Black Hill Journals - 10
Independence Day Celebrations
Then and now, here and there
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
Monday was a government holiday but yet the students were seen coming as usual perhaps for preparing to celebrate the 70th Independence Day with great fervour and enthusiasm as usual amongst the young with teachers too most born after Sikkim becoming the twenty-second state of the country. Some say what need was there to start practising since so long when they just had Bhanu Jayanti and mere a week or so was enough. Everyone does not take that view and some opine that they should instead have taken care of the playground with grass growing thick that add much to make it muddy for the football tournament they have for the schools in and around the Black Hill. Anyway, the game should go on and here I find no change the way the students cheer up the team they support and winning teams enjoy their victory shouting around the village in the jeep very much like those days fifty years ago. Similar joy we used to have after the Saraswati Puja performed in the same school while taking out the idol for immersion in the Reshi or Rorathang Khola. To catch with the Independence Day mood it was the best season and the right age for instilling in young minds the sense of team-work, competition as well as patriotism much needed to take the country to a greater height. Each one has to contribute towards this noble cause from all corners whatever little manner in the best way possible. The song they were practising was Jahan dal dal par karti hai sone ki chidiya basera, wah Bharat desh hai mera, wah Bharat desh hai mera that concludes with Jai Bharati, Jai Bharati! I well remember this immortal song by Mohammad Rafi from the movie Sikandar-e-Azam (1965, Rajendra Krishan, Hansraj Behl) filmed on the doyen of Hindi film world Prithviraj Kapoor with Mumtaz and Dara Singh - best remembered for his role in the classic Mughal-e-Azam (1960) with Dilip Kumar-Madhubala.
Independence Day has been celebrated in this part of the Himalayas much before Sikkim became an integral part of India four decades ago as I also had a chapter dedicated to it in my magnum opus Sikkim : Three Decades towards Democracy brought out to celebrate the State Day 2005 but somehow turned out to be fiasco courtesy some great souls behind this project not to appreciate so my sense of dedicating the unprecedented and unparalleled work to the cause and the country. I was not a fool to slog day and night for days, weeks and months together to make the book completed to catch with the auspicious day turned out to be a naught. The then Governor V. Rama Rao* had expressed to us his plans to celebrate the historic day completing three decades of the statehood in a grand manner inviting all the governors of the country when we (the then Speaker and this author then the Principal Secretary) had gone to his winter residence at the Rangpo Dak Bunglow to invite him to inaugurate and address the Budget Session of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly. It was really a Herculean task to accomplish such a rare feat in spite of all the odds practically burning midnight oil to see the assignment completed without taking a note unrealized heed of the under currents to scuttle it anyway. It was a historic visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Assembly and that too was included when the author was away in Varanasi came to cover and include in the book being printed there. Every care was taken to make this a co-publication a success with a committee to go through the text written week after week and given to the authority time to time to have a look if the compilation was going on in a pattern planned/desired. Yet it was made to be of no use for them for whom it was meant officially though many who could lay their hands on the book found (still find) it to be an indispensable mine of information on the subject it dwelt upon, i.e., the evolution of legislative system right from the Lhade Mede days of the Himalayan Kingdom to the modern era updated. More found it hard to realize and digest the plain facts brought out chronologically with no hidden or ambiguous terms to describe the turn of events that led to the ultimate - becoming the 22nd State that the whole Nation is proud of four years hence. Be it for the cleanest capital city or the Nirmal Gram, not forgetting the country's highest (47%) green forest cover the nature has endowed with to find a unique place in the annals of the environment to be inscribed as India's first "Mixed World Heritage Site" of its own kind as recently declared by the UNESCO. What a rare feat for this small State to achieve and celebrate the 70th Independence Day with that saw Sikkim turned to be the first in the country to be a fully Organic State in the entire country that echoed throughout the world. I remember the day when the intention of the Government was made clear and declared in the House by the Chief Minister during the Assembly session. To welcome this great announcement we had quickly prepared a handbook Jaiwik Vikasko Goreto - Grameen Proudyogiki : Kam Dam Dher Gyanka Satheek Sujhauharu dedicated to the cause that was launched by the then Science and Technology Minister on the National Science Day 28 February in 2003. Its copies were distributed to the members of the august house the very day to show how important was this epoch changing declaration for the Himalayan state from the Chief Minister. Many still do not believe that Sikkim has really turned so even after the pronouncement was made by none other than the Prime Minister of the country himself on different occasions at diverse fora in the country and abroad. It is, therefore, best for us to benefit out of it and to explore ways and means thereto as the scope is far and wide open with sky as the limit and the whole world to cover before us. As I write this I remember the cup of organic tea from a few bushes my Muma had planted that bring the freshness with flavour and taste unique. Encouraged we have celebrated the Monsoon season planting some more saplings around to keep friendly with the Environment as well by humble efforts contributing to the cause.
With Sikkim becoming an integral part of India celebrating Independence Day was not only the matter of Political Office restricted to the lawn of the Residency or India House what is now known as the Raj Bhavan in the capital Gangtok that we used to attend as the student of Sir Tashi Namgyal High School/TNA. Every school here are seen full of activity from many days rather weeks ahead preparing that even public get quite enthusiastic to attend like my mason Deepak Pradhan of Reshi. Our house 'Jaisri' used to be the place for Thulo Mama Bhishma Pratap Pradhan* and our relatives to drop in on their way to and back from the school ground to attend the programme. I remember having accompanied him and Buba to such a function in the school when Gobind (Prasad Sharma 'Anath' who later brought out Uttar Purvanchal Divya Bharati monthly to get financial support from our Karuna Guthi in 2008 but copies stopped coming thereafter) and friends performed khukuri dance to the song Yo Nepali Sir uchali Sansarma lamkinchh. Muma used to be busy with her little shop dispensing choice ice-cream and other food items as she found it the best way to keep in touch with the people/community in and around the Black Hill as she got updated from the children about their families. She still remembers not only the days spent even after Buba left her all alone with face lit up with glee and brightness as to recollect the events and names while we still have a slate that Buba wrote Yahan Banki chaldain announced prominently one of the shelves in front. Often we overhear passersby talking to themselves about Bichara hamro Head Sirko Ghar and many telling us even now about Guru Ama's ice cream they used to enjoy as a student. If nothing even the teacher seeing me with some works going on here asks if we decided to settle down here and fondly remembers the old days they used to come to the house as student asking for a glass of water to drink.
Old days bring to my memory the Independence Day celebrations in the capital with the Prime minister to hoist the tricolour and address the Nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort but which year and who was the then Prime Minister I fail to recollect. If my colleagues who attended along with me or who then working in the Sikkim House arranged for this treat may kindly help. During my USA sojourn last year, seeing the national flag displayed outside many of the residences and some kept brightly lit fluttering high even during the night, I used to think/wonder whether such was allowed back in our country as well. I could know from the television only this morning that here also this was allowed for past few years after necessary legislation was passed but it should be with due respect maintaining proper dignity and decorum befitting the national flag. Earlier hoisting of flag by individuals in their house was allowed on the Republic Day and Independence Day from dawn to dusk only. We still observe this at our residence every year solemnly and how could it could go without when the Independence Day was here as mark of respect to the tricolour. It would be interesting for my readers to know that the largest flag in the country is installed at the Central Park in New Delhi while the recent issue of The Week has an Telanagana Tourism advertisement telling about the second largest/tallest flag next to the largest monolithic Buddha statue at the Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad. It reminds me of the flag in the Secretariat/Manan Bhavan that one fine morning to find reduced in size to be smaller than the one at Police Headquarters at that time. Further, there used to be a second flag fluttering day and night atop the building in front but only the pole to be seen later.
With reports of football tournaments with the finals being held on the Independence Day coming from many parts of Sikkim and neighbouring Darjeeling hills, the one learnt from the Facebook posting was that the Tintalle, Aritar family organized Sir B. K. Pradhan Memorial Challenge Football Tournament for the third time with cash prizes and was being played at Rongli Mela Tar ground. Nearby Rhenock Government Senior Secondary School playground is the venue for Inter-school tournament but the best to be known from the Black Hill is one being held at Tarpin for the veterans above 40 years of age five-a-side with play time of 15 minutes (reportedly considering the age/stamina left in them) with another five of the team playing the other half with best of three matches adjudged to be the winner to get a khasi/goat and loser a kukhra-bhale/cockrel as consolation.
One sunny day, I decided to work, myself clearing the mess the carpenter had left behind besides the weeds growing everywhere. When removing the Banmara climbers from a plant, I happened to lay my hands on the hidden hive and get attacked by a swarm of wasps that made me run with a speed of a sprinter in the Olympic and escape with some stings in both my limbs. Amrutanjan balm brought me some soothing relief with little swollen wrist even two days later. I remembered once when coming from Manas on elephant back when I was attacked by bees when some bird attacked their hive in the nearby tea factory at Bansbari taking the opportunity of the animal passing by. Luckily the in-charge of the BSF Seshadri gave me first aid to get immediate relief to catch my train to Kokrajhar on my way to Sarbhang to collect our monthly salaries from the Divisional Forest Office. Transplanted some seedlings in shades as Rayo seeds Bigyan Daju gave had germinated quite well to compliment the rainy season. Bir Singh brought a clump of marigold plants that hopefully turn out to be good variety like the ones I have raised from the lone sapling collected from the road below. If it rains during the day, the best way to while away the time was to do some painting - not art work but some old furniture good enough to get repaired giving a new look to match the decor of the modular kitchen and use more for the sentimental value/reasons attached with black granite top in place of aluminium sheet that was as old and table strong as our marriage if not more. The antique bed Muma uses is the wedding gift of my grandmother / Buba's Muma while the similar bed seen in the Kothi is Muma's Muma. Fresh shower brought another flush of green tips in tea bushes that break out with the sun coming occasionally. I do not take chance to let them go waste and pluck them for another fresh lot of home-made tea to make that cup of liquor to cheer me up early morning looking towards the west if the guardian deity Mount Kanchenjunga was yet again there glistening orange to silver. Often sharing the pictures with friends and family on the Facebook even if it was otherwise a misty morning bringing cool breeze all around - so nice to welcome yet another great day of my life here in the Black Hill!
Space and time here would not permit to reproduce the whole text of the song Vande Bharatam from the cassette of patriotic songs (in some state languages but Newar) we brought out to mark the 50 Years of India's Independence while I was the Secretary- in-charge and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Heritage as the nodal department to conclude the year-long celebrations of the historic occasion. Cultural evening organized that year to mark the State function graced by the highest dignitaries in the Indoor Gymnasium hall of the Paljor Stadium had continued till wee hours with audience (had massive turn out in spite of live coverage on the local cable network with television screens installed outside the venue as well) singing and dancing in the well with the performing artistes including those from Nepal and Darjeeling though the ceremony was officially declared to have closed at the strike of the midnight by bursting of crackers jubilantly outside. The video clippings continued to be shown frequently on the local cable networks for a long time thereafter. Such was the frenzy in the people to be seen during the Independence Day!
Disclaimer: This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. Some names (asterisk for those no more), quotes, places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached at email@example.com. The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim is available at the Rachna Books.