“Bindi get up! Get up now…. No, no five minutes.” Mom screeched. I sat up on my bed, looked at the watch; it was 8.00 a.m. “Mom…” I started, but my sister, who was studying, stopped me midway, “It’s Republic Day, my dear sissy.” “Oh! Damn!” I thought. I tried sneaking back to my sleep, but mom, “Bindi!” “Yeah, I’ve got up.” I yelled back. I had no way out; I had to get up early on a holiday. Republic Day’s were special for mom as, when young, she had participated in the Republic Day’s celebrations, that takes place in Delhi. Therefore every year, she religiously made my sister and me watch it, LIVE on television; along with her own set of stories, which were of course, always the same.
The parade started; half an hour into it, my sister, “Mom, we have heard all of this hundred times.” Mom looked at me, but I remained neutral. No way I was going to spoil my holiday, getting into a brawl with my family. Mom didn’t say a word after that. The parade got over. Mom walked away to the kitchen, and I signaled my sister to apologize to her. She did as she was told, and after some persuasion, they were back to normal. “Phew…” I sighed, in relief. The rest of the day passed lazily. At evening, I decided to head to a jogger’s park called the ‘Priyadarshini Park’; It was situated at Malabar Hill, one of the most Posh areas of south Mumbai. The park covered 20 acres of a beautiful green belt on the sea front, with one-third of the park developed for the activities of the Priyadarshini Sports Complex.
I took the public bus, up to my destination. I just love travelling by the public transport, because I feel, that’s where one can discover the heart of the city. After warming up a bit, I started jogging. After three rounds, my asthmatic lungs said, ‘ENOUGH’, so I decided to take a seat on one of the benches that faced the sea. I was still panting; beside me was an elderly uncle, who was eyeing the sea intensely. I looked at him, he seemed undisturbed by my interference. I looked straight to where he was looking, “Such a beautiful evening it is.” I stated. He looked at me, and I smiled. He studied me, his own face depicted no emotion; and then returned back to his gaze. “Damn, Bindi why can’t you mind your own business.” I thought. “Indeed!” He replied. “I just love watching the setting of the sun. It’s so mesmerizing.” I said. He didn’t say anything. “Bindi, he wants to spend his time alone. Get up and leave.” My mind signaled me. I was about to get up but, “Do you know the meaning of Republic Day, child?” He asked.
I was astounded with his sudden choice of a random question. I sat down; he kept his gape fixed on the sea. I fumbled for words, “I…. Ye….” “A draft constitution was prepared and submitted to the Assembly on 4 November 1947. It came into effect only on 26 January to honor the original 1930 declaration.”He stated. I knew that, I had read enough history to be acquainted with the meaning of the Republic Day. Nonetheless, I didn’t have the heart to stop him, and tell him that, thus I kept quiet. He continued, “This was the day, when our rights and duties were brought to a concrete form. It holds a lot of value in every Indian’s heart and mind, or let say, it should. Many great scholars and freedom fighters have put in their efforts to draft our Constitution…. Freedom fighters…. Freedom fighters…” He paused at that, and for the first time since I had seen him, I saw twinkle in his eyes. “Uncle, were you present, when our country got independence?” I asked, changing the course. He looked at me, narrowed his temple, studied me, and then suddenly smiled. The warmth that radiated from his smile, made me cold. How could a person with such warmness, remained apathetic most of the times, was what, I couldn’t fathom. I smiled back. “Oh child! Yes, I was very much alive when we got independence. I was thirteen years old, then. That day… it was such an electrifying day; I still remember it, quite vividly.” He said, but this time facing me. “Wow! Uncle, I’m sure that would have been an experience of a lifetime. I can’t even get myself to think, what it must have felt like.” excitedly, I said. “You know dear, my dad was a freedom fighter, and a close accomplice of Gandhiji. My dad used to take me to all the freedom movements he participated in. See, can you see this scar; I got that when one of those invaders, lathi charged on us, during one such freedom struggles.” He said. By now, we had intrigued many of the people who were seated on the nearby benches, by our conversation. “Sir, had you met Gandhiji?” A middle-aged woman asked. “Uncle, weren’t you scared?” Another, man seated opposite to us asked. “Uncle, there would have been so much blood-shed around, no?” Another woman asked. Uncle animatedly, answered all their questions, and shared more of his stories. He seemed a very different person then, to what I had anticipated first.
“Uncle, it’s time for your medicines.” A boy interrupted our discussion; he seemed uncle’s house help. “Oh! I hate these medicines. Sorry folks, I’ll have to take my leave.” Uncle said to us, and got up. Even I got up. He suddenly turned towards me, looked at me earnestly, and asked, “What’s your name child?” “My name is Bindi, dear uncle.” I said, smilingly. He held my hands and said, “Bindi my child, too many people’s blood have been shed, so that you could breathe in this independent India, never forget that. In addition, too many minds were strained to make the constitution, so always respect it.” He said. “I always will, sir!” I said, sincerely. He smiled and started walking with the help of his walking stick. “Thank you, ma’am.” His house-help said. Confused I asked, “For what?” “Ma’am he hadn’t talked a word since three days. He is alone, he has lost his wife, children are busy earning money, grandchildren are away for studies, and there is no one to lend him ears these days. You brought him back to life so, thank you for that.” He said. “Suresh, my boy, let’s go.” Uncle called. My heart cried. I didn’t know what to do, but I had to do something. I ran up to him and said, “Uncle… uncle…” I was panting. “Yes, my child.” He said. “I don’t know what your name is, but I am going to call you my, ‘Indian Uncle’, because you have earned the title of an ‘Indian’; none of us have. Moreover, when will I next get to meet you, to discuss our constitution? I’m very intrigued to know the details of the same.” I said. He smiled, and I saw his eyes getting watery, but he pushed back the tears and said, “next Saturday, same time, same place.” He kept one of his hands on my head, blessed me, and left.
I was profoundly touched that day. My heart sank, witnessing the condition of the person, who without fearing his death, had fought for this country. Today, none of those people for whom he had fought, were ready to hear him out. Old age was a condition graver than cancer, I learnt, that day. That day, I vowed to listen to my mom’s Republic Day story, until I got deaf.