Celebrating the 75th anniversary of Indian Independence ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

Today it is indeed a big milestone for India. 75 years since it got independence after centuries of subjugation and division. In the last 75 years, we have taken great strides – but like all nations we are still work in progress.

To my readers, I would like to share a part of my personal life today. I was born to a father who was an army man and a civil engineer. He was posted for many years in the border areas of the country with the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). Even before I was born, he was posted in Sikkim, and was part of the team that constructed the roads at Nathu La. Nathu La is a mountain pass and is one of the one of the highest motorable roads in the world. Situated on the Indo-Tibetan border 14450 ft. above sea level, Nathu La is one of the most important Himalayan passes in the country. The pass, at 4,310 m, connects the towns of Kalimpong and Gangtok to the villages and towns of the lower Chumbi Valley.

Was it a coincidence that I had my honeymoon in Sikkim back in the 90s? 🙂

Hotel Tibet, Sikkim; 1991

My father was much later posted in Arunachal Pradesh in the 70s, where he was again given the responsibility for building the roads from Assam to Tawang. He also built countless accommodation for the JCOs and officers who were stationed at a critical post in the valley. I have seen at close quarters, the value of independence and the need for a strong security force at the borders, where there were stories of deflected incursions, every other day.

My family – At VIVEK HOUSE, the official residence of Project Vivek, Arunachal Pradesh
The Officers Quarters in Arunachal Pradesh
My father, Col. Sachidanand (third from left, sitting) at the Administrative Staff College (ASCI), Hyderabad, 1983

The travel bug bit me young, as dad would bundle us up in the Jonga (a popular vehicle used in the Indian Army), when we were back home from school during the holidays, and he would drive us around to show us the real India. He would take us to museums, forts, temples, and make us interact with the man on the road – as he truly believed that real education was learnt outside text-books. I also went to a boarding-school that followed the legacy of the armed forces- the discipline and rigour – that has held me in good stead even now. My favourite memory is that of receiving the ‘President of India Medal’ in my final year from Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw and his wife Mrs. Siloo Manekshaw.

September 10th, 1983; President’s Medal from Mrs. Siloo Manekshaw (with actress Vyajayanthimala in the back)

However, today on the proud moment of our 75th Independence Day, I also consider myself as a global citizen. Having travelled to 30 countries and counting, I realise that all across the globe – we are all the same. We all want the eke out an honest day’s living and give the best to our children. With global events that affect each and every country, we cannot afford to work in silos. We need peace and co-operation, not as a cliche, but in the real sense. There is so much India can learn from the world and vice versa- the world can learn from India. Colonialism worked on the principles of divide and rule and we have to be careful that we are not divided, even by our own countrymen.

Today, I want to thank all the other nations too, where our countrymen have gone and settled; and made those countries as their home. According to the United Nations,  the Indian diaspora is indeed the world’s largest diaspora with a population of 17.5 million. The average Indian is so resilient and hardworking and that’s why you find so many Indians in the global CEOs lists and in key positions.

While India has made great strides in the last few decades in all spheres, thanks to our talent pool and the economic liberalisation policy of 1991, that reduced poverty from 36 percent to 26 percent (1999-2000), we still have a long way to go in improving our public spaces, quality of road networks, handling air, water and soil pollution. Waste and wastewater management is another area that needs a lot of attention.

Our places of heritage and places of historical importance are unparalleled, but they will need intervention so that they are well-preserved. Having travelled the length and breadth of the nation, I have seen that so many places of value are going to seed due to sheer neglect. Even though women have come to occupy key positions, in many communities and economic strata, women are still second-class citizens – and that is not OK! We have a job on hand, as we are going to be the most populous nation in the world and it will not be sustainable if we don’t act on our imperfections soon.

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