Saturday, January 27, 2007

Flying the Flag

Yesterday was Republic Day in India. On January 26, 1950, India declared itself a Republic, with a newly written Constitution fresh off the presses.

The day is marked by parades and ceremonial hoistings of the national flag. I helped hoist two myself. I was invited by one of the professors at Sri Venkateshwara University to be the guest of honor at a local elementary school named for Mother Teresa. It’s not a denominational school. The nice thing about the Hindu religion is that it welcomes people of every religious stripe under its umbrella, and Mother Teresa is perhaps even more revered amongst Hindus than she is in the Catholic church.

As you can see, I finally got to wear my tie! I brought it all the way from America for just such an occasion as this.

I was picked up by Professor Govinda Reddy on his Enfield “Bullet” motorbike—an antique, if ever I saw one—and whisked off to an unfurling of the flag at a little school for mentally retarded children, which operated under the same management as the elementary school. Both establishments are funded and managed by Dr. Reddy on a purely voluntary basis, the children, from rural areas around Tirupati, receiving their education free of charge.

After hoisting and saluting the flag, I distributed sweets (candy) to the kiddiwinks. Then I was scooted off to the elementary school, where all the children and staff were waiting for us. Outside I hoisted and unfurled my second flag. I was getting good at it by now. A little girl draped a garland over my shoulders and I scooped her up to give her a hug. After that The assembly stood to attention during the singing of the National Anthem.

Dr. Govinda got the ball rolling with a brief speech. I’m not sure what it was about since it was in Telugu, but I did recognize my name every now and then, so I think he was welcoming me and inviting me to say a few words. I started out by thanking everyone for inviting me to join them on this auspicious occasion. No, I didn’t use the word “auspicious,” but Dr. Reddy must have figured the children might need some help understanding what on earth I was saying, because he spontaneously decided to act as my interpreter.

After reminding the children that the Constitution entitles them to a free education up to the age of 14, I got them all to clap their hands for Dr. Reddy, since he’s the provider of the free education as far as they are concerned. Then I got them to clap their hands for the principal, Mrs. Daniel, and her staff for running the school and actually giving them the free education. Next, I told them that they wouldn’t be able to come to school without help from their parents and extended family, so the children gave a round of applause for them. Finally, I told them all to turn to the person on either side of them and shake his or her hand and say: “Danyawad-alu!” (Thank you) and “Challa bagundi! (Well done!) for being their school buddies, since school buddies are an important part of education, too.

Now it was the children’s turn to make little speeches and sing songs. I definitely recognized “Twinkle, twinkle little star,” amongst the repertoire, along with an acted out: “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…” The children really enjoyed that one, especially when I joined in.

At the end of the proceedings, I helped distribute more sweets and was kind of mobbed by all the children, who wanted to shake my hand. Breakfast (called “tiffin”) followed. Everything was delicious and I was very proud of myself for eating with my fingers without getting a single stain on my tie.

God bless India. May she prosper and gain the recognition she deserves as one of the greatest nations on earth.

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