‘What does jono gono mono mean, mommy?’ R asks looking at me with his big brown eyes, which looked like limpid pools of innocence in the early morning light. I can see the reflection of his long thick lashes on his eyes. He is a beautiful child. My grandmother would have been upset. Mothers should never admire. Now you see he will fall sick, she would say.
It was 8 in the morning and R and I climbed on the terrace and ‘tied’ the tricolour on the top of our now defunct TV antenna. It looked like it might rain and R was worried, what if the rain washes away the colours of the flag, can we paint it back again? I couldn’t help but smile. The innocence of the young. Both of us sang jana gana mana in our mis-matched off key off-pitch tones. R of course sang his ‘hindized’ version and me in the original bengali. No one would offer to record this duet for sure. What amazed me was the goose bumps on my arms. Amazed because I wasn’t expecting them. Not when a diet of mayhem that the morning newspaper brings from across the country fails to elicit a reaction anymore.
15th August was a big day for us during childhood. My grandfather’s house was about 80 kms away in the suburbs of Kolkata, a peaceful haven called Kalyani, and it was there that all of us cousins would assemble every Independence Day eve. On the big day we would wake up early and race each other to finish our bath and run to the terrace of his two-storied house all ready for the grand event. This ritual didn’t change since I was about 6 till my grandfather’s late stage of Parkinson’s. My grandfather always kept the flagpole ready the previous day and before we reached the terrace he would have taken out the satin cloth flag from the cabinet where it ‘rested’ for the rest of the year. The flag always smelled of mothballs and always had the same number of precise folds. He would fix the flag and at 7 am he would gently tug the ropes. The flag rose in to the morning sky and unfurled with a riot of colours. Goose bumps as our hearts swelled and our voices chorused the anthem. Pride. That was what we felt wearing pristine khadi kurta payjamas standing amidst my grandfather’s terrace garden of potted roses and chrysanthemums and dahlias singing jono gono mono…
Never expected to feel that way after so many long years.
R pulls my sari end and I give him a hug and a smile. Tell him I would come back from office and tell him about the heroes of our nation. He accepts that easily, happy to return to his world of cartoon heroes. Driving to work, couldn’t help thinking will he ever feel the goose bumps as the flag sways gently with the breeze.