National Congress, 1931

National Congress, 1931

After a few seconds of silence Kitappa’s fingers stroked the sides of the instrument and it spoke to her. Sowmya saw the spin­ning of the wheel, a lone flag fluttering in the wind. She saw the entire dance shine behind her lids, and it was new and she suddenly understood what Ruth St. Denis was doing. She had invested the song with a brand new feeling, patrio­tism. To make it concrete in her dance she would express a little bravado, a little piety, and some kind of joy or affection.

“It has to be that kind of a thing, as if you are the child and the mother at the same time,” Mallika said.

Sowmya found a man named Farid at Amarjothi Tai­lors, at the corner of East Mada Street who agreed to make the tricolor flag for her. She found him some silky and slippery material that would unfurl as required. He kept the project inside his house and worked on it at night. She would meet him at his shop after his work was done, and he would take her to his house and show her how he would piece the parts of the spinning wheel together in the center and embroider around it. She was pleased.


            On the day of the dance the lawn at the congress office was covered with white sheets. The program started in the late afternoon with a welcoming ceremony and several speeches. So the stage was set up and ready when Sow­mya arrived with the musicians. The lawn was now dotted with people who had gathered among the long shadows.

Sowmya began the program in the traditional way, with an invocation to Ganapathi. Nervous about how it would be received, she had planned the new item for the final piece just before a short and sharp concluding hymn.

When the time came for the dance the stage lights dimmed. Somu played a dirge like beat on the mridangam. The flute came on, and then Kitappa and Neelam’s voice rose in unison.

*This land of a thousand years,

shaped by a thousand thoughts . . .

my mother’s playground,

where she learnt her first sounds,

and danced in this moonlit night,

frolicked in these rivers,

made sweet music with my father,

this land of my mother.

Sowmya raised the standard and pulled the string. The flag dropped down, and she leaped around the stage to the beat of the refrain, the flag unfurling:

Would I not adore it in my heart, and cry out in joy

Vande Mataram! Vande Mataram!

Even before the dance came to its conclusion, people rose to their feet, cheeks wet. Sowmya found her eyes filling over with tears when she finally stood waving the flag.

— From Desire of the Moth

*Poem of Subramanya Bharati translated by author.