Thursday, 27 January 2011

Republic Day through the years...

The Tricolour at its best...
Today India celebrates 62 years of being a Republic. How do I know this? Well apart from the obvious general knowledge, it is the countless status updates and video postings of national anthems on Facebook and other social networking websites. Thinking about it, I realize just how much the way we celebrate Republic Day has changed over the years. At least in my case it has.

During my school days I used to look forward to the Republic Day as it was a school holiday and a welcome break from the routine of waking at 6 in the morning. But my mother had other plans. She would wake me up at 8am to get ready and go down to the "Flag-Hoisting" ceremony in our complex. We used to assemble at the one garden our complex had with children lined up in front, uncles behind and the aunties bringing up the rear. One of the uncles would proudly unfurl the flag and salute it with so much pride, as if he were unfurling it at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. After the national anthem, the uncles would line the children up and take us on a rally where we used to wave the flags at every random man on the street.

After lunch in the early evenings, the complex used to organise a series of sports events, where invariably I used to win or come runners-up in all the events. Later just before dinner I would feel really proud to get my cups and shields in a casual award ceremony.

By the end of my school days Republic Day for us had changed from singing national anthems at assemblies to watching the endless reruns of the classic patriotic movies like Krantiveer, Tiranga, Border, 1942 A love story, LOC, Pukar, Lagaan, Bhagat Singh (all 5), Rang De Basanti, Chak de and Nayak on the local TV channel. As my dear friend rightly said, the 26th Jans and the 15th Augusts should be more appropriately known as the J. P. Dutta day.

In college the way we looked at Republic Day changed again. For us Republic Day was not only a holiday but also a "Dry Day". More important than our dear country proudly becoming a Republic, it became a day when all the Bars and Alcohol shops were closed. The topic of discussions ranged from how much the Bars and shops loose money to how it is a sad day for all the alcoholics, instead of how well the country was doing now and how much it has improved over the years.

It has taken a long trip away from my country and home to realise how many memories are linked to this day. None of them patriotic in any sense, but memories nonetheless.

God Bless India!!
Jai Hind, Jai Maharashtra, Jai Punjab, Jai Haryana......

Sunday, 2 January 2011

A Nightmare before Christmas...The Real West

Snow wrecks havoc at London Heathrow
Christmas time this year was anything but happy for the people in the UK, as the country was brought down on its knees by Mother Nature. The time of the year when people travel, either to their families or abroad on a holiday, this time around had a sombre and forbidding look of a Tim Burton’s movie.

Contrary to the countless predictions of the Met Office there was heavy snowfall. It not only crippled the transport system of the country, but also the day-to-day life of the people. Cars were stuck in traffic jams, trains were delayed and the biggest airport in the UK was shut. Royal Mail couldn’t deliver letters or packages and there were massive delays in the Christmas gifts being delivered. There were no fresh foods in the malls as the trucks carrying fresh food products were stuck on the motorways. I had never before seen long empty rows in the malls where fresh bread, milk and other products should have been.

Journeys that generally took about 2-3 hours by road, now took more than 10 hours. All the trains leading in and out of London were cancelled or delayed. As London is the epicentre, the whole country grinded to a halt. People were queuing outside St. Pancras railway station to get a Eurorail train. At one point the queue was almost a mile long and the staffs at the station had to work hard to give the people food and provide shelter against the freezing cold. But the real chaos was at London Heathrow, where around 3000-5000 people were stranded outside the airport as all the flights were cancelled. Even though the authorities were warning people not to come to the airport, there was no stopping the people from coming in the hope that their flight might take off. The airport authorities had to provide food, drinks and blankets to the people and security also had to intervene when some of them got drunk and started shouting and swearing at the staffs. But the worst was saved for the Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond, as he had to face the wrath of the people. They complained about how such problems were happening every year and nothing was being done.

I was also one of those unlucky ones who got stuck at London because my flight was cancelled. But it was not my only problem. After the cancellation, I couldn’t get through to the airline as the phone lines were jammed. When I finally got through, all I could get out of them were apologies and sympathies, but no flight reservation. Now I have to wait for about 6-8 weeks to get a refund on my cancelled flight; so much for efficiency. I had like most Indians this idea of the West that everything is perfect there but I got to see the other side of the West we hardly know of and it isn’t pretty.