The sun was already up when he opened the window of his two-roomed house. He had just woken up from his sleep. It was the wee hours of that warm August morning when everyone was still in bed. It was a holiday for them after all. Which meant that there would be no school that day, no office even.
Slowly he trotted to the bathroom. There was a lot on his plate that day. He would have to reach the place before seven. That was unlike the days when he had to be there not before nine-thirty. He quickly washed his face and ran the tap open. He rushed to the kitchen next. By the time the bucket would be full he would have placed the saucepan on the stove. There was water just enough to make for his cup.
Sipping his hot tea he took out the shirt from his closet, a blue striped cotton shirt that he had bought last summer. It was a little torn at its ends, especially the cuff. So he preferred to wear it with his sleeves rolled up. He buttoned it up leaving one button at the top open. That was to let the air flow through the gap, relieving the thin body of the scorching summer heat.
He pulled up his black pants. Those were the only pair he had with him. He felt for his pockets. He had kept the money the Branch Manager had given him in the left pocket. He drew out two notes of one hundred. He had to use it judiciously. There was the boy who had to be paid, the one who had wound the flag to the post the night before. He had demanded fifty rupees. “As if!” he thought to himself as he replaced the notes where he had safely kept them in. “Twenty rupees would be enough. Not a penny more.” He thought to himself as he started calculating how much he could save to buy his drink. “Another fifty for the sweets.” He would have to distribute them among the security guards who were putting up in the Branch and who would be there at the flag hoisting by default. He had not counted any of the staff of the branch. Experience of all the years had made him confident of their absence all the more. Nobody would brave the sleepy holiday morning to come hoist the flag. Most of them might have already left for their homes to enjoy the holiday with their family.
He stepped out of his house and peddled his way to the branch. The branch was a good fifteen minutes ride away on his bicycle. It was sharp seven when he reached the premise. The guard on duty came out to join him hoist the tricolour. Slowly the majestic flag made its way to the top of the post. It looked victorious there, raised high up above them all. For a slight second the wind blew past it as it unfurled its curls and straightened itself out.
As for him, his job was done. He settled on the bench outside and opened the box of sweets. Laddoos(sweets). Round orange ones. He quickly grabbed one piece and gulped it at one go. He was certainly hungry. He needed to eat. He slowly made his way to the nearby stall after having handed over the rest of the sweets to the guard. He would come again to make sure there were none left. He ordered two chapatti(Indian bread) and sabji(fried vegetables). “There goes another twenty.” His heart sighed. “Never mind. Food is paramount.” He seemed to console his calculative mind. Little did he know that it was only his stomach speaking then and not the mind.
He sipped the tea and looked up at the flag. And with it he thought of all the years that this occasion had been celebrated soliloquy. He looked at it and thought of his strange attachment to this flag. He knew that by evening he would have to bring it down and then carefully fold it and keep it away till the coming winter. He could feel the fondness he had for this piece of cloth.
For the rest of them in his life he was perhaps nothing- or rather a mere cook, who would dwindle away his money to buy his drinks. So many times had he been belittled by the officers in the branch. So many times had he been the brunt of jokes for leading a unfortunate life. “Fifteen hundred a month and they expect me to act rich.” There was both lamentness in his heart and anger for those who kept judging him as he muttered those words.
Yet that day he knew he was much bigger. Thoughts drifted to scenes from a movie he had seen years ago on television. Where the dying soldier plants the flag over a hilltop before breathing his last. Yet he dies with a sense of contentment that shows in the spark in his eyes and on the smile on his lips. For him that day, alone in the branch hoisting the flag and raising it up to its glorious position, he was filled with the same contentment. As if that day the flag had passed on to him all that it stood for.
And the same smile lit up his face. Same one as in that patriot.