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Tiranga flies high

Anti-India slogans have little impact, but they sure let all know India is celebrating its national day, writes Nabanita Sircar.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2004 22:41 IST

All the warnings of a bleak Arctic weather descending on Britain could not dampen the glorious Republic Day celebrations for Indians in this country. The morning began with guests trooping in to India House in Aldwych. I expected the regular fixtures (well, that's what it now feels like, after all these years) outside the building and I was not disappointed. Any national day celebration and demonstrators gather outside the grand building, shouting anti-India slogans.

I found it strangely curious, how the numbers of anti-India Kashmiri lobbies and pro-Khalistan groups have shrunk through the years. Now they actually have young children with them carrying anti-India banners. I am sure those youngsters will not even be able to point out Kashmir on a map if they were shown one. Between slogans, the demonstrators were sipping hot tea and coffee along with some snacks. Each time a tourist bus passed by, of which many do in that area of London, they shouted a little louder. These anti-India slogans have no effect on passersby, but cynically put, these protestors sure let people know India is celebrating its national day.

Inside India House, of course, it was a different atmosphere. The guest list included ambassadors from various countries, including the present High Commissioner of Pakistan Dr Maliha Lodi, at least a dozen MPs from all political parties, and MEPs. And while having a casual chat with one well-known Labour MP, surrounded by the aroma of lovely Indian food being served for the guests, I told him about the recent Early Day Motion presented in the House of Commons, by some pro-plebiscite Kashmiri lobbies in support of self-determination. I said about 46 MPs had signed the EDM and he laughed and said: "So they could not even get 100 MPs to sign it!" He sighed and added that these Mirpuris are decades behind reality, completely out of touch. Well, I did not have to say much after that. It just goes to show what the government thinks of such lobbyists!

Sky News in India
While I did not forget, and neither would I be allowed to forget by some present, that it was also Basant Panchami and Saraswati Puja, all packed into the same day, the afternoon rolled into a pleasant evening with Sky News officially launching its India bureau with coverage of Republic Day celebrations. The Royal Festival Hall became a mini India, with Sky News adding to the atmosphere by airing its promotional TV footage on India. Sky was one of the sponsors for the Tiranga show. Before the show, at a drinks reception hosted by Sky News its Foreign news Editor Adrian Wells, chatted enthusiastically about the India bureau and was open to suggestions from us Indian journalists about stories and coverage.

In fact all the members of Sky News team present at the reception looked completely delighted about venturing into India. Nick Pollard, Head of Sky News was all praise for Richard Bestic, who is already in India setting up the bureau. I guess it was high time that Sky thought of India and the surrounding region. It obviously realises the potential of Asian viewers in Britain with a growing number of channels trying to capture the niche market. Good thinking Sky News!

What I found really encouraging was the packed audience at the Tiranga show, in aid of Asia House and Pratham. Javed Akhtar, Pandit Jasraj, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Ustad Zakir Hussain and Vidhwan U Shrinivas, performed to a highly appreciative audience. And what touched me most is when, at the end of the show, the national anthem was played and I could hear the audience softly lending their voices to the anthem which crescendoed into a rich humming sound that filled the auditorium.

Padma Shree Kher

I cannot believe I am still writing about just one day, but I cannot help it - it was just such a day. Guess who I bumped into at the end of the show, none other than Anupam Kher, who has just been awarded with a Padma Shree. After congratulating him, when I asked how he felt about the award, he said: "It came as a complete surprise!" The actor is shooting in Kent for Shukriya with Aftab Shivdasani, and it was only on Sunday that someone from India called him to tell him about the award. Why, was he not informed earlier? "My official telegram arrived late!" Not surprising, one still can't truly trust the Indian postal service. Anyhow the award, for Kher is "an unbelievable feeling," because he can't comprehend that he is one of a 100 people in a one billion population to receive the award. But he said the award has further added to his sense of responsibilty as an Indian, and has strengthened his faith that "optimism pays."

Optimism and drive has paid for Indians all across the globe!