“Sare jahan se accha
Hum bulbulain hai iss ki
yeh gulsitan hamara
Sare jahan se accha”
Which Indian doesn’t know this patriotic song by Muhammad Iqbal, written more than a century ago in 1908 when our country was yet to be liberated ? Which Indian doesn’t get goose bumps listening to this song even now ? In the 1980s, I recall there was a beautiful programme aired on AIR where every Sunday, songs from different languages of India were taught. As children we had learnt so many songs including this inspiring one in the praise of our motherland. So, after hoisting the flag on the 76th Independence Day celebrations at a local NGO that I mentor (https://www.vonishafoundation.org), I just broke into this song instantly with the 150+ ‘bulbuls’ (children) singing after me. The chorus reverberated in the modest open ground of a school in a slum area where children from the lowest rungs of society study, dreaming of a better life. The small school decorated lovingly with hand-made festoons and crafts by the enthusiastic children and committed teachers suddenly sprung to life and transported me back to my own school days. Therefore, when I was asked to say a few words as the chief guest, I kept it simple and closed in 5 minutes – dreading the long, boring ID day sermons (or it so appeared to us back then) our strict Principal would deliver 😊. Our eagerness was only to receive the sweets and namkeen that would be distributed thereafter followed by a holiday.
Well, the bulbuls of Vonisha were better behaved and disciplined than us. Representing a cross section of the impoverished families living in the slums, their cheerful faces, high pitched ‘good morning ma’am’ and eager ‘happy Independence Day handshakes’ belied their living conditions. There was no impoverishment in their joy, their sharing and the display of their talents. It was amazing abundance everywhere. The school provides free of cost education to about 250 children across ages from 5 to 15, thanks to the initiative of a teacher-doctor couple, dedicated teachers, individual philanthropic donations and some committed CSR contributions & volunteering. Right from individual short speeches to fancy dress competition typical of a national day celebration to full spirited dance moves choreographed to popular patriotic film songs to medleys to complex yoga postures to tough quiz rounds……..everything was in fully display by the young children who had shown up in their best. I was touched to see how parents (mostly labourers, daily wage earners, garment workers, maids, auto drivers, single parents, abused mothers) had willingly spent their earnings on the special costumes for the day to see their ‘bulbuls’ in their best ‘plummage’ if I may say so ! Why not ? Are they children of a lesser God ?
The guests that day including me were dumbstruck to see the quality of performance and the levels of knowledge the children had, about our freedom struggle. They were no different from their entitled counterparts in other schools. Perhaps even better and proud of the stories taught to them by their teachers. I could see it in their eyes and demeanour. Filled my heart with joy looking at the progress we have made as a country over the last 75 years. Agreed that there are miles to go before we sleep but we must celebrate the miles we have crossed so far especially with respect to the ‘bulbuls of Bharat’ ! A huge gap still exists in several areas including basic education and each one of us has a responsibility to fill it, in whatever best way we can.
Before I close on the best ID day celebrations I have ever had, let me call out one young girl – Ms. Manasa – all of 14, appearing for the 10th standard exam this year through NIOS (National Institute of Open School). Daughter of a single mother, she compered the 2 hour long programme on 15th August seamlessly. Speaking in flawless English and managing many surprises within the event, she was Confidence at its Best ! She could put any top communicator to shame with her skills and attitude. Wishing more CSR contributions pour in and more ‘Manasas’ rise as we progress into the Azaadi ka Amrit Varsh !!