The next time you cross the Mantralaya and spot the huge tricolour atop the secretariat building, pause for a moment. For, behind that fluttering tricolour are six men, who guard the flag every minute of the day, every day of the year, to make sure no disrespect is done to it.
Called the ‘Dhwaja Rakshaks’ (or ‘Flag Guardians’), the six men form a special team of guards who spend the day in a ‘flag room’ on the terrace of the Mantralaya, keeping an eye on the national flag.
Now, a student group called ‘My Priority-Mumbai’ intends to recognise their contribution in a felicitation being held at Mantralaya today at 10 am. The rakshaks will be given a cash reward and a memento by Maharashtra Chief Secretary J.P. Dange.
The flag that adorns the Mantralaya is the largest in the state — a massive 14 feet x 21 feet — and, by some accounts, the largest flag atop any government building in the country.
Rajendra Kanade, who’s been the Mukadam (supervisor) of the rakshaks for the past three years, believes his job is unlike any other. “We brave sun, rain, and strong winds to protect the flag. Our pride in seeing the flag waving resolutely eases away the pain of the physical difficulties.”
But there are low points too, especially during the rains, when the flag starts weighing “about 45-50 kg” and six people are needed just to hold it.
Sometimes, it gets so heavy that even six are not enough. “We hire a seventh many to assist us during the monsoon,” says Kanade.
On occasion, the flag gets torn and has to be repaired immediately. “Last year, during the monsoon, the flag had to be changed 25 times on the same day, because it kept tearing in the heavy rain and winds,” adds Kanade.
According to custom, the flag has to be hoisted sharp at sunrise and lowered at sunset. It’s crucial to be punctual because other government buildings in the area, including the High Court, follow their cue.
Accordingly, Kanade and his team check the sunrise and sunset timings every night before they go home.
“Our duties can extend from as early as 5 am to about 7-7.30pm in the evening,” says Surendra Jadhav, who’s been a rakshak for nine years.
At times, they’ve hard to work through the night as well.
“Often, when we lower the flag, the knot doesn’t untie completely. We stay up through the night to unravel the rope, so that it is ready to be hoisted by morning.”
These sacrifices have, in a small way, been finally recognised.
“A college project I did some years ago alerted me the amount of dedication they have for their job. On a day like today, it makes sense to thank these rakshaks,” said Chaitanya Marpakwar, co-ordinator, My Priority-Mumbai.