A fog permeated in my brain. Eyes half shut scanned my Timex. 6 am. Not my usual wake-up call, but instead of groaning bones and muttering complaints I only felt excited.
Today is Republic Day across India. Although Mother India gained independence from nasty Britain in 1947, it wasn’t until January 26, 1950 that a Constitution of India was cemented.
Kavita and I were invited to Savarsai, a nearby village built around a school that 9 of the Child Haven children attend. Since she sits on the board of the school, Republic Day made this an auspicious occasion.
Like most days in India, I never know what to expect. Today’s events were no different.
I sprang up from bed determined to dress nicer than my usual Keen sandals and wrinkly t-shirt. Still, mornings are coolly crisp here and over an olive green dress and baggy jeans, I covered up in a toque and sweater.
Venturing outside I nearly collided with Sonali.
“Auntie, Republic Day!!”
She skipped by holding a thin red sash, a glow radiating from a very adult face. Sometimes I forget she’s only 10.
The kids were issued new school uniforms the night before and whorled around the matron demanding this and that.
“Didi, dress! Powder! Oil!”
A half hour later, they emerged with polished shoes, starched uniforms, and white powdered faces. Not to mention vibrating with national pride.
Kavita came out in a sari dotted with delicate flowers; the intricate border weaved with scarlet and buttery gold threading. For a change, I was speechless.
The other kids hopped buses to attend their ceremonies, while we set off on foot towards the village.
I had walked this road before, narrowly avoiding being hit by trucks, always amused at the words “horn please” painted on their backsides with a whimsical, child-like hand. Besides truck diving I often scoured the ground to steer clear of steaming mounds of cow dung. Today the road was still and dung was a faint worry, not a threat.
Instead, my focus was drawn towards the village entrance. Streams of children in green uniforms marched past us, yelling slogans in Marathi and waving Indian flags.
“All the children invited to village,” said Kavita.
Indeed, the entire village set on a walkabout, with children leading the charge. I eagerly joined the Pied Piper brigade. One set of children shouted, the rest answered back.
“I lovvve my India!! I lovvve my India!!”
“Mahatma Gandhi, our father!!”
It was the song of freedom.
Everyone gathered at the center of the village where an official said a few words and initiated a Hindu ceremony.
We then headed for the village school where another ceremony took place. All the neighboring schoolchildren gathered in a rectangle around a flower-designed kolam.
Another official (the village is overrun with them) copied the same ceremony, broke a coconut on the school steps, and then released the flag amid a sea of awed faces.
Children are the manifestation of God in India and pride in their heritage was never as evident to me than today.
I staggered with joy, wondering if a group of Gregorian Monks were chanting close by. Just delusions for my ears adjusted to the tonal crescendo of the kids singing India’s national anthem. Some Child Haven and village kids stood on the steps, full of identity, a complete sense of knowing who they are.
After that emotional ringing, we piled into the school, where the board gave speeches. Having no clue what was said, I can only conclude the words involved tales of how Republic Day came about.
New pens and notebooks were handed out to the best students; I clapped especially loud for the Child Haven ones.
There’s a sound reason why kids also adore this day – chocolates! Many can score up to 3 or 4 in one morning. Who cares about breaking the shackles of oppression? I got two Eclairs and a Coffy Bite!
The kids sucked back their chocolates, high on sugar, boasting at how many they received, giggling as they showed each other the half still in their pockets.
The teacher called it a day. With swift precision, the school emptied in two minutes flat. We gathered our motley crew of kids and headed for home.
As we walked, I thought about Gandhiji. He lived an unconventional existence, broke from his station to carve a legacy that brought one flag, one voice to India.
Freedom is not an easy road, but once you gain it, how lovely it is to feel your feet upon it.