Independence Day is a special day for every one of us. Being born in post-independent India, we use this occasion to remind ourselves of this extraordinary milestone in India’s history. No other nation in the world has achieved its independence from foreign domination by predominantly non-violent means. It is also the time to think about the last 65 years and assess on how we have been using our freedom. It is also the time to celebrate and fill our younger generation with the spirit of Nationalism. It is a day that I personally look forward to a lot. It is the time that I use to rededicate myself to the service of this great country of ours.
This August 15th was very different from the ones that I had experienced earlier. It all began with a talk I gave on ‘Swami Vivekananda and National Reconstruction’ at Shimoga on 14th. The audience was a healthy mix of young, middle-aged and senior people. They were full of questions, and most of them centered around the corruption that the Nation was facing and on how we common citizens could do our bit to reduce it. Most of us seem to be making the problem of ‘Corruption’ an externally led phenomenon without realizing that the fight against it should start from us. All that we need to do is to be the change that we want to see and stop worrying whether the man next door was changing. The trip back to Mysore was filled with thoughts on how to get people to understand that Patriotism needed to go beyond merely shouting ‘Bharath Maata Ki Jai’ and waving the tricolor. We have to work towards securing true social, economic, political, religious, and intellectual freedoms. A long way to go indeed!
After participating in the flag hoisting at V-LEAD, I flagged off a cycle rally at the Riverview Hospital nearby. They were trying to drive home the message of freedom from ill-health and urging people to go green from both the environmental and health point of view. A different and an interesting way to celebrate our freedom. I then went to the Chaitra College, run by a good friend Mr.Gururaj. He sincerely believes that education for the young should not be restricted to mere academics and he is seeking to build their all-round personality and character. His 3-year-old experiment is beginning to show results and it was invigorating to spend a couple of hours with the children there.
The most interesting part of my day was to come soon. I had promised Anitha, the vice-principal of our Viveka School of Excellence at Saragur that I would spend time interacting with the high school children there. I was unprepared for this experience. The questions asked by these children would put many an adult to shame. From wanting to know if our country can be called truly free if it depended on external aid, to freedom from untouchability, the challenge of unemployment for the young to understanding colonization and its impact on Indian Society – these children seemed to be bursting with questions. The next hour was one of the best that I have spent at Saragur. It was not just the articulation and use of English by these children, but their comprehension and understanding of the issues plaguing our country and the intensity and desire to be part of the solution that left me speechless and satisfied. VSOE is indeed doing its job and we need to let our children be this Nation’s future.
I-day is also a very special day for Chamanlalji. Today was very special for me because I could spend a lot of time with this extraordinary person whom I admire and respect a lot. He has given so much to protect the freedom of millions of Indians and what better way to celebrate this day than in his company. We spoke about so many things and I had all my batteries recharged. Despite being confined to the bed and having so little personal freedom, I still found him soaring in an intellectually free world. Spending time with him was the icing on the cake for me on this day which was unfolding so differently from other Independence days.
As I was preparing to leave, Chikkamada, a Kadukuruba tribal originally from Brahmagiri came calling with his son. He had worked for us more than 20 years ago, helping out in the tribal school kitchen. He had problems with his vision but bravely struggled on. When things became a real impediment, he had called it a day and settled down at Matakere with his family. I had not met him for more than 15 years. He was now nearly blind and all that he wanted to do was hold my hands and cry. I was deeply affected after meeting him. We may think we are celebrating our Freedom, but is man truly free? Can we really free ourselves from all the problems that we create for ourselves in the physical, mental and emotional domains? I wonder whether I have missed the point of life and living itself. Should one’s struggle not be towards freeing ourselves from the bondage that a human birth brings with it and aspire towards the blissful spiritual freedom that is so beckoning? Isn’t this what Swami Vivekananda’s message is all about? Shouldn’t finding our own true spiritual freedom by working unconditionally for the physical and intellectual freedom of all of mankind be our aim? Though it may sound paradoxical, this was the very foundation of starting SVYM, but somehow this got obscured in the last 28 years of our journey.
I returned back to Mysore after this long and emotionally surcharged day, but there was more in store for me. I received a call from Mamatha, another dear colleague who has been part of this journey of service. She wanted me to speak to someone I had not spoken with in a long time. It was Thayamma, a Jenukuruba girl who had studied in our school. She came from Devanahadi, a tribal hamlet abutting the forest. Thayamma was a lanky, vivacious girl who had captured our hearts as a student. She was also one of Mamatha’s favourites. In fact, Mamatha had convinced me that we needed to assist her family and build a house for them as a reward for having sent this girl to school. The last I had heard of her was that she was married and left her hamlet in search of greener pastures. I was both happy and saddened on speaking to her. Happy that I could talk to someone i saw growing up from a child into a young woman with dreams in her eyes. Sad that these dreams now lay shattered and unfulfilled. In her own naive way, Thayamma told me how she had lost her young husband two years ago and she was now left fending for herself and her two-year old child. She had gone to Bangalore in search of an elusive job and had sought out Mamatha in this large and dangerous city. She apologetically mentioned that her education was the only source of strength and support and she felt that she had let me down by not realizing her dreams. I felt my heart being torn from the inside as every child at VTCL was a part of me. Freedom could mean nothing more than mere words to many of them. What do we need to still do to make sure that these children who are now the adults of an emerging Nation live with the economic freedom that they deserve? What do we do to make sure that the light and sparkle in a child like Thayamma still burns bright when she reaches adulthood? Only when we figure out how to do this, will our nation be truly free.