Posted by Carol Johnson
This year on Indian Independence Day (independence from the British in 1947) , August 15, my friend Lakshmi asked me to meet her in front of Yogi Ramsuratkumar Ashram so we could go together to see her niece, Sushmita, give a speech for her school’s Independence Day celebration.
When I arrived at the school, the ceremony had already started. In front of the crowd stood kids representing people from India’s history. In the photo below, “Nehru” is on the left. (You know it’s Nehru because he wears a rose on his, um, Nehru jacket.) Bharat Mata, “Mother India,” is next. “Gandhi” is third from the left, and “Mother Theresa” is on the right.
Lakshmi was nowhere to be found.
“Gandhi” is being helped into position.
“Nehru” and Bharat Mata are waiting for the ceremony to get going.
There was a beautiful kolam at the base of the flagpole.
These kids seemed pretty young to me, so I was confused, since I knew Sushmita was in the 10th standard. Pretty soon, I realized that I wasn’t at the right school. It turns out this was the Yogi Ramsurat Kumar school, with students from pre-kindergarten to 5th standard. Oops!
One last look at the adorable young celebrants here, and I took off to find the correct school.
Lakshmi met me around the corner, and led me to the correct place: Dr. V. Genguswamy Naidu Higher Secondary Matriculation School.
All the students were gathering in the courtyard. The color of their uniforms indicated their age and rank at the school.
The school has students from very young age, “UKG,” or pre-school, all the way through Plus 2, (12th grade, in the US).
The stage was set for the beginning of the ceremonies.
The Indian tri-colour was raised by the school’s administrators.
At some point, the kids all saluted. (They also used this gesture to make sure there was correct spacing between the rows.)
The festivities began with a parade of sorts. Leading it was this student, wearing the colors of India, who performed with this staff. He threw it up and caught it and did tricks with it.
Here he is honoring the dignitaries at the podium.
Then the groups of kids, arranged by their school grade, marched in front of the podium. They saluted when they got there.
Here come the young ones. They are so sincere.
Then Lakshmi took me “back stage,” where the performers were preparing.
Proper makeup for the dancers.
Everyone looked so beautiful!
Meanwhile, the rest of the student body was assembled in front of the stage for today’s performance.
The ceremony began with a few words from one of the school administrators. The backdrop is a hoarding (billboard) created for today.
Then a few words from one of the school’s co-founders.
Kids in the crowd, youngest in front. One young boy, out of uniform, waves his flag.
Here is the school’s principal, Mr. Sivarangam.
The first honoree is the student who has achieved the first rank in the school. She is receiving her prize here. This is quite an honor for her.
Then the entertainment begins. The students pictured below came onto the stage first. They represented some of the heroes of the Independence Movement of India. It was a larger cast of characters than I saw at the other school. They stood throughout the rest of the ceremony, coming forth at times to deliver a speech about their character. From left to right, the kids below represent Kalpana Datta, K. Kamaraj, Subramanya Bharathi,, Bharat Mata, Gandhi, Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and Rani Laksmibai.
This group performs a classical dance.
The dance ends with Shiva conquering the demon.
Next up was a speech, in English, by the “topper” of the Plus 2 standard. His speech was amazing. His English was perfect. His message was beautiful. His delivery was energetic and eloquent. He stressed that India was one country, and there should never be divisions between religions and classes. I was very moved by this young man, who has a very bright future ahead of him.
“Gandhi” spoke next. In Tamil, so I don’t know what he said.
Here is Bharat Mata, “Mother India,” the national personification of India as a mother goddess. She first appeared in a painting and a dramatic play during the independence struggle. She is usually depicted as a woman clad in a saffron sari holding a flag. The image of Bharat Mata was an icon to create nationalist feeling in Indians during the freedom struggle. Today’s Mother India stood at attention throughout the proceedings, but didn’t speak to the crowd.
Another dance group followed.
Throughout the entire event, I was overwhelmed by the talent and energy and sincerity of these kids.
The speaker shown below represents K. Kamaraj, who was an Indian politician from Tamil Nadu, widely acknowledged as the "Kingmaker" in Indian politics during the 1960s. He was also involved in the Indian independence movement. He is remembered for bringing school education to millions of the rural poor by introducing free education and the free Midday Meal Scheme during his tenure as chief minister of Tamil Nadu. The domestic terminal of the (old) Chennai airport is named "Kamaraj Terminal.”
“Subramanya Bharathi” speaks next. He was a writer, poet, journalist, Indian independence activist and social reformer, also from Tamil Nadu. Bharathi is considered to be one of the greatest Tamil poets of the modern era. Most of his works were on religious, political and social themes.
Here’s one of the smaller kids, giving his talk. So confident.
Another dance group.
By now, some of the school administrators had seen that I was taking pictures of all the performers. I was honored that they asked me to go on the stage to award prizes to this group of performers.
I’m actually a pretty shy person. But I was so impressed, so touched, so moved, by the performances and speeches that I had witnessed that I felt called upon to say a few words. I said “You are all the future of India, and I am so proud of you. Happy birthday, India!”
The next performance was by a group of older male students. The photo below is of them setting up the flower petals that they will throw towards the backdrop that has been unfurled for this dance number.
They are dancing with some rhythm-making sticks.
Then came another student speaking in English. He spoke on the need to protect the environment, especially from the menace of plastics. It amazed me that all of these speakers were so animated, so purposeful. Where did all these kids learn the stage presence that they demonstrated?
Ah, we have gotten to Sushmita’s speech. She is representing an Indian freedom fighter named Kalpana Datta. Sushmita is dressed in the uniform of a soldier. Part of her costume includes a gun, held in her left hand.
She is telling the story of her character. Kalpana Datta was one of the foremost female Indian revolutionaries. She was active in the armed resistance movement and prominent member of the pre-independence Indian Republican Army.
All the speakers and performers were honored by the school administrators after their performances. Here is Sushmita receiving her award.
Here is another young man speaking with good intensity in English. He talked about the plight of women in India, and the fact that the country will move forward only when females are treated with equality and allowed to contribute fully. Over and over, I was charmed by the poise of each of these speakers.
Another dance. Fabulous costumes!
There were several boys dressed in what I assume to be Boy Scout uniforms. Their function was to prepare the stage in between the various acts.
Below, another speaker, introducing the next act. A Scout holds the backdrop up. To the right of Gandhi on the banner is a portrait of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, known as a scholar, mathematician, philosopher, and militant nationalist who helped lay the foundation for India’s independence. The British called him “the father of India unrest.”
Next up was an homage to the national passion of India—cricket. The fellow in the hat is dressed as the umpire.
The wicket keeper is on the left, and the bowler is to the left of the umpire.
Here we go. The batsman, holding the bat, is preparing to take the throw. I must say, he’s show-boating a little.
And he knocks it for a six! (The equivalent of a home run in baseball.) The crowd goes wild! The batsman does a victory dance, while another “team member” holds up a poster of everyone’s (well, mine, anyway!) hero, MS Dhoni, the brilliant and charming captain of Team India.
Waiting for the re-enactment of the presentation of the trophy, which Team India won in in the most recent World Cup competition.
Here it is. Trophy and the tri-colour held aloft!
Next, “Lal Bahadur Shastri” makes a speech. He played a leading role in Indian freedom struggle. Though only very young, he participated in Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement in 1921. After completion of his bachelor’s degree, he was awarded with the tilte ‘Shastri’, meaning ‘scholar’. He was the second Prime Minister of independent India, after Nehru.
I couldn’t resist taking a snap of this precious little girl waiting with her mother in the audience.
Next up, a martial arts demonstration.
The following act was a sweet poem, in English, in which the colors of the rainbow expressed themselves.
“Yellow” was making her point.
“Red” came next, stating her superior position.
Then the next Freedom Fighter spoke. This is Rani Lakshmibai. As Queen of the Maratha principality of Jhansi, in present-day Maharastra, she was one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and for Indian nationalists a symbol of resistance to the rule of the British East India Company in the subcontinent.
A dance performance with the flag colors.
At the end, everyone sang the national anthem, led by the school administrators.
Everyone is singing, proud of their country.
I was so very impressed by everyone who participated in this ceremony. In addition, it was fun learning more about some of the Independence Movement heroes. All of the speakers were animated, self-assured, and eloquent. The several speeches in English were rousing. If these kids follow through with the promise that I witnessed today, India does indeed have a bright future in store.