“Teri maa ki…”, cursed Raju silently as another car zoomed past him, splashing muddy water all over his uniform, the only one he had. “Saala, tera baap ka sadak samjha kya?” he shouted, knowing fully well that the driver wouldn’t hear it inside the air-conditioned confines of his car.
Raju was wet, hungry and in a terrible mood. He hadn’t eaten anything since morning, except the greasy laddoo that had been handed out at the flag hoisting at the municipal school early morning. It was raining heavily and the potholed roads were going from bad to worse. Plus, he had managed to sell only twenty flags. “Saala, aaj kal desh bhakti ka naam hi nahi raha”, he muttered to himself, “bade bade gaadi mein baithe aish kar rahe, ek jhanda nahi khareed sakte?”
Priced at Re.1 each, the flags fetched him a commission of 25 paise per flag. He had hoped to sell 100 flags at least, so that he and his mother can have a decent masala dosa each. He wouldn’t buy one for his father. “baap nahi, shaitan hai woh”, he thought, “roz peeke aata hai, aur maarta hai”. But the way things were going, it looked like they’d have to settle for a wada pav each.
Raju was an enterprising boy. He sold all sorts of trinkets at traffic signals to fund his meals. Not that he had much choice. His father had been a drunken loafer for as long as he could remember. His mother toiled hard, but all her earnings were duly deposited, half at the arrack shop and half at the local pawn broker’s shop.
He had great hopes for the Independence Day. People who shooed him away from behind their tinted windows everyday, would usually buy the National Flag. Or at least he hoped they would. After all, five years’ experience at various traffic signals across the city had taught him that most people find it hard to say no to the Tiranga. But, this year, even that was not working. The country was surely going to the dogs.
“Saala, woh khiladi log bhi aur medal nahi jeet rahe”, he grumbled. The day after Bindra won the gold, he had managed to sell double the number of newspapers at the signal. He never knew who Abhinav Bindra was, nor what an air-rifle is. But, thanks to that bespectacled shooter, Raju and his mom feasted for a day.
“Kahin bum-wum toh phodo saale”, Raju prayed sometimes, especially on days when the attractive people in the car refused to buy the newspapers, “Sensex doobe, Mallika kisiko chumma de, ya toh Saif aur Kareena ka jhagda ho jaaye. Kuch toh lafda ho jaaye”. Anything to sell the godammed papers.
Presently, he came across an old man walking along the footpath, who beckoned him and bought two flags. The old man was a freedom fighter, and was started talking nostalgically about the glorious days of struggle. Raju stopped to listen, out of courtesy for the old man, but more so because he was bored of standing alone at the signal for hours on end. Plus, those precious flags were not selling anyways.
As the old man finished his story of non-violent marches in the face of sustained lathi charges and concluded with “aisi dilaayi is desh ko azadi”, Raju thought to himself, “kai ka azadi. Mera baap daaru se azaad nahi. Meri maa mere baap se azaad nahi. Main bhook se azaad nahi. Yeh joh bade bade gaadi mein jhanda khareede bina shaan se jaa rahe hain, woh apne kaam, paise, status, dikhave se azaad nahi.”
And as his stomach growled with emptiness, he muttered, “Azadi gaya tel lene, koi jhanda toh khareedo yaar.”