August 15, 2010

This morning below the flag

As I've done a few times before, I made my way to the nearby park early this morning, for the twice-a-year function to salute being Indian. The banner outside said the flag would be hoisted at 715am, so we left home at 705 and hurried over. As we neared the gate, we saw several people at attention and a man unfurling the flag, sending it up a white pole.

The clock above the gate, the park's own clock, said 710. Why would these people advertise a time and then hoist the flag several minutes before that advertised time?

When we got inside, a recorded version of the national anthem was struggling to be heard over the PA system. Something was wrong with the system, so all we could hear was a lot of crackling interrupted by the occasional couple of words from the anthem. So at one point, a woman standing next to the flagpole, visibly disgusted with the PA system, grabbed a mike and started singing the anthem.

But she started at the beginning, and the PA system was still belting out the crackles and now words from about two-thirds of the way through the anthem (I distinctly heard "Tava subha" about now). Also, she was a ghastly singer, her key completely awry, her pace about half that of the recording. Also, the mike she was using was connected to the same PA system, so her voice came and went (mercifully) in splutters of crackling too, as did the recording.

The overall impression, in those frantic few seconds, was complete cacophony. Luckily the crowd started singing the anthem, soft and dignified, and somebody had the sense to turn off the recording and the lady had the sense to shut up. But all through the singing, and I do mean all through, a man beside her waved his arms up and down, exhorting the crowd to sing louder. Luckily nobody paid him any attention. Halfway through the anthem, two men pushed past us at the back, pushed through the crowd causing a few people to stumble, and found place to stand right at the front. One took out a small camera and began photographing the flag and the lady.

Then we came to the last two lines of the anthem, and the woman suddenly grabbed the mike again and began bellowing into it: "Jana gana mangala …"

Once more, she was utterly off key, and in fact there was no discernible tune to her bellowing. Once more, the PA system acted up so we heard plenty of crackling; but she was screaming so hard that she didn't really need the mike anyway. Thus we came to the end of the anthem, whereupon she found another gear altogether and now thundered at us, three times, "Bharat Mata Ki Jai!", and three times, "Jai Hind!"

Some speeches started. We left. I noted that the guy waving his arms had finally stopped waving his arms.

And I wondered: where in this entire show -- apart from the time when the crowd sang the anthem quietly -- had there been a semblance of respect for freedom, for the flag, for Indians, for India?


wise donkey said...

is it so tough to respect for 5 minutes. whats the point? publicity?

Ram Raghavan said...

Thought you might get a chuckle out of this, esp. since you went to UT-Austin.

Ketan said...

I wouldn't hold it against anyone if they don't respect the nation & its symbols, but what irks me is making such a ritual out of all this.