As India celebrates its 69th Independence Day, I am sitting one continent away in a country many people haven’t even heard about: Cote D’Ivoire or Ivory Coast.
So when I was told that all Indians in Ivory Coast have been invited to the Indian Ambassador’s house on the morning of 15th August, I knew that I had to go. My husband happens to be traveling for work, but I ensured he arranged a vehicle for me. I woke up early, bathed and donned the colours of the tiranga on me. If you’re celebrating, might as well do it well, I said to myself. So I added, bangles in saffron and green to my wrists and set off!
As the chauffeur drove me down, I looked at the flags all over the city and smiled. No, Indian flags have not been hoisted across Abidjan. It just so happens that the Ivorian flag has the very same colours as our flag- saffron, white and green- but lined horizontally, one beside the other. A week ago, on the 7th of August, Cote D’Ivoire celebrated their own independence and hence, the city is still proudly sporting its national colours, so reminiscent of our very own.
Approaching the enormous mansion of the Ambassador and his wife- named India House- I descended from the car and was caught on camera by a few photographers. As I discovered later, they were going to hand out these photos at the end of ceremony.
Stepping in, I was handed an Indian flag and I made my way towards the stage that had been set up in the gardens. The place was brimming with Indians! Men had pulled out their traditional garments, ladies were decked out in sarees and suits. Little children in kurtas and lehengas were playing around. The décor had been laid out in our tri-colours, further adding to the flavor of the day. The light drizzle did not seem to bother anyone.
Precisely at 9am, we all moved towards the flag. The Army Officers posted in Ivory Coast with the United Nations lined up in the front and saluted smartly when the Ambassador hoisted the flag. Inspired by the sight, each one of us stood a little straighter, singing the National Anthem with a growing pride that had been lying dormant for a while. The Ambassador then narrated the Prime Minister’s speech, which had been delivered from the ramparts of the Red Fort, just hours earlier.
Guests kept dropping in while little children put up a cultural program, until close to 500 people were milling around. Watching those tiny tots perform on stage, enacting freedom fighters long forgotten and dancing on national songs that have receded in our memory, I felt glad that I had decided to make the effort to attend the function.
The entire experience evoked such powerful memories– of an eight-year old me, delivering an Independence Day speech to the entire school; of dances performed on stage, dressed in the garb of Mother India; of chanting our National Anthem in the daily assembly at school for over a decade; of lessons of history taught time and again to educate us about a struggle that had brought us to where we were; of the countless events where we have stood upright, saluting the National Flag.
It was with such pride that I shook hands with an Army Officer, telling him that my father had served in the Indian Air Force for over three decades. An immediate sense of oneness, of being part of the same family, was established and he requested me to convey my regards to my father.
It was standing there, experiencing these sentiments, that I realized one thing: no matter where I go, no matter which country I settle in, no other flag and no other anthem can evoke such strong emotions within me as the ones belonging to India.
In fact, of all the identities I sport- that of an author, a manager, a wife, a daughter, a friend- it is my identity as an Indian that comes to the fore the most, when I find myself outside my country, on foreign land.
India may have a thousand problems and I may voice them aloud on many occasions, but the fact remains- that I belong to India as much as India belongs to me- and this will remain true till I meet the dust.
Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.