It is hard to believe that twenty years have passed since that beautiful evening which makes one of my richest memories. It is also hard to believe that I have changed so much from my almost-ten-year-old version.
It was the evening of 15th Aug 1997- India was celebrating 50 years of Independence- Golden Jubilee of Freedom for the Golden Bird. Port Blair, my little hometown, far away from the hustle and bustle of mainland India, was very different from what it is today. There were fewer people, fewer buildings, fewer shops, fewer cars, and a lot more rain. I remember being torn between watching “Gandhi” on television and watching celebratory fireworks by the Defence near the seafront. After much prodding by my mother, I chose the latter. Wearing a pretty peach frock I rode behind my Abbu on his old scooter, the two minute distance to the ‘Hospital Road’- from where we could see a snapshot of my whole world… well, at least my most favourite spots in this world. To our right we could see Aberdeen Bazaar commencing and just round the corner from there is my home. To our front was Gymkhana ground. To our left- our beautiful Andaman Sea with the Ross floating on it- as our friend, our neighbour, and as were to realize after the 2004 Tsunami, also our guardian.
That night, as on all important nights, Ross was splendidly decked with lights. Naval ships too lit up the dark sea with their decorative lights. Soon the sun would set, there’d be a black out- and in the pitch darkness would begin the fireworks for which I was waiting impatiently.
Pumped up with patriotism, we were soon staring wide eyed at the night sky adorned with flickering lights of all colours, in all shapes, making patterns from this world and beyond. If this man made beauty was falling short in any way, divinity intervened and blessed us with a rain that drenched us to the bone. And that- THAT vision of fireworks rising up to meet the night sky and the night sky pouring down its love as rain to meet us on the ground, as man and nature joined hands to celebrate “India”- remains one of my most vivid, most spectacular and most favourite memories. Few things can compare to what I felt then- there on the road to the Hospital, with my Abbu, next to his old scooter, soaked in skin-ripping rain.
Both India and I have changed so much in the past 20 years. I have gone through both enchantment as well as disenchantment with Nationalism- India too should have, by now… I hope!
What remains is a memory of celebrating freedom- beautiful, plain, simple ‘Freedom’ in the very land where some forefather, long long ago, had lost his.
That pride, that happiness, that love- how I miss it! How terribly I miss it!