The year is 1997. The date is 26th of January. My age is a single digit number and I live in one of those big apartment complexes where each family had one or two kids. School had declared a holiday on the account of republic day. Who cared if teachers and the ‘older kids’ were called to attend the flag hoisting? I was not worried about the moldy Marie biscuit or the 25p Aasai candies they would be handing out after the ceremony got over. I had bigger things on my mind.
Time: 0700 Hrs.
Location: The common sectional area that is the meeting point of the four houses on that floor
“Is it time? Are the chairs ready?” I ask, terse and to the point.
“Yeah. We have also got the flags.” A comrade replies, helpfully holding up the plastic tricolors.
“Good then. Where is our drum set?” I ask, scanning the staircase.
A little boy of seven appears, adjusting his shorts, carrying a cardboard shoe box (that would serve as the drum) and two long wooden pencils (the drum ‘sticks’ if you will). I checked the sturdiness of the drum by pressing the base of the box with the inside of my palm and gave a satisfied smile to note that the pencils were fresh, barely out of the box. Good. We needed the best of equipment.
And with the initial set up done, the choir got into place. There was a bit of hustle and bustle as everyone tried to get the front row of chairs to stand up on. Well, we had a space crunch, you see, and we had to put the chairs in two rows of seven chairs each. I watched ruefully as my careful height based (no favoritism) ‘standing’ arrangement was confused completely as in the general shoving, pushing pell-mell, the enthusiastic comrades just got into whatever chairs they could hold on to. Another five minutes for the major complaints to be sorted out and finally we were settled.
The ‘drums’ guy looked on smugly as he had a chair all to himself and the stairs on which he had set his ‘equipment’ up. No one competed with him, you see!
Time: 0730 Hrs.
Location: Same place. We had moved a lot, but inside the confines of the place.
I peeped into my house to look at the huge grandfather clock. Time was running out. We barely had a few minutes before one of the anti-nationals (the parents who didn’t understand our concept of patriotism. Only, we didn’t know this wonderful term back then) came and dragged us in by our dresses for the morning ablutions and bathing. Also, due to the lack of funds, I had had to… er… borrow the chairs from willing neighbours and flat mates. Well, time was a wasting and I wanted to get on with my project. And with one last look at the door of the neighbor who disliked heavy noises, I waved my baton.
Like one, the chorus began.
“Jana Gana Mana Adhi naayaka Jaya he…”
Each of us completed the song at our convenient time, some finishing the 52 seconds of it in 30 and others stretching it to eighty. Like Fred and George did with the Hogwarts song, two of my best buddies prolonged the song so much. I strongly suspected they had forgotten the lyrics. One of them had the paper in which he had scrawled it, for God’s sake. But in the end, that was over too, and we all went in for a general round of applause. We applauded each other. We were yet to form official music bands and perform on stage and we had to motivate ourselves, which we did gladly.
Time: 0745 Hrs.
Location: Same place, same place. We had not moved much again.
The first shout had come. It was the mother of the drums player. Wait… that guy… why did he bring the drums for? Did he play while we sang? Was that not what he was brought there for? But to be fair to him, the drum sound might have been drowned in the general pandemonium. For now, we had to hurriedly disband before any other parent came searching. The chairs were returned to their rightful owners and as I collected the ‘drums’ from the staircase, my eyes shined proudly.
National duty done, we all went into our houses for the morning breakfast.
Patriots, we were, and passionate at that.
So am I going to end this post with what I did this day, twenty years later? Not really. I would rather leave my heart and mind back in those uncomplicated days of the early nineties. 🙂