Needless to say, the mention of Independence Day evokes a sense of patriotism and spirited fervor in most people. For some,, it is a national holiday, an opportunity to laze around But there are also some who ruminate about the past every August 15, remembering the disaster this date spelt four years ago at a small corner of the country. I am one of them.
I was in the tenth standard then and in school, Independence Day indicated an out and out patriotic day full of activities ranging from the hoisting of the flag to the Independence Day parade to the cultural programs. My convent school in Assam demanded compulsory attendance every August 15. Even in my terror-stricken state, Independence Day celebrations have been an integral part of my life ever since my childhood. From school we were taken to the district ground to participate in the various inter-school competitions followed by the speeches of chief guests. I particularly marveled at the rifle shots in the air by the men in uniform.
I-Day was an excuse to spend a day with great pomp and joy, paying tribute to those innumerable freedom fighters who happily placed themselves in the altar for their soil and also saluting those strangers who face all hurdles in different parts of the country to ensure our protection. However, it was the Independence Day in 2004 which left a scar too deep in my heart. I would rather call it a catastrophe.
At the public ground, thousands of people assembled to rejoice our freedom and mark the fifty-seventh free year of the country. We were awaiting for the guest of honor to inaugurate the day’s celebration. I was busy chatting nineteen to the dozen with my classmates. We were a really big, mad bunch of school kids talking about everything under the sun. A girl wearing dark yellow apparel was subject to our constant ridicule. Obviously, she wasn’t aware of our criticism. On the other part of the field were nursery kids climbing trees, running to and fro, thus killing time. The regular crowd kept standing … maintaining their calm, composure and patience.
Soon, I was bored of the conversation and observation. That is when I decided to walk towards a separate corner of the field. As luck would have it, the security officials sent me away saying that nothing was visible from that part of the field. Being a law abiding citizen, I reluctantly joined my friends yet again. After 7 or 8 minutes, I head a deafening sound. As I turned around, I could only see black ash-like matter flying in the air. Nothing was distinct for a couple of seconds and it was too late for things to be back to normal. The explosion claimed 13 lives; 10 children and 3 women.
One of the victims was the yellow suit clad girl we had mocked. In fact, for many days that followed, her hair hung in the branches of the tree under which the bomb blasted. I learnt later that her head was never found. I regret the fact that that innocent girl didn’t get a befitting funeral or for that, none of the dead attained proper burial rights.
The scene after the blast was full of horror as if inspired by a dreadful novel. School kids – who had been playing till then – were lying in a pool of blood. The crowd waiting to salute the parade was scared to death and ran for cover in unimaginable panic. Parents howling in search of separated children were a pitiable sight. The plight of the victims’ near and dear is beyond words. That one Independence Day caused such excruciating pain, both in body and spirit, that we remained numb for several days that followed.
They say time heals everything. Today, four years later, when I remember that incident, my heart still skips a beat. I was the magazine secretary in school and shouldered the responsibility of pinning up important articles at the bulletin board. I remember my hands shuddering the following day when I pinned up the article describing what I had encountered. Four years down the line, I have learned to live with those haunting scenes but no… time does not heal everything.