Whenever I go to my ancestral home in Nainital, I never forget to brush my hand across an engraved name-plate and feel the name on it. The name belongs to my great grandfather who used to work for the British Empire. For his loyalty, he was rewarded with the title of ‘Rai Saheb’.
Having worked with the British for years, Rai Saheb gained in wealth and name. And everyone in the household feared him. Well, not exactly. There was one person who dared to defy him: my grandmother. She was his first-born and his favourite.
When she was 15, grandmother happened to listen to a public speech by a leader of the Indian National Congress. The fiery speech made a deep impact on her mind. From that moment, she was resolutely drawn to Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of Satyagraha as the way to freedom from foreign rule.
Needless to say, her father never agreed with her. He believed that only the British could run the country. To show his loyalty, he had even placed the British flag atop his house. Grandmother couldn’t stand the flag but didn’t have the courage to act against her father.
In those days, Nainital was in the grip of the freedom movement. There were rallies as well as secret meetings. The scenic hill station on the foothills of the Himalayas was hotting up. There was talk of none other than Mahatma Gandhi coming to Nainital for a conference. And people started making preparations to welcome Gandhiji in their small town.
Children made small tri-coloured flags and small posters saying, “Britishers, leave India.” Grandma was no different. She too prepared an Indian flag for her house. But well aware of her father’s anger, she kept it a hush-hush affair. Nobody knew about it, except her sister.
Finally, the day of Gandhiji’s arrival dawned. Without caring for the reaction of the British administration, people hoisted flags of the Indian National Congress (INC) on their rooftops to welcome Gandhiji to Nainital. Grandmother too, awaited the perfect moment to commit her deed. As soon as her father left for work, she scampered up the stairs, threw the British flag on the ground and hoisted the flag made by her in its place.
As the flag unfurled in the air, she felt a surge of excitement run through her veins. But an Indian flag on top of Rai Saheb’s house was unthinkable. Someone happened to see it and passed the information to Rai Saheb. He stormed into the house, much like an angry bull.
The first thing he did was to throw the INC flag aside and replace it with the British flag. And then he proceeded to punish grandmother. It was a severe punishment indeed for a teenager. She was beaten by her father with a local itching plant that causes terrible rashes on the skin and then locked up inside a room. But when Grandma was finally let out of the “chamber of horrors” she had a smile on her face.
She had made her point.