Pinky walked in through Aga Khan Palace’s large, castle-like gate, holding on excitedly to her Mamma’s hand. Dadi couldn’t come because she was away in Delhi but Pinky had called her up that morning.
“We are going to Aga Khan Palace dadi! A real palace can you believe!”
“Oh my.” Dadi had been excited too. “I am sure it will be great. Remember to thank Aga Khan IV dear for it is he who gifted the palace to Gandhiji.”
“Sure dadi. Wish you could have come too!” she said before disconnecting the call.
The 26th of January was holiday time for Pinky and had been so even in her previous class – First A.
“It’s a national holiday my dear.” Pappa had said to her when she declared as much one night. “On this day in 1950, India became a Republic nation.” Sensing she did not really understand, he had gone on to explain. “You remember Pinky how you had to take a medical certificate the last time you had fever and missed school?”
Of course she remembered. It had been a very important feeling: seeing her name in block letters on a printout given by Doctor Uncle and handing it over in a nice, white envelope to her class teacher the next morning.
“It’s a part of the school’s rule book.” continued Pappa. “This book not only contains rules but also things like how to punish a troublemaker and how your Principal should look after you. On the 26th, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and others came up with a rule book for India – the Constitution. And to celebrate the event, we have a Republic Day every year.”
“Wow Pappa, can I read it?” A rule book for India sounded amazing – she had wondered if it would have rules on how to treat cats. If it had, she would ask Pappa to get that disgusting man punished who had pelted her favourite white one with stones and laughed when she had cried out.
“Of course darling.” Pappa smiled. “You will read it in school when you start learning Civics.”
Pinky had seen some celebrations that morning. Fasoos, a fast food joint in Deep Bungalow Chowk had started new Republic Day special rolls.
The Indian flag stood upright and unfurled on Deep Bungalow Chowk bus stand where they had been waiting for the bus.
But the proposed trip to Aga Khan was her real treat and she had started getting ready in synch with Pappa’s announcement.
Once in the grounds, Pinky looked around happily to see a delightful old-world palace surrounded by a green, green garden. The minarets loomed high and mighty and the pathway leading up to the front door was all done up in shadows.
Mamma got three tickets: Rs. 5 each for Mamma and Pappa and Rs 2 for her. “Incredible India” was inscribed on them. “Do remind me to add these to my scrap book.” she said to Mamma as they climbed up the stairs.
The first room they went in to was a picture treasure. A large canvas painting depicting Gandhiji caught her eye. When she walked closer to look, the painting almost began speaking. “Look here and you see Rabindranath Tagore, the Gurudev who weaved words. Look there and you see Ganesha, the Elephant God who takes away your troubles. Shift a little way east and you see Gandhiji, the Father of the Nation. With him is his wife Kasturbaji. Look…”
“Lovely painting isn’t it Pinky?” Pappa put an arm around her and broke her reverie. “It’s the very essence of our India: how we are together even though tinted in different colours of the palette.”
The room also had photographs from the Quit India Movement and Pinky understood it to be an instruction to the white: Leave Our India. She felt a surge of pride whenever Mamma told her the story of Gandhiji and his satyagraha.
Walking up to the next room, Pinky craned her neck to read the displayed notice.
Her class teacher at school often talked of the tall lady in the photographs inside. “A scholar, a poet, an inspiration.” said Mitali Ma’am one morning. “And there’s no way she could be that had she spent time hitting the one sitting in front of her with a ruler.” she had rattled off glaring at Arun.
The next room was locked, “for renovation purposes.” Pinky stared hard through the glass door, backing off once as her spectacles made a slight dash. There sat Gandhiji and Kasturabji, smiling at her from a huge photograph. A white bed stood near the wall and their slippers (paduka) occupied one corner. There were other articles such as utensils and clothes and before Pinky felt she was intruding, she withdrew her gaze.
Once the corridor ended, a series of signboards began: ”Way to Samadhi” they all read out with direction arrows.
“Kasturbaji was cremated here”, said Mamma. “Be very quiet when we are near the samadhi and remember to open your shoes.”
Pinky almost tiptoed her way to the memorial and stood awed at the sparkling white, marble samadhi. There were huge trees all around, rustling in the light afternoon wind. They must have seen it all, thought Pinky, especially the giant oak-like-one (she couldn’t be sure what it was) that had branches spreading out akin to a universal umbrella.
Nestled in quiet nooks were red flowers and she noted how they were the ones they gave to Kali Ma during Puja.
Walking around the garden, she spotted a tricolor rangoli with “Jai Hind” written at the centre. Remember Pinky, she told herself, next year onwards we will make one for Republic Day too like we do on Diwali.
She giggled as she saw a squirrel nibbling at a Jumpin carton. A sparrow walked past her and a pair of butterflies brushed by.
Thank you Aga Khan Uncle, said Pinky. I love your palace!
Pappa was done clicking snaps of Mamma and the garden. She looked at him with a big smile as he turned the camera toward her.
* * *
P.S.: Here’s wishing everyone a very happy 61st year of The Indian Republic! 🙂