part of the village, where Brahmins of the village lived.
** Gini coefficient: A ratio which measures the distribution of wealth in a country and a poor ratio means the wealth is being accumulated by a few.
*** Tamil Readers can get அழ வள்ளியப்பா’s book here: http://freetamilebooks.com/ebooks/story-of-independence/