Dear Homegrown Reader,
Happy Independence Day!
As daughters of a government officer, Independence Day used to be quite a big deal for my sister and me when we were younger. Popularly referred to as ‘15 August’ only, Independence Day meant getting up at 6.30 am to Bollywood songs that sang praises of ‘mere desh ki dharti’ and ran elegies for ‘mere vatan ke logon’. Papa used to be up and about by 6.00 am, looking ever-so-handsome in his crisply-ironed cream-coloured bandhgala ‘Prince Suit,’ all ready to go and perform the flag-hoisting ceremony at his office. Having tidied us up, Papa and Mumma used to pin tricolour-badges on our lapels and click a photo of us as we waved about our little paper tricolours.
“Happy Independence Day!”, we used to burst out together. The cheer would be quickly followed by a goodbye salute to Papa and a hearty ‘Jai Hind!’, as he headed towards his car.
Upon coming back from school at about 11 am, we used to be treated to boxes of snacks and chocolates that Papa used to get for us. Growing up, 26 January and the less cold 15 August were easily one of our favourite ‘holidays’.
On the other hand, however, the reality was that even back in the ‘00s, it was not like the Indian Independence Day was just a festival for the entire country. Even then, all of the 105 crore Indians didn’t have the same opinion about national issues, and perhaps, they also didn’t have the same level of freedom.
But, as we think about ‘independence’, a term that is colloquially seamlessly transposed with ‘freedom’, we wonder if all of us have ever had equal levels of freedom.
There was Faiz Ahmad Faiz in 1947 who had written,
“Ye daagh daagh ujala ye shab-gazida sahar
vo intizar tha jis ka ye vo sahar to nahin”
This stained, pitted first-light
this day-break, battered by night
this dawn that we all ached for
this is not that one.
(Source: Scroll, | Translation: Mustansir Dalvi)
And then there’s the youth of India 2020 that says,
“Hai haq hamara azaadi,
ham leke rahenge azaadi !”
(Freedom is our right. We will take our freedom).
Is the similarity in lament and underlying demand for freedom despite independence a signifier of something?
Back at school, every lesson about the country used to end with a note on ‘unity in diversity’. One of the more-than-contretemps that the ideology might be circumventing is that diversity and its maintenance come at the cost of the idea of ‘freedom for all’. Somehow, one of the things we don’t think as much about is the different levels that ‘freedom’ operates in. It might, however, be useful to think about who and to what extent ‘enjoys’ their freedom, who ‘grants’ freedom, and who takes it away. As a rather curious chiaroscuro of freedoms, 2020, on its Independence Day, gives us a lot to think about, particularly, in terms of our seamless conflation of colonial independence with political and personal ‘freedom’.
This Independence Day, as I celebrate in a quite-more real-than-life quarantine, there are no boxes of snacks and chocolates. Papa will probably pair his Prince Suit with a mask and disposable gloves and quarantined away from my parents and sister, this year, I will probably only be able to wave a salute to my father over video call.
I firmly believe, however, that one of the acts that we can keep performing, no matter where we find ourselves, is the act of hope. Despite the fact that we are probably at the very crest of the aforementioned difference and its potential consequences, what we can continue to do is hope and work towards making sure that our love for freedom—and not just in its excruciatingly personal definition—thrives in our thoughts and actions.
Going back to Jawaharlal Nehru’s words, “... so long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over. And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams.”
Over the years, Homegrown has worked towards thinking about the different variables and connotations attached to these conversations. Today, as I encourage you to reconsider your notions of freedom and independence, I also invite you to use a few stories from our collection:
“The final negotiations post Partition were soon to end up in a deadlock, an unsurprising result for many, and now, the decision would lie solely in the hands of one man, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the common Chairman of both the commissions who had never visited India.”
What happens when a limb is torn from your body and made to survive on its own? Do these two portions of flesh, though bleeding and aching, learn to exist independently? Or do they spend the rest of their indeterminate lives longing for a reunion that will complete them? A few years ago, we had attempted to cover stories where the love that transpired between two people produced remarkable acts of fortitude so that the common bond of humanity between them could be preserved.
It was common knowledge that Churchill was not in favour of granting India its independence. In what he later referred to as an ‘epiphany’, Mountbatten chose a date that resounded deeply with him—August 15, the time that the Japanese surrendered Burma while he held the office of Supreme Allied Commander of Southeast Asia. Funnily enough, nobody reacted with as much alarm and chagrin as India’s astrologers though. Incensed that Mountbatten had not consulted any of them before choosing a date for such an important event, they hurried to their charts. If you are curious to know why August 15 was not ‘auspicious’
Read on here
On June 3, 1947, the All Indian Congress Committee (AICC) voted on the Mountbatten Plan that tore India into two parts based on religious politics. As India’s first female photojournalist fought gender biases in 20th century India, she captured this iconic meeting despite societal prejudice as a barrier. Owing to Homai Vyarawalla’s grit, we can now step into 1947 and experience history in the making through the poignancy of her black and white lens.
Look at the photos here
Movie Time! Whether it’s S. Ram Sharma’s Shaheed or Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti, Indian filmmakers have tried time and again to capture India’s freedom struggle and bring a feeling of belonging and ‘patriotism’ to the big screen. But to portray something as diverse and abstract is no easy task, mainly because the definition of patriotism, of what invokes this sense of belonging, has also evolved over time.
Find our movie recommendations here
Until next week,
Features Editor, Homegrown