Society

Waving the flag

Annie Mathew Kayyalackakom holds the Tricolour as a six-year-old in 1947.

Annie Mathew Kayyalackakom holds the Tricolour as a six-year-old in 1947.

Even though I was then just a six-year-old child when India won freedom in 1947, that day remains crystal clear in my mind. I lived in a place where national and international events were looked upon with great interest and excitement.

My father, Alexander Chandy, was a doctor in the then famous, U.M.T., Sanatorium, Arogyavaram, Madanapalli. The Institution run by Danish Missionaries was the best place in South Asia for the treatment of tuberculosis. The doctors came from Denmark and all over India, and the patients were mainly Indian, along with some foreigners belonging to countries such as Burma [Myanmar], Ceylon [Sri Lanka], China, Japan, Singapore and so on.

If you happened to walk along the roads of the Sanatorium in the evenings, you would hear a mélange of languages being broadcast on the radios in the wards. Because of the presence of people from different backgrounds, international affairs such as the outcome of the Second World War, and the struggle for Independence in India, were matters of serious discussion whenever people got together. As a little girl, I used to listen to all this and could understand a lot of what they were talking about, and found the information very exciting and, sometimes, tragic and frightening.

My parents used to listen to the news on radio, especially the BBC and All India Radio, sitting glued to the small black Murphy radio, we possessed. My father used to tell me about the important happenings and show me pictures in the newspapers. Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba, King George and Lord Mountbatten, Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru, Gokhale and Tilak, Rajagopalachari and Subhash Chandra Bose..., these were few of the names, I kept hearing often.

Some senior citizens might remember that there is a second half to Tagore’s ‘Jana Gana Mana’, which later became the national anthem.

One day my Papa reached home to share with us news of India’s independence. I was happy as all the others were excited.

Soon the great day arrived and by about 10 p.m., on the night of Aug 14, 1947, all the doctors gathered with their families in the house of the medical superintendent Dr. Benjamin, (whom I used to call Appachan ). He lived in a massive bungalow overlooking a huge maidan. The staff and inmates of the Sanatorium had gathered there. The latest radio news was broadcast through loud speakers.

I was the only child among the gathering in Appachan’s house, because the children of all the other doctors were in boarding schools. Being too young to go to the boarding school, I studied in the Telugu medium school run by the Sanatorium for the children of the villagers and the staff of the hospital.

Everyone waited with bated breath, listening to the broadcast on the radio. At midnight the great news was announced that India had achieved freedom.

It was a moment I cherish.

In an instant, the sky over our maidan exploded with the most fabulous fireworks. The crowd joined in the celebration, waving flags and shouting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai!’ After the midnight celebration was over, we all went home, happy, but tired, to take rest, before the celebration began in the morning.

On the morning of August 15, there was a procession at 7 a.m. The plan, I was told later, was to unful the Tricolour in the middle of the huge maidan.

As the staff and all the healthy inmates of the Sanatorium, gathered in front of the office to begin the procession carrying the National Flag, another procession arrived with the foreign inmates of the hospital carrying their national flags. They wanted their flag also to be hoisted along with the Indian flag. The natives protested. They felt that as it was their Independence Day, no other flag should be hoisted with the Tricolour.

There was confusion as the newcomers refused to give in. In no time time, a group of Indians walked to the front of the procession and lay down across the road, shouting slogans saying that they would allow only the Indian flag to be carried in procession.

It was a tense situation with every one wondering what was going to happen. Finally the foreigners relented and moved away and our flag was carried in honour to the maidan where it was hoisted.

This was again followed by the bursting of crackers. This is a scene which still remains fresh in my memory, and fills me with pride. The flag we hoisted that day at home, and a small one I waved with great excitement and joy, are my prized possessions even to this day.


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