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14 August, 2005

The Little Plastic Flag

(Cross-posted from my blog.)

Last year on Independence Day eve I bought a plastic tricolour. Driven into guilty feelings by a newspaper columnist, I allowed myself to 'put a smile' on a roadside urchin vending plastic flags, stuck to plastic straws. He took the five rupee coin, moved out of sight and and left me thirsting for his smile. I was left with a bright object orange, white and green, with the mandatory chakra thrown in on both sides.

It went home and rested on my desk for some days. Then as the fervour cooled off and the freshness patriotism washed off, the flag began to look like a kitschy eyesore among the tchotchke accumulated on my table top. Mother made signs for its removal, suggesting it be consigned to the dustbin now that festivities were over. I refused.

It was still the national flag, and therefore I was bound by the national flag code. It could be disposed off only by incineration, which is not a good thing to do to anything made of plastic. Still, under pressure, I moved it into the wardrobe to rest unseen.

The flag moved over the next several months all over my shelves and drawers. It attained an ungainly shape. The mast was bent in several places, and large wrinkles ran through the body of the fly. A dark blotch appeared mysteriously on the canton. It began to look less and less like the offical standard of the Indian Republic. Yet I retained for it some vestige of respect. Some of it was due to the guilt hammered in the by now forgotten columnist, and the idea that my impulsive purchase would have filled a little belly someday.

It became the butt of ridicule. On Republic Day, it remained too prostate to discharge its ceremonial duties. Mother again indicated that its crumpled form would suit the dustbin best, and that a new flag would be a better adornment. Yet it seemed sacrilege to obey my mother. The flag was returned to the drawer.

At some point of time, it must have been secretly consigned to the rubbish heap, for I can no longer find it. As another Independence Day approaches, it leaves me with a burning feeling of part guilt (of irresponsibility) and part resistance. How do we relate to our flag, if we relate to it at all?

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