‘Ae mere watan ke logon, zaara aankh mein bharlo paani’ was playing on the radio. Manoj sat with his roommate, Abhay, humming the song. The month of August brings with it the special melody of patriotism. They were enjoying the soothing patriotic songs.
“So what are we doing on Independence day?” Abhay asked abruptly.
“Wish it was a Monday or a Friday. We could have planned a trip to the hills. This year it is a waste.” Manoj answered with a tone of disappointment in his voice.
“See the newspaper states there will be a special SALE on the 15th. We can go and check. I need to buy a good pair of formals for next month’s presentation.” Abhay declared.
“Alright, we can do that.” Manoj replied with a tinge of positivity. “Maybe a movie too,” he added.
This plan brought a twinkle in their eyes and a gleam in their smiles.
Manoj hails from Bhubaneswar. After completing his engineering, he got a job through campus placement. His new place of abode was Delhi. On the first day of induction, he met Abhay and they both decided to stay together. They rented a one room apartment. It was just six months of moving to this new city. Manoj was still exploring the ways of his new life. His phone rang. It was his father’s number. He answered immediately.
Manoj- “Hello Baba”
Father- “There is a bad news. Your aai is no more. Book your tickets and come soon.”
Manoj-“Oh my God! But she was fine. I spoke to her two days ago. What happened suddenly?”
Father- “She had an attack- Heart Attack.”
Manoj-“Give the phone to Maa.”
Father- “She is inconsolable. I will call you after sometime.”
Manoj-“Let me book my tickets. Bye Baba.”
Abhay could sense what had happened. With remorse, Manoj told him that he had lost his maternal grandmother. He remembered his aai’s gentle touch, her pestering him for food, her innumerable tales and all those happy memories filled with warmth and care. Tears rolled down from his eyes. He spoke to his boss and immediately booked his tickets.
Manoj landed in Bhubaneswar and travelled to Basudevpur in Bhadrak district, where rest of the family was. After many years, he visited his maternal home. His aai used to often stay in Bhubaneswar with her elder son. Hence, Manoj met her there and did not get an opportunity to go to Basudevpur. Only last year, she had shifted back to this place to stay with her younger son and spend rest of her life at her home. She had special attachment to this house. It was built with a lot of hardwork and sacrifices by her husband. She always wished to breathe her last at her home. Her wish was granted!
The next few days after cremation, various rituals happened at home. It was time for Manoj to return back to Delhi. He had heard about the place ‘Eram’ near Basudevpur. He vaguely remembered his grandfather had told him about the significance of that place. Before returning, he decided to visit it with his cousin. It was 16 kilometres from his maternal home.
When he reached the place, he saw the lofty Martyr’s Pillar and ‘Saheed Smruti Pitha’(memorial structure). The Martyr’s Pillar was standing tall as a reminder to the historic event. Discussion with the local people revealed the chain of events that had happened that day. During the Quit India Movement, this field at Eram was often used for public meetings and to propagate Gandhian principles of freedom struggle. On 28th September 1942, a huge crowd of 5000 people had gathered for a peaceful agitation for an ‘orderly British withdrawal’ from India. Surprisingly without any provocation and reason, the then Deputy Superintendent of Police, ordered to open fire. Within few minutes, 302 shots were discharged at the crowd. The innocent, weapon less, peace loving people had no route to escape. The field was blocked on all three sides. 28 people died immediately at that moment. Several others got injured. There were blood stains and wails of people all around. The gruesome murder by the British people left behind several tales of agony for the descendants of the martyrs. Amongst them was an 80 year old man, whom Manoj met. With sorrow, he said “I do not have any memory of my father who had died that day. But I see his blood stains everyday on this ‘Rakta Teertha Eram’ (a place of pilgrimage tinged with blood). No amount of rain, wind or sunshine has been able to wipe his blood stain away.”
Manoj felt choked. Shivers ran in his body. He could feel the blood stains on the ground, the cries and the wails, the anguish, the pain of the family members who had lost their dear ones. He visualised how the innocent people must have felt. He was once locked in the lift due to a technical problem. How claustrophobic he had felt even when there was no threat to his life. Being fired at without even getting a chance to leave the place must have been such a traumatic experience. His heart felt for the martyrs and his eyes could not hide his emotion. He became teary eyed. This was an ordeal of one incident. There are numerous tales of sacrifices, determination and love for the country.
The next day was 15th of August. Manoj had to catch his flight to return to Delhi. While he was travelling in the car on his way to Bhubaneswar airport, he saw the flag being hoisted at different places, school kids dressed in tricolour clothes and heard patriotic songs being played on loudspeakers. He felt a certain sense of renewed pride in all these celebrations. In the bottom of his heart was the new found, deep sense of gratitude for the martyrs and all the people who had faced different degrees of struggles to free India. A sense of guilt and shame filled him too. How the day only meant movie, shopping or an extended weekend trip for him. And how he felt if it was not on a Monday or a Friday, it was a waste.
Back in Delhi, when Manoj went to watch a movie, he was not the usual reluctant self when the National Anthem began. Earlier, he used to stand reluctantly with complete focus on his tub of popcorn ensuring a single popcorn does not pop out of it. This time, as soon as the announcement was made, he sprang out of his seat, stood erect with a sense of honour. After years, he actually sang the National Anthem and did not just wait for it to finish. He felt every word of ‘Jana Gana Mana’.
His life went on as usual. But he became more sensitive. He did not throw garbage on the roads, did not drink and drive, did his job with sincerity, paid his taxes, exercised his right to vote, offered his seat in bus or metro to the needy and respected his country and all its citizens with all his heart.
He just became a little more ‘INDIAN’- in every possible way.
By Ivy Choudhury