Almost as a ritual, Brigadier Baljit Singh Sahni consumed two glasses of single-malt whisky with water and a cube of ice, every evening at 7. He would sit in his favoured lounge chair, drink and chakhna close at hand, while contemplating the vagaries of life. Come rain, shine, illness or social commitments, this pattern never changed. He believed this solitary time was essential to his well-being.
On this particular Saturday night, the 25th of January 2020, his mind was occupied with the protests that had spread like wildfire across the nation, against a new law proposing to grant citizenship on the basis of religion. India was completing seven decades of being a republic, while embroiled in a massive political controversy.
Lost in thought, he didn’t notice his granddaughter Leena quietly slide into the chair next to him.
“Wassup Dadu?”, she trilled excitedly.
The Brigadier hadn’t been too happy about the onset of his son’s brood into his home in Delhi, for an entire month. His wife had loved spending quality time with their three grandchildren, but his own pleasure had been less pronounced.
He loved them without a doubt, but found it easier to express his love from a distance. All three of his children had made Canada their home over the last twenty years. The Brigadier, loath to leave the nation he had served with such dedication and of which he was so proud, had picked Delhi to spend his retired life.
This meant that the extent of interaction with his family, was limited to weekly video calls at pre-designated times right after the kids woke up, and before he and his wife went to bed; photos of academic and other achievements shared on the family Whatsapp group; and the annual visit to Canada divided equally between three homes. Even these visits were a week-long at most, ending as swiftly as they began.
Hence, his son’s announcement on the Brigadier’s 70th birthday party in Toronto, had come as a surprise to him. He suddenly declared that he would spend the entire month of January in Delhi with his parents, along with his wife and children.
The Brigadier had initially mumbled excuses, such as the lack of space in their army-commissioned Defence Colony home, and the substandard quality of the staff and servants, to discourage his son from coming. However, the happiness in his wife’s eyes at the thought of being surrounded by her family, had taken precedence over his discomforts.
Once it arrived, the month whizzed by in a flurry of local travel, meeting kith and kin, showing Delhi to the children and other endless activities, leaving him completely exhausted and out of sorts. He was glad they would be flying back in three days.
Forcing himself out of his reverie, he turned his attention to the 15-year-old girl eager for his company.
“Nothing is ‘up’, my dear. How was your day? I believe your Dadi took you to the mall?”, he replied.
“Yes, we went but it was no fun. There was so much traffic going there and back and the mall was sooooo crowded! We just went to one store and left. Poor Amaya started crying with so many people pushing and shoving, and mom got upset too.
“Dadi said it was like this because of the Republic Day weekend. Is that right?”, she asked.
“Yes, a holiday weekend encourages people to be out and about. Malls are always a popular choice for family outings.”
“So, what exactly is Republic Day anyway? Is it like Canada Day which marks Canada becoming an independent dominion of the United Kingdom?”, Leena asked curiously. On this trip, the Brigadier had begun to appreciate Leena’s sharp mind, keenness to learn about the country of her origin, as well as her innate ability to question everything.
“Not really, my dear. That would be more like the Indian Independence Day which is celebrated on August 15. The Republic Day marks the adoption of the Constitution of India, on January 26, 1950, which declared our country a republic.
Before you ask what that is- a republic is a nation that is ruled by the public, not by rulers such as monarchs or dictators. After independence, our leaders chose to give power to the people, to decide who will lead them. This power came attached with many conditions, in order to ensure the success of this system”, said the Brigadier, warming up to his favourite subject.
“You know Leena, I was born in December 1949. In fact, my first outing as a baby on the 40th day after my birth, was on India’s first Republic Day. The whole country was celebrating- full of hope for a new dawn of progress and peace. In a manner of speaking, I am as old as the Republic of India. The seven decades of my life have been intertwined with those of my country. But after 70 years, I feel this is the first Republic Day being celebrated amidst negativity and strife.”
“What do you mean, Dadu? What negativity are you talking about?”, asked Leena.
Mindful of her impressionable age, the Brigadier weighed his words carefully. “The government in power is about to implement a law that would unalterably change some of the basic principles enshrined in our Constitution. India chose to be a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. Hence, making religion a deciding factor for citizenship goes against the essence of what our leaders had envisioned for us.
I don’t mean to confuse or worry you, my child, but I feel it is important for the younger generation to be aware of what is at stake.”
“This is all quite interesting, Dadu. Why should the religious factor of selection be a problem, though? It’s not like they’re kicking people out of the country on the basis of their religion, right?”, Leena asked.
“No, my dear, but as a secular nation, it is our government’s responsibility to give equal importance and rights to all religions, and that is the principle at stake here. The government cannot favour or disfavour any religion when it comes to matters of state. Citizenship is a political concern and religion should not be a criterion for it.
India has a history of harbouring different religions from all over the world, whether it is the Zoroastrians from Persia or the Jews from Armenia. In fact, India’s progressive and inclusive nature made it ideal for many religions to originate and thrive here. Take our own religion, Sikhism, as an example- it found its place in this great country because of India’s unique nature of being diverse yet united.
“For my first posting as a young Lieutenant in the Indian Army, I fought the Pakistani troops at the Western Front in 1971. Do you know why we fought Pakistan back then?”, he asked.
“Was it a religious war? Like the jihad of the Islamic terrorists these days?”, Leena replied earnestly.
“No, my dear, it was not a religious war. We fought for the freedom of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, to rule itself without facing the oppression and neglect from the government of West Pakistan. There was an incontrollable influx of refugees in to our country, as people tried to escape their horrid plight in East Pakistan. These refugees were facing gross political persecution and mass genocide- they were denied basic rights and were being looted and murdered. In order to stop this illegal immigration, we put our own lives at stake and went to war.
Now, when the government seeks to promote the welfare of persecuted religious minorities, it forgets that historically, political persecution has not been solely on religious lines. Religion is often the cause for persecution against minorities, but there are many non-religious reasons as well, including difference in language, gender, race, and economic status.”
The Brigadier ended emphatically, “one cannot change history simply by re-writing it.”
After a moment of thoughtful silence, Leena asked her grandfather, “what will happen now, Dadu?”
“I am impressed that the entire nation has raised its voice against this political move. It’s unclear what the outcome will be, but I feel the younger generation will spearhead this movement in a positive direction.
You don’t live in India, Leena, but you are a citizen of the world. Always remember to fight injustice and be aware of what is at stake. We need people like you to question everything- to become thought leaders”, said the Brigadier, finishing the last sip of his drink.
“I hope I didn’t bore you my dear. I’m an old man and I can get carried away with my stories.”
“Not at all Dadu. I want to know all your stories! I want to know about the battles you fought! Did you ever get hurt? Was it difficult for you to stay away from your family?”, Leena excitedly burst forth with multiple questions.
“Hahaha! One story at a time, Leena. We have seven decades of my life to cover- let’s take it one story at a time.” Hugging his eldest grandchild, the Brigadier held back a sudden onset of tears, as he realised she would be flying back in three days.
Hi everyone, this post is dedicated to the lofty document that is meant to guide us as citizens, and guide the people in power to be upright leaders- the Constitution of India. As we complete seven decades of being a republic, let’s hope the basic tenets of this manuscript remain untainted in the days to come. I understand that everyone has different political views. You do not have to agree with me, but I request you to be respectful of my views, as I am of your political views. If you do agree with me however, I urge you to share this story ahead, especially with children and young adults.
Brigadier and Mrs. Sahni will appear in more works of fiction penned by me. Click here to read the next short story, “The Turmoil Within“.
This post is a part of the ‘DECADE Blog Hop’ #DecadeHop organised by #RRxMM Rashi Roy and Manas Mukul. The Event is sponsored by Glo and co-sponsored by Beyond The Box, Wedding Clap, The Colaba Store and Sanity Daily in association with authors Piyusha Vir and Richa S Mukherjee.
The theme for this blog hop is “decade”, and this work of fiction is my creative attempt at writing on the given theme, along with paying ode to seven decades of India being a republic. Do follow my blog if you enjoyed this work, and leave your comments below!
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