This is an incredible story from March of 2009 which has since shaped the ideas and probably future choices for some of us at Harcourt Butler Technological Institute, Kanpur. Before I narrate this story, there is an important disclaimer that one must put out- this isn’t about the individuals who played a part here but about how conviction of an idea can bring together people and make things happen. (The format I have used is mostly diary and some narrative.)
We were all in our second semester, hopping from one department festival to another, trying to make our time and existence relevant. This is that phase of college where the usual character strolling through the corridor is humming songs either with theme of ‘मैं ज़िंदगी का साथ निभाता चला गया, हर फ़िक्र को धुँएं में उड़ाता चला गया’ or ‘क्यूँ आजकल नींद कम ख़्वाब ज़्यादा है’. The conversations in the hostel corridors ranged from outright rejection to romanticism and idealism. It is that age where neither the tattered buildings, dripping toilets or broken ceilings nor the food of hostel mess can easily break convictions. Every individual is bursting for a revolution within themselves, striving to change the world.
So this story begins in the evening of Friday, March 20, 2009 with the usual after college बकैती . The question before the group is ‘Do you know the significance of March 23’, the enthusiastic lot takes all sorts of guesses with one person answering with conviction ‘The question should be about March 22, which is the World Water Day, सवाल ही ग़लत है’. It was a moment of collective shame when it was revealed that March 23 was the day greatest revolutionaries who fought for India’s independence, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were martyred. This led to usual diatribe of how ill-read we are about our own icons, how less we are taught etc., which is when we decided that we would take it upon ourselves to spread the importance of this day. We were clear about the what and why but did not know how!
Somewhere around 6 PM: A gentle soul advised us to meet the National Service Scheme (NSS)faculty in-charge as they might be helpful. It took us a while to locate the faculty and their number, they were on leave! Another kind soul gave us their contact number, after a few rings our call was picked, we conveyed our intention and were called to meet him at a place outside the college next day at around 11 AM.
March 21, Saturday
Saturday used to be a half working day for the college. We tried reaching to a few other faculty members but wasn’t very helpful. Most of the batchmates were inclined in participating in a Department festival which had kicked off that day and seniors didn’t think first year should or could organize something on their own. All this while we met people who empathized with us, some questioned and others encouraged us but no one would tell us how! We went to meet the NSS faculty in-charge at the stipulated time and place.
Around 11 AM: The NSS faculty in-charge thoroughly motivated us to do something, ‘Given the constraint of time, even if we can’t do anything big we can at least light up a candle in memory of the martyrs. Even if people don’t come, we will light 8–10 candles among ourselves.’
Between 1–4 PM: This became our motto! We created an amateur poster and pasted it in all hostels to create some buzz, our only request was to bring a candle! We reached out to batchmates and seniors who would help us in putting up these posters on the Notice Boards. We were able to reach all hostels except for the Final year boys hostel. As a first year, final year hostel was an out of bounds region for us, a mythical fort which required a special access key! We were all skeptical, almost at the verge of scared, when we decided to call one senior. He heard us and asked us to meet him in the hostel.
Between 5–7 PM: One of us decided to visit that senior, he told how he used to be passionate about such issues but isn’t any more! This senior had created a theatre group at one point of time called अभिव्यक्ति समूह , to raise issues that concerned the common person! He asked us to mobilize a group of 8–10 individuals and he would direct a nukkad natak to be showcased before lighting the candles.
After 7 PM: Saturday night shift used to be off for male hostel mess workers and most students would go out to have dinner. Girls hostel had a daily curfew of 7 PM, they couldn’t move out of their hostels. It became extremely difficult to meet students in person. Around 10–12 people agreed to be a part of this experiment, most of them showed up the next day.
March 22, Sunday, World Water Day :P
Sunday was the final day for the department festival, the campus was buzzing with activity! RJ hunt, Dumb charades and Roadies were seeing lot of traction. It is around this clamor, we met behind the dilapidated structure called Table Tennis room and Gymnasium.
Between 11 AM-4 PM: The final year senior was before time, his energy and passion were almost infectious. His background in theatre helped and saved us from becoming a scattered lot. In the five hours we had (as some of us had to go and attend the cultural performance) we worked on the script, characters, dialogues and practiced the play for 2–3 times. Standing instructions were to prepare and improvise dialogues as and how we wish and wear black t-shirts for the program. We dispersed to meet next day again for the practice sessions.
Evening 5 PM onwards: Get more print outs of the poster and share them in hostels that we could reach and had access to!
March 23, Monday, Shaheed Diwas
Around 9:30 AM: Classes used to begin at 10 AM, we met early and divided the posters among ourselves. We had decided to visit all students (13*4 BTech classes, 3 MCA classes and PhD students) by lunch that day before we meet for the nukkad practice.
10 AM-1:20 PM: The break between two consecutive classes was utilized to rush to the assigned classes and tell the students three things: a) March 23 is the martyrdom day for Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. b) Collect at around 5:30 PM outside the auditorium. c) Carry a candle along.
1:20–2:20 PM: The practice was restricted to the lunch hour as some of us were not comfortable with the idea of bunking the class post lunch. Some developed cold feet thinking we are making a fool out of us by doing this and should focus on more important aspects. Two seniors of अभिव्यक्ति समूह pitched in filling the gap and grasped the characters and the content almost immediately.
Between 3–4:30 PM: As you near the program, a sort of panic sets in. We all were so involved with major problems like whether people would come or not, managing the black t-shirt and analyzing the nukkad performance in our heads etc. that we missed focusing on minor issues like-booking the auditorium for the event, getting portraits of the three martyrs, garlands and the flowers for the portraits, thinking of chief guest etc.
NSS faculty in-charge was a great support, he had already arranged for the portraits. The auditorium could not be officially assigned so late but was un-officially managed. Caretaker of the auditorium informed us that we could assemble inside the auditorium, but lighting of the candle had to be done outside. Even nukkad had to be performed outside since some electricity repair work had to done for the stage. He helped us by getting a raised platform cleaned, giving a white cloth. One of us went and bought the garland, extra candles and a match box.
5:00 PM: Students started pouring inside the auditorium, we had expected at max 50 students to come but stopped the count after 100. We still did not have a Chief Guest. Somehow Director of the Institute got to know about the program and agreed to come.
5:30-6:30 PM: After the portraits were garlanded by the Chief Guest, we performed the nukkad natak (can be viewed here Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3), NSS faculty in charge and the final year senior gave a small speech, the program ended by everyone lighting and placing a candle before the portraits of the three martyrs. This was covered by the media next day and was a great learning for all us!
This entire experience, started, by us telling people about the significance of a date and the sacrifice of three revolutionaries, why it was important to remember and celebrate their martyrdom! But it ended up bringing us closer to them in the respect that we understood more about the power of conviction! To take that leap of faith and not worry about the final result!
At a deeply personal level I experienced all changes that we seek outside have to start within, with an idea germinating having right intentions and taking deep roots, it will manifest itself at the right time.
पथिक साथ आ जाते हैं, पथ रास्ता दिखा देता है, सफ़र पूरा हो जाता है