Independence Day

August 15 is Indian Independence Day. Last night someone from Guest Relations called us and said that the hotel was having a flag-raising at 8:00 this morning, and invited us to attend. To my surprise, R agreed – he avoids ceremonies of any kind, and we never get up before 8:30. But we duly walked up to the hotel gate at five minutes to eight. A group of employees was arrayed around the flagpole; the security guards in their uniforms were trying to look military. Coffee and Indian sweets were kept ready at tables to one side. One of the staff came up to us holding a tray covered with pins in the colours of the Indian flag: saffron white green. R picked out a flag pin, I chose a small rosette shape. Then we waited. A few hotel guests trickled in, but most were staff. 8:00 came and went and R, always obsessed with time, began to be impatient. Finally, at 8:10, a car drove in the gate: the Manager had arrived. He drove a little beyond where we stood, got out and hurried back to the flagpole. As he passed us, R showed him his watch and said, “Independence came late to India.” (He told us afterwards that he had attended the Chief Minister’s flag-raising, which had been late.)

The flag was already at the top of the flagpole, folded into a small bundle. The Manager pulled the rope and unfurled the flag, from which flower petals showered onto the watchers below. Everyone applauded, and a tinny recording of the national anthem was played. The Manager shook hands with the assembled staff members, and we went to breakfast.

In the afternoon we will fly back home. When we scheduled our return for Independence Day we didn’t think twice about it; now, with the new state of high alertness, and an additional warning for today, we are dreading the prospect of delays at the airport. All passengers must now arrive at the airport 90 minutes before the flight time (for, in our case, a 20 minute flight). We don’t know whether we can carry on the laptop, my camera, R’s camera bag crammed with lenses – none of which we would like to pack into our suitcases.

It will all happen, one way or another. This day will slide into the past, and tomorrow morning I will wake up in hot Chennai, and walk downstairs to start the day, as if this place, with its concerns and ceremonies, never existed.

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