Freedom in the mind, Faith in the words and Pride in our souls…
These three phrases seem to capture well the spirit of the Independence Day celebrations in India today August 15th. Aazaadi, the Hindi word for freedom was what my Indian colleagues at work taught me to say yesterday as they decorated the office with miniature flags, balloons and garlands, all in the three Indian colours or orange, white and green.
I was invited to celebrate with them Iftaar, the traditional meal at the end of a Ramzaan (Ramadan) fast at sunset as the annual Muslim season of worship and prayer is early on the calendar this year. The food was home cooked with love and devotion to aazaadi as my young Indian colleagues taught me to say “Aazaadi Mubarak” – Freedom to all alike!
The fact that the Hindi and Muslim traditions were both jointly celebrated in dress and food by my colleagues from both faiths did not escape my attention as an outsider. This peaceful mingling of the two faiths was once impossible in India and a hardwon gain that followed once the British left India in 1947 but not without a bloodshed and huge political upheavals of the day. It is not suprising then that modern Indians still celebrate the freedom that they won the hard way and that has paved the way for the development of the world’s largest democracy.
I wished I could have participated in one of the many parades today, but since they started at 7 a.m., I ended up watching some on TV at breakfast. The speech of India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh illustrated clearly the colossal economic changes as well as the disparities that characterize India today. On the one hand, the government continues to deal with widespread corruption in the public service while, on the other hand, the ruling party assures that all villages in India will have electricity in a few years.
Fighting poverty was mentioned by the PM repeatedly, which certainly caught my attention. Witnessing the abject destitute poverty every day in my neighbourhood is the most difficult part of living here as a foreigner. Heart breaking is the only way to describe it. I can only hope that the young Indians today will embrace the economic aazaadi for the millions who are still living without it.