As many of you will know, I'm a big Will Smith fan. Sorry to report, however, that this is not a post about watching Big Willie kick some alien butt on July 4th. Monday (15th August) was Independence Day in India – celebrating the end of the British Rule over the country. Obviously this is a pretty important date in the National calendar and as such it is a national holiday.
I was invited to attend an event at one of our project sites – Kuju. Kuju is a small mining village between Hazaribag and Ranchi (the capital of Jharkhand). Our organisation work to help children in the village and the surrounding areas continue with their education – providing schools for children who have had to leave government schools early, providing vocational learning etc. There is also a residential school for girls so that their parents can work and the children can stay in education.
We travelled up to Kuju by bus and arrived shortly after 9am. As we came up to the school, Mukesh, who I had come with, noticed that there was already a group of people in the field outside the school, so we went straight over to that.
Sanjit (our Project Co-ordinator) and Mukesh (another Co-ordinator) were busy erecting a flag-pole, the base of which had been decorated with various coloured paints. The children were milling around, waiting for the main event. After 30-45 minutes, Swapan (our Secretary) and a local politican turned up and the ceremony began.
The ceremony was fairly short – the national flag was hoisted, a couple of songs sung, a short speech and we were done. Back into the school we went and I was intrigued to find out what the rest of the day held in store....
Instead of going into the office however, we went up onto the roof of the building. Here they were busy erecting a marquee and PA system. We were going to have some entertainment! I took the opportunity to take a fair few photos – some good, some bad!
The rest of the morning until lunch was taken up with a variety show by the children of the school. It was good fun – lots of singing, dancing and some sketches as well. The children all had a competition to do a drawing of Independence Day and I got involved in the judging. It was like India's Got Talent! (I realise this makes me Simon Cowell – I'm not pleased about it)
One amusing custom was that when we gave out the prizes at the end of the day, after collecting their gift all of the children kept trying to touch the feet of the prize-giver – me included! Cue a load of bizarre dancing/jumping on all our parts and trying to catch the children before they could do it. I didn't get a chance to ask about it, but it's obviously some form of subservience / deference.
It's also not the only circumstance in which this happens. If you bump into someone's foot, the immediate reaction is to touch their foot with your hand and to make a kind of mini-sign of the cross – touching the forehead and chest. It's almost instinctive for most people and the closest we have to it in the UK would be someone saying “bless you” if a person sneezes I guess. (Something that Indians find hilarious by the way, especially when I explained the origins as being from the Black Death and basically implying that the person is going to die....)
After the presentations, we had one final dance routine, which took ages as the PA system couldn't play track 7 on the CD. We kept getting the same intro to a different song again, and again, and again, and again! Mind you, the equipment they were using looked older than my dad's old Technics equipment, which probably means it was made around 1980 or something, so a few hiccups is probably allowed!
After the show we had some lunch and I distributed the sweets I'd brought from the UK (Wine Pastilles, Jelly Babies and Haribo!). I say distributed, everyone in the room got a couple and then Swapan packed the rest into his bag to “share” with Rajiv and the others later....yet to see any evidence of that one!
After lunch it was back to Hazaribag for the afternoon. It was nice to see a country proud of it's nationality. In the UK the St. George's flag has unfortunately come to represent hooliganism and football yobs to many people – displaying it is not always seen as a proud thing to do. The fact that the whole nation here stops to remember their country is a really inspiring thing.
On a separate note, a few weeks ago I took some photos down by the Jheel (where I go jogging in the morning) as the sun was setting. The day before had actually been even more beautiful, but there you go. It's a nice reminder that Hazaribag is actually a pretty beautiful place in some parts (when it's not raining and muddy and damp and mouldy like it is now!).
As ever, more pics over on the Flickr site if you're interested....