Wake up, Ravi! We have a lot to do today!’ Ravi’s grandfather shook him awake. He just turned over sleepily.
‘Oh Thatha, it is a holiday today,’ he murmured.
‘But Ravi, it is the golden jubilee of our Independence Day! I have taken out the tricolour and ironed it. You will have to arrange for the flowers…’
Oh, no! Ravi groaned aloud. His grandfather was like an excited schoolboy on Independence Day. He got up earlier than usual, made all the preparations and decorations and then ceremoniously hoisted the flag in the small lawn in front of their house.
His parents and sister Sangeeta, some of their neighbours and a few of grandfather’s friends were there. The old freedom fighters gave fiery speeches about the freedom struggle. The ceremony ended with the singing of the national anthem and distribution of sweets. Ever since Ravi could remember, this had been the routine in their house on Independence Day.
His grandfather had been a freedom fighter, who had gone to jail several times. An ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, he wore khadi and spun the charkha at least an hour everyday. It was a sacred ritual with him.
Ravi loved his grandfather. He could easily tell him things, he wouldn’t dream of telling his parents. His reverie was interrupted.
‘Wake up, Ravi! Come on!’ his grandfather coaxed him.
Oh Thatha, it has been 50 years since we got independence. Even the poor British must have forgotten that they had once colonised our country!’ he teased his grandfather.
But the moment he heard the word British, grandfather became agitated; his eyes blazed with anger. ‘Poor British indeed! Why, they would have bled us dry, had they been allowed to be here any longer! The divided us, sowed hate between brothers…hmph! I can assure you, young man, they were anything but ‘poor’’ he snorted.
‘But couldn’t you have just ignored them? After all, it is our country…’
‘It was not that simple Ravi,’ he shook his head. ‘They had come to trade, but stayed on to rule. To them, we Indians were mere peasants who needed to be told how to live! Oh, you wouldn’t understand. You were all born into freedom, including your parents! We tend to take freedom for granted till we lose it.’ Grandfather got up to go.
Instantly Ravi felt contrite. ‘Sorry thatha! We’ll have the best Independence day celebration ever!’ Ravi jumped out of bed grinning to himself at his grandfather’s anger. He still couldn’t understand his insistence on celebrating a 50-year-old ritual though.
It was a couple of weeks later that Ravi’s cousin Anant came to stay with them. His company had sent him on an assignment to Chennai. At 22, Anant was nearly nine years older than Ravi. Since there was no spare room in the house, he had to share Ravi’s room. Ravi was excited as he liked Anant.
It was good at first. The two went for movies, listened to music. and played table tennis at the club in their neighbourhood. Ravi talked to him about a lot of things which he thought his Grandfather was too old to understand. It was great the way they shared their likes and dislikes of movies and music. But only for a couple of weeks.
Anant, who had been quite apologetic initially about taking up Ravi’s space, started changing but it was too gradual to be noticeable at first. For instance, he kept his things neatly in his space in the cupboard, but slowly began throwing stuff around. Ravi, who was a cleanliness freak protested mildly not wanting to upset him.
‘Why, you are positively a sissy! Be a man Ravi,’ Anant taunted Ravi. ‘As if being slovenly was a manly thing,’ though Ravi angrily.
He could sense the change from a genial cousin to a nasty young man. Soon Anant began bossing the younger boy around. Ravi thanked his stars that he had his room to himself during the day at least but weekends were terrible.
‘Open the window a little wider, will you?’ he would say, when Ravi was trying to do a difficult problem. Or, ‘Be a sport and switch off the music. I am trying to sleep.’
This was a surprise since Anant had shared his love for non-stop music before. So he merely reduced the volume.
‘Can’t you be more sensitive to others’ needs? Can’t a man have a little peace in his home?’
Ravi was furious. Who was being insensitive? And what was it about ‘in his home?’ Wasn’t this his home, his room, his music system…
That was not all, Anant had even taken away his privilege of seeing the sports page first. His father used to take it out for him the moment the paper came. When Ravi protested, his mother scolded him.
‘Anant is a guest, after all. You should make him feel at home,’ she admonished him.
He went and sat quietly in front of his grandfather, who was spinning at his charkha.
‘Why the long face?’ enquired his grandfather.
‘Why, he thinks he owns the place, especially my room!’ burst out Ravi. ‘He has even begun arranging the furniture to his liking. The cheek!
‘I can’t listen to music, I can’t keep the light on at night, because his lordship wants to sleep. And yesterday, he borrowed my new TT bat, without as much as a by-your-leave! At this rate, I’ll end up asking his permission even to breathe!’
Grandfather bent down to hide a smile and went on spinning without a word.
Just at that moment Anant came there and Ravi went off in a sulk to his room, closed the door and turned on the stereo at full blast. Almost immediately, Anant banged on the door and when he came in, went straight to the stereo, and turned it off.
‘Listen Anant, this is my room and I will do what I like,’ Ravi said in as quiet a voice as he could manage.
‘Cool it, yaar! No need to get so worked up about the whole thing. As long as I share it with you, you will have to consider my likes too, okay?’
‘That’s precisely it! You are practically unrecognisable. We enjoyed this music together before, remember? What happened suddenly to make you dislike it?’
‘Let’s say, I liked it then and don’t like it now! And now, I have work to do. So scoot, will you?’ he said imperiously, sitting down at the table — Ravi’s table!
He went red to the roots of his hair. It took very little guesswork on his part to realise that Anant had been pretending all along to be interested in the things that Ravi was. It was his way of making Ravi like him and trust him. It had made his worming his way into Ravi’s room and taking over his possessions easier.
There was worse to come. Anant’s stay had been extended by two more weeks. Ravi was devastated. His parents and sister seemed to like Anant. ‘They don’t have to share a room with him!’ thought Ravi angrily. He became more and more sullen and withdrawn.
His grandfather had always been quite understanding but strangely, even he didn’t seem to want to get involved in Ravi’s affairs this time. He listened to his woes silently and at times, Ravi could swear that he saw a smile.
At last the day of departure came! Anant began packing up his bags, and when he left, he didn’t even say a cursory thank you. ‘Good riddance!’ thought Ravi.
The room was at last his own! What glorious freedom! Somehow, getting his room back after having to share it with Anant made it more his own. He couldn’t explain it.
He let out a whoop of joy. ‘Oh, Thatha! I feel like dancing and singing today. My days of slavery are over at last! I am the master of my room again. Now, I can do what I want to. Isn’t that great? This calls for a celebration!’
Grandfather went on spinning. But this time he didn’t hide his smile. He was in fact laughing.
‘What is so funny?’ Ravi demanded.
‘Nothing. I was just thinking of our conversation a few weeks ago. If this is how you feel after just a couple of months when your freedom was curbed, can you imagine how the millions of Indians felt when the British tried to run our government, tell us how to dress, what to study, how to behave — and continued doing it for over 250 years? Do you have any idea about how so many of us were beaten up and arrested for listening to the speeches of our leaders? Even children were not spared.
‘When Anant was bossing you around and quietly usurping your privileges, how did you feel? Weren’t you just dying to throw him out? I’m sure you now appreciate how we felt when the British left our country for good? Ravi, don’t you think we are justified in commemorating the day we got freedom for our country, even 50 years later?’
Golly, had it been as bad as all that? He tried to imagine the lives of Indians in British India; how the Indians would have felt when their actions had been controlled by the British and they had been forbidden to sing the national anthem. He understood his grandfather’s emotions perfectly!
He knew he would never take his room or his freedom for granted — ever. And then it hit him: here he was, overjoyed at having his room back, while those of his Grandfather’s generation had fought for the freedom of the whole country and its citizens! How selfish he was, and how unselfish and noble they were. And they certainly had every reason to celebrate as did he!
When he looked at his Grandfather, there was something more than hero worship in his eyes.
You might also like the related post Song of Silence. Do read it and leave a comment 🙂
Here’s wishing Happy Indpendence Day to all from the Cybernag!