As India celebrates its 69th Republic Day, we take a look at the contrasting view of octogenarians, who remember the first-ever celebration and young adults who are still figuring out what it means.
On one of the many days that Major General Ian Cardozo lectures school children, he was asked what he deems a very curious question: Is it better to be the most powerful country in the world, or be the best country in the world.
“I was impressed by the sheer simplicity of this question,” he tells us. Recalling that morning, he says the answer was easy. “Of course, it is better to be the best country than being the most powerful. Being the best country means that every citizen is looked after and there is safety on the streets of the country,” he says.
Whether we have achieved that, remains debatable. But as India finally awakens on its 69th Republic Day, a certain contrast becomes clear.
Jini Dinshaw, founder of Bombay Chamber Orchestra
Ian, who is 81 years old today, remembers Republic Day from 1950. “What made the day very significant for us was the spectacle of it all!” he recalls. Being born and bought up in erstwhile Bombay, he remembers the colourful sight that the streets were — with merriment and celebrations everywhere. “Buildings in the city were lit up with colours of the flag. Back in the day, we would use the tram as the means of transportation. Public transport like these — trams and buses — were all decorated with coloured lights as well. Even the ships at the harbour were decked up! I clearly remember the whole of Bombay being out on the streets,” he reminisces.
Eighty-one-year-old Kailash Aggarwal remembers the lights, the colours and a buzz in the air. The prompt of Republic Day brings back memories of younger days filled with zeal and enthusiasm. “Oh we were all young — so small — and back in school, we used to gather for the customary flag hoisting. Following which, we had programmes, skits and other activities,” he says.
“As young children, we were all pumped with the enthusiasm we saw around us. Republic Day was celebrated like a festival,” he says. The contagious enthusiasm took him all the way to the capital to witness the grand parade. “And I didn’t just go once — I went back year after year. The whole parade was very fascinating to my eyes — the diverse cultural show, the spirit of the people, our military and armed forces — all of it left me spellbound. Every year, I looked forward to the next one,” he grins.
While in 1950 India was wrapped warm in the spirit of patriotism and cheer, Republic Day today has a completely different meaning to youngsters.
Eighteen-year-old Saloni Shelar has always had a monotonous Republic Day. “We wake up to a traditional flag hoisting, followed by the National Anthem and then a small school parade,” she says. But even amidst the tedium, the communal gathering is what she looks forward to every year. “Our complex has a grand Satyanarayan Puja, which has offerings from every house. We then usually spend the afternoon playing games and chatting up with people from the society. It sounds simple, but it is something my entire group looks forward to every year,” she smiles.
Like Saloni, 18-year-old Vineeta Bhatia too looks forward to the community gathering. “I plan to stay at home, but I will still go to the flag hoisting that will happen in my society this time,” she says.
When asked about the significance of the day, Saloni shrugs with indifference. “I believe in the Constitution and my country, but it is difficult for me to associate the day with anything substantial. I am very young and distanced from the realities of the yesteryear — maybe that is why,” she shrugs.
Corroborating with the youngsters is 87-year-old Jini Dinshaw, founder of Bombay Chamber Orchestra, and violin, viola and cello virtuoso, who is quite distanced from the day herself. “I spent several years after the Independence in England, so I don’t remember the first few Republic Days exactly. However, I remember being highly impressed and proud that a man like Dr B. R. Ambedkar, who came from a lower-caste background, and had to walk to school, heading the committee that wrote the Constitution,” she recalls, with pride.
— With inputs from Dyuti Basu