It is Republic day and all across the country there are celebrations. The project why children celebrated R Day yesterday at Okhla and the women centre. At both places I had the privilege of being the one to hoist the flag. When I accepted I did not know how emotionally intense the moment would be.

It all began at 10 am at Okhla. I reached in time and found a rickety pole with a folded flag waiting to be hoisted and a motley band of children standing at attention waiting for the ceremony to begin. Some children where bare feet, some had sandals, some shoes. Some were in their Sunday best and others in everyday wear. Some clutched a withering rose which I discovered later was meant for me. The sight of these children of India, children of all shades and hues, of different faiths and origins standing in the cold morning waiting solemnly for the flag to be hoisted was moving and disturbing. They stood in a partially reclaimed garbage dump, their heads held high, their faces serious, their port dignified, waiting to sing the National Anthem and celebrate our Constitution in the bests way possible. I must confess I began to feel very small.

The flag was hoisted and the Anthem sung. Then the saluting party joined their friends in the classroom and the celebrations began. There were patriotic songs and dances, a wonderful play in English that warmed the cockles of my heart and then a tiny little boy came forward and declared that he would recite a poem in English. I was expecting him to render some silly english rhymes and almost fell off my chair when the tiny lad began reciting Tagore’s famous poem: Where the mind is without fear. I sat spell bound ecah word resonating in my mind and making me feel proud and ashamed at the same time.

Were the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

The rendering was perfect. Every word clear and well enunciated and as every word was voiced my heart swelled with pride. What a long journey it had been. Seven years of patient endurance, of battles with local mafias, of not giving up and today this little school in a garbage dump had come of age. But as each word echoed in my mind I also felt how we had let down these very children and how far we were from Tagore’s dream. Knowledge was not free, truth hijacked, and perfection a distant dream. Even the tenets of our Constitution were not respected so what were we celebrating. here were a bunch of kids who had been let down in every which way, all their rights usurped. Where was the justice, equality, liberty promised to them on this very day 61 years ago. Where had we gone wrong and why. My head hung in shame. The sight of these children innocent and trusting children was a gentle reminder that all was far from well. So much needed to be done.

The women centre children displayed the same faith and trust as they hoisted their flag, performed in English and sand their patriotic songs with fervour. True there was a sense of pride in seeing what we had achieved, but at the same time came the realisation that so much more needed to be done and above all the land needed to be awoken from the deep and senseless slumber it allowed itself to sink in.

So let me country finally awake is the message I would like to send today.

happy R Day to all!

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