Photoblog: The India of my dreams

India celebrated its 69th Independence Day on August 15, and that day I took a walk down to two of our community centers in Kolkata, clicking pictures and speaking with children and youth. I wanted to find out what the day meant to them and how they planned to celebrate it.

Some of the answers  the ones from younger kids  made me laugh. Others surprised me. They challenged my own perceptions of independence and freedom. Is it truly freedom or is it merely an empty symbol? Should we only celebrate what we have or what is to come? Or should we work toward what we could be?

Scroll through to read what sponsored kids had to say about Independence Day:

“We love the colors of the flag. They are so bright and lovely. I wish we can make clothes of the same color, but our teacher says we cannot as it is not right. I wish we get new clothes on every festival day.” — Alfisha, 8, (at left) with her friend, Jasmine.

“I will eat fish today for lunch. Mummy says it is a special day. That is why she is cooking fish. We do not eat fish every day. Only sometimes. I don't like eating vegetables. I like eating potatoes. I love cakes too! I get cakes for tiffin (snack) here sometimes.” — Saakshi, 4

Teen in blue holding paper Indian flag

“My father has expired. Sometimes I miss him. I wish at times he could come back. But, life moves on. I hope that one day I have a good job and can look after my mother and sister. I love playing football and will go for a game after this morning's program. It is a yearly tradition for me and my friends. Sometimes there are matches held for fun, sometimes for money and sometimes for a trophy.” — Sanny, 17

These children, dressed as fruits and vegetables at the Narkeldanga Community Center, enthralled the audience! Some of them had forgotten their lines and actually went backstage to read from the chits (notes) of paper. Then they came back in front of the audience and repeated their lines. What absolute fun!

Young boy in community center, holding cardboard

“Oh, we are having a program, and mummy dressed me up for it. I am milk. You get a lot of important vitamins and proteins from me. I love drinking milk every day. I love coming to this ECD center — daily. I get cakes and apples to eat and sometimes milk to drink. I also learn poetry and dance.” — Samrat, 5

Boy at in community center holding cardboard

“I am a carrot. If you eat me, you will see better! I am orange in color. The same color is also on the flag of India. I love my India (sings a few lines of the song from a popular Hindi film). I like reading and doing math. My father will take us to the park in the evening. Mummy and I. But it is raining, and I wish it will stop. I will play on the swing and tell Daddy to buy me an ice cream.” — Deep, 5

“I like dancing, and today I danced so well in front of so many people. Teacher taught me what all I have to do. Mummy dressed me in the morning. We came here to the ECD center, then we got biscuits (cookies) to eat and a juice to drink. Mummy said today was the day Gandhi got us all free. I don't know from where? No, I don't know Mahatma Gandhi.”  Megha, 6

“Today is a special day. My mother gave me this band. It is the color of our flag. I am proud of my country. Ah, the name of our Prime Minister? Wait, I will tell you! Yes … (after a pause and a little nudge) Modi. He is an old man. Yes, we all know Mahatma Gandhi. He is the father of the nation.”  Koyel, 8

“Today is Independence Day. I have read about it in my books. Our freedom fighters fought with the British. We were one nation  India and Pakistan. Now we fight a lot. Why do we have to fight? Why do people have to die? I will grow up to become a soldier. I want to fight for my country, but I don't want anyone to die!”  Ayush, 9

Debayan and Pramit holding coloring books and other gifts

“We are friends. We became friends here when we came to attend the art contest. We are in different schools. We play football together sometimes in the park. We are in the same [grade] you know. Books? Today? No. No, Mummy said it's Independence Day! No studies today. Just football and drawing. See these new books we got? We are going to sit and draw and color after lunch and play football this evening.”  Debayan, 7, (at left) and Pramit, 10

“Happy Independence Day! Yes, it is a very important day for us today and for all Indians around the world. It has been a long struggle. But I wonder what would the freedom fighters say when they see the situation today. Are we actually free? Do we have the freedom to practice our religion? Do we have the freedom to raise our voices against injustices committed against the poor and women? Do we have the freedom to correctly elect people in power? At our YHC trainings  we were told about child rights. Do we not see those rights damaged so very many times? What freedom?”  Shemsher, 18

“Recently, I filled out a U.N. Survey, 'What Children Want.' I wish we had an honest survey like that by our government asking us what we need. Food, shelter and clothes  our basic needs. Is it too much to ask for? Look around and see the poverty. Why? Why do some people have so much that they do not know what to do? And some don't have anything at all. Through the various trainings I have received, I have observed and learned that we are the most unequal nation in the world. Has anyone stopped to think  what have we actually achieved in 68 years of independence? I am not sure if we have got much. The fight for water every day, crowded localities, no space for parks. I have to come to the community center library to study for my exams as there is so much noise in the area, and I cannot concentrate. I do not blame the children. There is no park, and they have to play on the roads!”  Shabag, 14

“I come out to help regularly at various functions and have never missed the Independence Day function. Itis an occasion to celebrate the greatness of our country together as a large family! Yes, I do know that there are many downfalls we have as a nation, but it is organizations like Children International that work among the poor to help them to do something in life. I am one such example. Today I work part-time and study part-time. Had it not been for CI, then I would not have been what I am. I may not be earning a lot of money, but I am happy with my parents and family. I am glad I am able to make a difference. I love flying kites and, straight from here, I will be going to the park to catch up with a lot of other friends to fly kites! It's Independence Day, after all.”  Bablu Das, 20, sponsorship graduate

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