You can carry the tricolour on a kanwar yatra, wave it from motorcycles. You can even drape the bodies of those who have committed violence against Muslims with it. But you cannot look towards it for shelter.
Can the tricolour shield someone from the scorching sun, become the shade that soothes like a balm? Those who dared to imagine the contours of our tricolour probably visualised it thus – as a flag that would offer solace, the mere glimpse of which would make you feel safe, as if there was someone watching over you.
Shahrukh saw the tricolour exactly in this light. He was returning from the day’s toil, this worker of India. The celebrations of ‘August 15’ – Independence Day – were long over. Shahrukh had been at work the whole time, lifting loads as a porter at the railway station.
By the time he started back home, it was dark. Even so, a colourful piece of cloth on the road drew his eye; perhaps it was the size of the cloth and not so much the hues that caught his attention. One can imagine how his eyes must have brightened when he picked up the cloth lying on the road and smoothed it out. It was the same size as the door of his house – the door that wasn’t there. Doorstep there was, but no door.
Implicit in the idea of a house, or home, is the dignity of privacy and restfulness that it provides. In their absence, the house melts into the street, becomes a part of it. And there are innumerable dwellings in our country that exist without doors, wooden or iron. But they are homes too which create a sheltering screen of privacy with plastic sheets, securing them to the ground with heavy stones as they flap in the wind. In our eyes, these dwellings are ‘something like a home’, with ‘something like a door’.
When Shahrukh saw the cloth on the road, he was reminded of his doorless house. It seemed as if it would be a perfect fit as a door.
As for the cloth, it was no ordinary piece. It was the tricolour, or national flag, no less. The hand holding it must have slackened once the ritual of Independence Day celebrations ended, and the flag must have fallen to the ground. Who could be so unaware of such vastness slipping out of his grasp? Or did he deliberately throw it away because he had no further use for the flag? The Independence Day celebration had come to an end, after all! Besides, what use is the tricolour in everyday life? The abandoned flag was mere cloth now.
It must have lain on the road, seen many pairs of feet pass by – may even have been trampled by some. The only pair of feet to halt near it belonged to Shahrukh. Did his feet have eyes?
The more accurate question is – whose feet have eyes? You and I hardly ever glance down at the road. Childhood memories of keeping one’s eyes peeled for that coin on the road are a thing of the past. But there are many who embellish their world with discards – a throwaway plastic bottle, a worn-out slipper or a broken toy! They too make a home.
It struck Shahrukh that the big tricolour would shield his dwelling from the harsh sun and dust. He hung it up at the entrance. As he had anticipated, it fit the space meant for the door. The biggest void in the house had been filled. The sheltering shade of the tricolour had raised the dwelling to the level of a home.
What Shahrukh did not realise is that the tricolour is no longer allowed to offer solace; not when then there are those who use it to arouse a frenzy of hatred.
The tricolour had brought within its sheltering embrace an entire family – a poor, illiterate man, his wife and two children and his aged parents. But its flapping was giving rise to a wave of hatred among others – what’s a flag if there’s no danda, stick, attached to it to instill awe and fear.
You can carry the tricolour on a kanwar yatra, you can wave it during a Ganesh visarjan, hold it aloft on huge poles during motorcycle rallies protesting against corruption. You can even drape the bodies of those who have committed violence against Muslims with the tricolour. But you cannot look towards it to shelter your vulnerable self, provide a screen of privacy and dignity – especially if your name happens to be Shahrukh.
Shahrukh himself was totally oblivious of the reality (even though he is from Muzaffarnagar) that in India today, those with names like Shahrukh have no place under the shade of the tricolour. They can only kneel before it and salute it, but kissing its folds is out of bounds for them. They can pay obeisance to it with a kornish salutation, in vogue at the Mughal court, showing a courtier’s readiness “…for any service that may be required of him”(Abul Fazl). A salutation such as this will show the loyalty of Shahrukh and his ilk – exactly what is demanded of them. Beyond that, if they attempt to demonstrate a sense of belonging, then the law takes its own course.
A local politician protested outside his house. Visualise the scenario – a mob collects outside a poor family’s one-room dwelling and bays for its blood – ‘India will not tolerate any insult to the flag!’ ‘Beat up the ba******’. This is our national language now.
Then the police arrived. You see, the bravehearts of the Shiv Sena had cornered an anti-national. The police swooped down on him. After being arrested, Shahrukh is now out on bail. The tricolour, which is being kept at the police station for safekeeping, is in the process of reclaiming the respect it had lost. Everything’s in its place.
What country is this? Who are these people? And who are we? More importantly, what is this nation’s relationship with its people, with Shahrukh?