I was returning home, from college. I got off the train and started walking, taking my usual route towards home. On my way, I saw few hawkers selling Indian flags and tri-colored batches; and that is when I realized that the next day was the Independence Day. “How could I forget that?” I thought and the answer my cynical side of the brain gave was, “you are no longer in school.” Well that is the harsh truth; in school, the Independence Day never went unnoticed. Those patriotic songs that we sung, those skits that we performed, those speeches about our freedom fighters; those were the days when we actually celebrated the Independence Day. Now, it is like just another ‘holiday’, nothing more.
While I was busy in my thoughts, a small boy came up to me. “Didi jhanda le lo na, sirf paanch rupye ka hai… agar aap 2 lengi toh mein aapko 8 rupye mein doonga (sister please buy this flag, it costs only Rs. 5 and if you buy two, I’ll give them for Rs 8)” He said, I smiled and thought of buying it, to reminiscence my school days. “Theek hai mein kharidoongi magar ek sharat par, mereko yeh bata tu yeh aaj kyun bech raha hai? Kal kya hai? (fine I’ll buy it on one condition, tell me why are you selling this today? what is there tomorrow?)” I thought of testing him. “Kya didi aap bhi mazak kar rahe ho, kal apna swatantrata divas hai, angrezi mein kya bolte hai raaju usko? (What sister you are fooling with me, tomorrow is our Independence Day. What is it called in English Raju?)” He asked his fellow friend. “Arre usko na ‘IN-DEE-PEN… aisa hee kuch bulate hai. (It is called Indepen… or something like that)” His friend gave in. “It is called ‘INDEPENDENCE day.” I said. “Haan didi wohich. (That only sister)” He said “Tera naam kya hai? (What is your name?)” I asked. “Suresh Didi. (Suresh sister)” He replied. “Accha Suresh muje yeh bata ki humlog ‘Independence Day’ kyun manate hai?(Tell me Suresh, why do we celebrate Independence day?) I asked. “Arre didi dekho, 15 August ko, 65 saal pehle humlog ko angrezo se chutkara mila tha. Saale log ne humlog par 200 saal se bhi zyada raaj kiya, saale kamine log. (See sister, on 15 August 65 years ago we got Independence from British government. Those idiots ruled over us for more than 200 years, bloody ass-holes.” He said. I raised my eyebrow at his remark and he apologized for the same. “Aur didi, pata hai aapko humlog ko aazadi sirf Gandhi bapu aur Jawaharlal Nehru aur Saradar Patel ki vajah se nai mili, kitne saare log ne apni jaan di azadi ke liye, par sala koi unko yaad heech nai karta. (And you know what sister we got Independence not only because of Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Sardar Patel, but there were many others who sacrificed their lives to get freedom, but nobody remembers them.)” He concluded. “Barabar bola Suresh, school mein sikha yeh sab? (Well said Suresh, did you learn it in school?)” “Nai didi, itna toh sabko pata hota hee hai na, iss desh me janam liya hai toh itna toh pata rakhna hee padega na, apun ka desh hai yeh… kya, kab, kaise hua sab pata rakhna heech padta hai na. (No sister, this much everyone knows. I’ve born in this country so it is my duty to learn about my country’s past.)” He said. I was speechless by his disclosure, and was in awe of this young man. He continued, “Aur rahi isschool ki baat, toh apne aise naseeb kahan? Saale apna maalik padhne ke paise hee nahi deta, jitna kamata hoon woh sab usko dena padta hai, uske badle woh 1 time ka khana aur sone ke liye chhath deta hai. (I am not that fortunate that I can go to school. My master does not provide me money to study, whatever I earn in the daytime I have to give all that to him; and in that exchange he provides me meal for one time and house to sleep in.) “Tere mata-pita nahi hai kya? (what about your parents?)” “Didi woh log 2 saal pehle mar gaye, ek saale raaiz zade ne un log ko kuchal diya apni gadi se, tab se mein akela hee hoon. (Sister they died two years ago. A rich spoilt brat killed them, under his car. Since then, I’m alone.) He said with ease. I was left dumbfounded, this little boy of around 8 years old had gone through so much in life, yet there was smile on his face, & twinkle in his eyes. ” Mereko maaf karde. (I am sorry)” I said. “Koi nai didi. (it is ok sister)” He reverted.
I smiled looking at both the boys earnestly, and at that moment, something struck me, “Accha tum log ko thoda bhi padhna likhna aata hai? (Do you guys know how to read and write, little at least?)” I asked. “Haan didi thoda, thoda atta hai, hum log dono ne 1 kitaab chori ki thi jisme kaise likhte aur padte hai woh bataya tha. (Yes sister we know little bit, because of a book that we had stolen.)” I again raised my eyebrow at that, and he looked down, ashamed. “Tum log ko bhook lagi hai kya? (Are you guys hungry?)” I asked. They both looked at each other and nodded sheepishly. I took them to a tea stall and offered them tea, I asked them what they would eat, but they kept denying everything. I finally was about to buy a packet of biscuit when, “didi woh CAREUM walla…. (Sister that cream one…)” Suresh said. I smiled at him and bought two packets for each of them. While they were having their biscuits I searched for night schools in Mumbai, (thank God I own a smart phone). I got two results, noted their addresses, and made calls. Finally, one school agreed to take them and told me that a sum of Rs 250 for each, had to be paid as their fees. Without wasting time I took both of them to the school and paid their fees, they were shocked at my act, but I could also see the intense happiness in their eyes. I said to them. “Dekho mein bhi abhi padhai kar rahi hoon, aur kamati nahi hoon isliye zyada nahi de sakti par yeh Rs 500 rupye rakho aur jo bhi kitab school ke liye chahiye, yeh tum log ko chahiye woh le lena theek hai. (See boys even I am still a student, I don’t earn money yet; so all I could give you for now is Rs. 500; buy whichever books you’ll want from it ok.)” I said and smiled. They both hugged me simultaneously, with tears in their eyes. They were out of words, but finally Raju said, “Shukriya didi (thank you sister).” And started crying again. “Yeh lo mera number, jab bhi tum log ko koi bhi cheez ki zarrorat ho toh mera number ghuma dena, aur tum log ki yeh saal ki fees mene bhar di hai, agle saal ki mein bhar doongi uska tension mat lena, bas school jao, padhai karo aur kuch ban jao. Apne desh ke liye kuch karna hai na? (See boys, take my number, and whenever you people want anything, just call me. I have paid your fees for this year, for next year too, I will pay it; so don’t you worry about it. Just focus yourselves to studies; you people want to do something for your country don’t you’ll?)” I said. Suresh wiped his tears and said, ” Nai didi aapne itna kiya humlog ke liye, abhi humlog bohot padhenge aur paise bachayenge jo kamate hai aur ussi mein se… (No sister, you did so much for us, now we will study a lot and would save money from what we earn and then…)” “Accha accha theek hai… (ok, ok, fine…)” I said cutting Suresh. I talked with the principal of the school, and signed their register as the guardian of the two boys; and asked him to call me whenever their fees were due. “Chale abhi? (Should we leave now?)” I asked both the boys. “Didi aaj aapne humein swatantra kisko kehte hai woh samjaya, aaj humlog ko aapne swatantrata dilayi hai ashikshan se, Gandhi, Nehru aur Patel jaye tel lene humlog ko toh IN-DEE-PAN-DAN aapne hee dilayi hai. (Sister today you taught us the real meaning of freedom, today you granted us the freedom from illiteracy, forget about Gandhi, Nehru and Patel, for us you are our independence provider.)” Suresh said and Raju agreed. I raised my eyebrow yet again at his remark; and they both bursted out laughing, and even I joined them. “Challo abhi muje 2 jhaande de do. (Ok now give me two flags)” I said. “Yeh lo didi, 4 jhaande woh bhi muft, kyunki aapne humein azadi dilayi, toh aap se paisa kaise le sakte hai… ‘JAI HIND’ didi. (sister take four of them for free of cost, you granted us freedom today, so how can we accept money from you….’ JAI HIND’ sister)” Suresh said. “JAI HIND!” I said and went home.
I don’t know if I deserved the podium that the two boys, Suresh and Raju provided me. However, the feeling and the happiness of helping those boys was too profound. For the first time in my life, I thought I did something good for my country. I know it was a small thing, but the happiness that had shone, in their eyes made me feel proud of myself. Moreover, at that instant, I realized what all the freedom fighters must have felt, on the day, 15 August 1947. At that moment, I realized the real meaning of INDEPENDENCE…. HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY FRIENDS!