A Short Story- THE FLAG
In this special occasion of India’s 65th Independence day, I wish to share a short story written by Mr. K.A Abbas ( Khwaja Ahmad Abbas ) the famous journalist, novelist, film maker after all a remarkable human being of all times.. The title of the story is “THE FLAG”.
‘May you live long, sarkar! May God make you a Laath sahib, Sarkar! Please give me the share of my wife and daughter also, Huzoor, They will always pray for you and your children, sarkar.’
‘Get off, you liar. If you have a wife and daughter, why can’t they come here and receive their share themselves?’
Ramoo was a very sensitive individual. He came away silently with only his own share of four poorees and two laddoos, but he would not say to them that his wife and daughter had not come because they had nothing to wear except some rags which left half their bodies uncovered. Between all three of them they had only one dhoti which he put on when coming out to seek work. Many, many months ago, on a pay day, he remembered, he had wandered all over Delhi, determined to buy two dhoties for his wife and daughter- even if they cost ten rupees for a pair. But dhoties were not available even for twenty rupees a piece. From end to end of Chandni Chowk, he had gone to big shops and small shops, and the only answer he got everywhere was ‘No dhoties in stock’. At one shop, however, the salesman had whispered to him: ‘My good man, if you are so desperately in need, I can get you a pair. It will cost fifty rupees.’ Fifty rupees! But he got only twenty-five after carrying loads of bricks from dawn till dusk for a whole month. Where was he to get fifty rupees from?
Since then he had lost even his job. He had been engaged on the construction of some new barracks for the American Army, but the work had been stopped as the ‘Amreekan’ soldiers had gone back to their own country and even the existing barracks which had been hurriedly built for them were going to be demolished. There was strict control on building materials and there was no private construction work going on anywhere in the city. For months Ramoo had been unemployed. He had tramped the roads in search of work, but there was no work to be got. Since the arrival of the refugees from Punjab, life had become even more difficult. Two whole days had passed and neither he nor his wife or daughter had a morsel of food. There was nothing else he could do about it but beg for alms in the street- yes, he, Ramoo, a respectable bricklayer would have to beg! After all, why not? Among the refugees, even respectable babus were living on charity!
This morning, indeed, he had got up determined to begin his new career as a beggar. But, by the grace of Bhagwan, he had been spared the humiliation. Charagh Din and Masita had called on him early in the morning and had given him the glad tidings thet Seth Gulzarilal was distributing purees and laddoos. It was said that the country had been granted something called ‘Azadi’ and it was to celebrate this great occasion that the seth, who was said to be a personal friend of the big national leaders, was feeding the poor. Even the rationing regulations had been relaxed for this great day. Four purees and two laddoos- that is what everyone was getting. But what were four purees and two laddoos in a family of three souls who hadn’t had anything to eat for two days? If only he could get the share of his wife and daughter too. But that could not be unless they appeared in person. And how were they to leave their hut without any cloth to cover the shame of their bodies? If only Bhagwan would grant him a few yards of cloth!
Bhagwan seemed to be in an unusually generous mood that moment, for even as Ramoo was crossing the pavement in Connaught Place, he sent him a big beautiful piece of cloth- with big stripes of saffron, white and green- and a beautiful blue flower-like wheel printed in the centre of the white stripe. It came flying through the air and fell right over Ramoo’s head, making it quite clear for whom the one above had sent it! Looking up he saw hundreds of similar pieces of cloth fluttering in the breeze on housetops, draped round the pillers, hung in front of the shops and hotels. He thought: ‘Who is going to miss one less and, moreover, it is a gift from Bhagwan.’ In the crowd that thronged the square, no one had noticed it. Ramoo quickly folded the saffron, green and white cloth and brought it home hidden under his dhoti. Now his wife and daughter would be able to bring their share of laddoos and purees from the seth sahib’s house!
He gave his dhoti ( which originally was, indeed, her own sari) to his wife and gave rags to his daughter to somehow cover her half naked young body. Then he wrapped his saffron, green and white cloth around his own legs, making his wife smile at the colourful spectacle he presented. It was good to see her smile after a long time.
Happy and contented, they set out for the seth’s place where a few strugglers were still getting their share. The purees are become cold and the laddoos were almost reduced to powder, but still they represented a rare feast of Ramoo’s family. Beaming with contentment they made their way back home.
Once again they were passing through Connaught Place when a shopkeeper challenged Ramoo.
‘Eh, you, where did you steel this flag from?’
‘Flag? What do I know about flags?’
‘So, you didn’t know anything about flags! Then what is this you have wrapped around your loins?’
‘Oh, this …’ Ramoo was suddenly so frightened he could hardly speak. More and more people were now joining the crowd around him.
‘Arey, this must be the flag from our shop. We have been searching it for hours.’
‘Look at the rogue- swanking about dressed in a flag!’
‘Snatch it away from the bastard.’
‘Beat him up- the thief!’
‘Call a policeman.’
‘Arey! O Jemadar Sahid! Come here. Here’s good shikar for you.’
Even before the policeman could apprehend the culprit, a gay young man had slyly stretched his hand and, with one swift jerk, he had pulled away the flag- and Ramoo was left standing stark naked in the middle of the crowd!
Ramoo’s wife screamed, the daughter turned her face to avoid looking at her father’s shame.
Ha! Ha! Ha! Hee! Hee! Hee! The chuckles of the amused crowd fell on Ramoo’s naked body like sharp-edged stones. He wished the ground under his feet would burst and swallow him and his shame.
A pedestrian, more human than others, gave his shawl to Ramoo to cover his body and at last Ramoo could lift his head to face persecutors. There were tears in his eyes. He did not mind being arrested or even handcuffed so long as he was taken away from the scene of his humiliation.
‘He is caught – the bloody flag thief.’
‘Why, what did he do?’ a newcomer asked the constable as the constable led away Ramoo followed by the crowd.
He was answered by someone who seemed to have a flair for criminal law.
‘He has committed not one but three crimes.’
‘Three crimes? What are they?’
‘First crime – theft.’
‘And the second?’
‘Insulting the national flag.’
‘And the third?’
‘Being found naked on a public thoroughfare. That, too, is a breach of law, you know?’
And high above, thousands of tricolor flags were fluttering in the breeze – as if they were laughing at the irony of it all.