Prime Edition

Sumana Roy
Free Verse

The tailoring of patriotism: The tricolour’s opposite

eing naturally curious, even self-indulgent, about the reincarnation of things, I have often spent national holidays speculating about the afterlife of national flags. Almost as a necessary corollary, I am also interested in their stories of origin. It is not the primary school textbooks therefore that annotate my curiosity about the proportional presence of saffron, white and green, and their much parroted symbolism, but the sewing machine that is the locus of my interest. I have never bought a flag in my life — the reason isn't all that grand. It is not because of my rejection of the nation as a celebratory category alone, but the rather more practical reason: What is one to do with a national flag the morning after?

But first the origin. Roaming around the darzi gali of Bidhan Market in Siliguri, the small sub-Himalayan town in Bengal where I have spent most of my Independence Days, this most often after the numerous sessions of march past practice in school, I have marvelled over the intuitive sense of geometry of tailors cutting rolls of saffron and white and green cloth into rectangles of various sizes. As a schoolgirl from a nuclear family who had become conditioned to see the family as the cherry on the top of the hierarchy, I categorised these variously sized flags like I did the members of my doll house: Father Flag, Mother Flag, Son Flag, Daughter Flag, even Dog Flag, the last an expression of the pet that my parents had denied my childhood. The tailors abandoned dressmaking for a few days before Independence Day. All their concentration shifted from the bodies of men and women to the country – their scissors and sewing machines performed these tasks with easy grace. It was after all a linear exercise — cutting the cloth to a line, stitching them to a line, all this much easier than the arcs and curves of the bodies of humans.

Middle school had left me uncomfortable with antonyms. I could not believe that the opposite of boys could be girls or that night was the opposite of day. Perhaps it was this that made me ask our History and Civics teacher what the opposite of the Indian tricolour would be. The answer came easy to him: a scolding. That old discomfort was reawakened recently when I read a short story by Bonophool (Balai Chand Mukhopadhyay) in Arunava Sinha's translation.

"So much work, not a moment's respite.

I'm irritating myself with the clacking of the sewing machine, but I don't have a choice, as I have to supply two hundred and fifty flags by tomorrow morning. ...

'Everyone's making flags?'
'Everyone.'

It wasn't a lie. Every single tailor in town was engaged. ...

'It'll cost double.'
'Alright.' ...

ahatma Gandhi was due to pass through this station the next day. The entire town would be present to greet him, waving flags." ("The Tailor", What Really Happened, Banaphool, Translated by Arunava Sinha)

This busyness — and business — around the tailoring of flags, the flag of celebration and camaraderie, has its opposite in Part Two of this two page story.

Two years had passed.

That day too, there was not a moment's respite. That day, too, the constant clacking of the sewing machines was annoying me, but I was forced to tolerate it helplessly. That day, too, it was the same thing — 250 flags to be delivered by the next morning. That day, too, Nirmal came in. 

{
Bonophool reminds the schoolgirl in me that flags can have opposites. And that the antonym of every flag in this world must be the same one – the black flag, its symbolism as old as darkness, without the need for footnotes.

The same requirement...

The occasion was the same as before, too — Mahatma Gandhi was due to pass through this station the next day. The entire town would be present, waving flags. Everything was the same, but with a small difference. This time the flags were not tricolour, they were black.

Bonophool reminds the schoolgirl in me that flags can have opposites. And that the antonym of every flag in this world must be the same one — the black flag, its symbolism as old as darkness, without the need for footnotes.

My eyes had been conditioned to spot the optic of the tricolour in the unlikeliest of places. I found it in the prasad that Hindus offered to their gods — oranges, white sugary batasha, sliced cucumber, a semiotic that Amit Chaudhuri had used in his first novel, A Strange and Sublime Address. I found it in the colour of the cable pipes that were being laid in Shillong. I found it in the carrot-cheese-cucumber sandwiches that were served to us on a friend's birthday, she who shared her birthday with the nation. I found it in the carrot and peas white basmati rice that was the staple of so many Independence Day lunches in my childhood. I found it in the orange and green bordered white ganga-yamuna sarees that my mother and her colleagues wore to work on the fifteenth of August. I found it in the colour of nail paint that some of my students wore on that day.

Last year, the ruling party in Bengal had distributed tricoloured umbrellas to many who attended the Independence Day celebrations in several districts. Nimai, our fishmonger, was one of those who got this "flag-umbrella" as a free gift. "I don't like this tricoloured umbrella," he complained to me. "I'd have preferred a black umbrella. It gives me more protection."

Bonophool had been right. The tricolour does have an opposite, one that is often more comfort giving.

 
Newer | Older

Creative-for-SG


iTv Network : newsX India News Media Academy aaj Samaaj  
  Powered by : Star Infranet