After two years of social distancing, citizens of Delhi can finally get out of their homes for Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. Flag hoisting is a prominent expression of patriotism and it is done not only in government offices and schools but also in gated communities.
However, since the beginning of August, Covid cases have been on the rise, and organisers of events are not sure how many people will turn up for actual events in close proximity with others outside their social bubbles.
According to Payal Gupta, secretary of the Residents Welfare Association, Saket, “People still choose virtual festivities over actual ones despite the restrictions being lifted. Although we would want people to attend the ceremony to hoist the flag, the growing number of Covid cases has once again dwindled the enthusiasm.
People have learnt the hard way that restricting exposure to other people and their activities is the best way to stay safe. Grand functions have been accordingly toned down, which has affected individuals who used to work on such festive occasions.
“We intend to assemble a group of roughly 25 kids, form a procession and march through the entire region. The kids will teach about the history and value of Independence Day,” says Gupta, “Our creative team is also planning to curate a special song for our Independence Day parade.”
Vijay Singh, 71, has been a resident of Vijay Nagar, Ghaziabad for the last 35 years. Recalling his childhood experiences, he says, “In my childhood, 15 August was a big, significant event like Diwali, Holi, or Eid.” When I was small, we used to start planning our celebration at the start of the month.”
On the day itself, they used to wear white kurtas and gather around the radio to listen to the Prime Minister’s speech. “Due to the fact that our generation had personally battled for independence, we felt a connection to 15 August and 26 January. It is quite rare to observe the younger generation exhibiting the same zeal,” Singh says.
That was in Bihar. As an adult, he had to leave his home state for employment and travelled to Delhi, Hyderabad, Punjab, and Karnataka. However, the celebration they used to enjoy as kids remains special. “There was no other day like it in terms of excitement and happiness. The whole village celebrating the day together, putting aside their own disputes, was something that we don’t see right now,” he rues.
According to Madhu Mishra, who has lived in Gurugram for 12 years, there is a significant lack of enthusiasm for the ceremony of hoisting the national flag among the younger generation. In contrast, during her childhood 30 years back, “The whole school was decorated and though it was a national holiday, everyone in the area would come to school for the flag-hoisting event. It was a very proud moment for everyone.”
Children would enact skits dressed as Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. After these performances, sweets would be distributed. Then they would assemble a rally and tour the area. The entire day, patriotic music was played. It had the vibe of a festival, says Mishra.
She regrets that now, “Younger people do not share this sentiment; instead, they want to avoid such events. I believe people would rather post a story on social media than really attend and participate in them, and the pandemic has also played a significant role in contributing to this attitude. However, I’m expecting that a shift will occur this year with the restrictions being lifted,” Mishra concludes.
Mukesh Solanki, who hails from Rajasthan, has lived in Delhi for the past 20 years. He has been selling flags, kites, and hats to shop owners, schools, and organizations in Sadar Bazar every Independence Day for the past 15 years.
Solanki says, “I’ve been in the business for many years and have never seen such demand for the tricolour in my whole life. The degree of people’s excitement is higher.” The fact that people would be celebrating Independence Day in the open for the first time since the lockdown, as well as the Prime Minister’s ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ slogan and the initiative to update profile pictures, have all contributed to lifting public morale.
“When you observe such patriotism, particularly in children, it makes me feel extremely happy,” says Solanki.
Traders in the area point out that earlier, flag hoisting seemed to be the prerogative of politicians and celebrities but today, even average people of Delhi commemorate Independence Day. Kite flying has evolved into an unofficial national form of celebration, and the money they make from it substantially benefits us all throughout the whole of August.
Solanki continues, “Normally I used to sell between 1,500 and 2,000 flags up to the 15th of August, but this year I sold the same number in the first week alone. Even though we are now purchasing the material at a greater cost, demand is also increasing.” Before the pandemic, the cost of a flag was Rs 50, now, it costs Rs 70–80; yet merchants continue to purchase it.
Buzz in schools
Patriot also visited a school in the capital to see how students are preparing for the Independence Day celebration. At Delhi’s Angel Public School, Ashok Nagar, there were 10-12 students performing the song Pagdi sambhal Jatta preparing for the function.
“Students are very excited and yet diffident as they are going to perform physically after two years”, says Reeta Tiwari, music teacher. She continues, “During the rehearsals as well, we asked students to wear masks and sanitize their hands on a regular basis. Some of the students are having a hard time adjusting to this environment, but we’re here to help.”
Tiwari believes this year’s celebration is going to be a bit different from previous years. “Our Independence Day celebration is going to have 10 different performances, and the students are also going to perform a special presentation giving tribute to Covid heroes and all the people who lost their lives to the pandemic.”
With Covid cases again on the rise, the school authorities have decided to celebrate the occasion only with the students and management and not invite their parents as a precaution.
This rule comes as a bit of a dampener for Deepshikha, a ninth grade student. “This year, we have to perform without an audience, which is a new experience for us. We are not used to this situation.” She points out that after spending the last two years attached to a screen, accepting this scenario is difficult.
As for Tiwari, she appreciates the responsibility on her shoulders and intends to make full use of it. “All of our students want to see it happen and will work for it. Teachers are working extremely hard to create this event just like the previous years”, she concludes.
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