While it’s Indian independence day eve here, my country of origin is already waking up to a beautiful morning in the other side of the world…to celebrate their 70th independence anniversary! Yes, I am emotional today. There’s a surge of emotions when I think about it. “Jana Gana Mana” has never failed to give me a severe goose-flesh and a lump in my throat. Not that I am the most patriotic girl around. I am just one of the millions out there whose heart beats in pride for their nation.
From the time I started getting hang of things as a child, until the time I was in high school, each year on August 15th, I would watch the television broadcast of our Prime Minister unfurling and raising the flag and give a long speech at the Red Fort. His speech and the President’s speech, under the usual hot August afternoon sun, never seemed to see a quick end. And the live television program would have the cameramen occasionally turn their cameras to the audience…most of them drenched with sweat and those “drops” running down their faces, some catching a quick nap, while the others using hand-held fans, newspapers or pamphlets to wave back-and-forth to cool themselves as dignify-ably as possible. At the Red Fort, it was a good few hours show, complete with the military and cultural parade.
As I grew a couple years older, I no more had the luxury to find myself enough time to sit in front of the TV to watch the independence day celebrations telecast. It was more relieving to know that I had a holiday at hand and could at least attend to some of the piled up pending tasks-to-do. Isn’t this the case commonly? Aren’t we usually home bound and attending to essentials on national holidays (or any holiday)? Most of us don’t get to participate in independence day celebrations publically, unless we have a child that goes to school (yes, schools have always celebrated Aug 15 most diligently), or if we have been invited officially for the day’s function, or we’ve got tickets to some celebration/concert. But this doesn’t make us any less patriotic, does it? We still have that adrenaline rush when we sing the national anthem. We all shall still stand up to show that respect and place our hands on our hearts to sing our noble song.
At school, 15th August’s used to be quite a physically draining ‘half-day’. White school uniform was also our sports code, and we wore it to school on 2 additional days — The Republic and the Independence day. We’d dress up for school in our all-white bleached, starched and ironed shirts and skirts/pants and impeccably clean, washed and canvas shoes that were too white from a shoe whitening polish. And just as other days, we’d all gather for assembly, say our daily prayers, sing our patriotic song, get a chosen someone almost shout a “thought for the day” on the microphone, followed by our National Anthem. But there wouldn’t be a dismissal thereafter. We’d have the Principal step forward for flag hoisting, and a long endless Independence day speech. Followed by a couple others…by the headmistress, a few teachers and students like me who were elected as representatives.
I was the head girl, meaning, I had to compose and by heart a 2-page long speech and practice saying it without missing a word, and in the right tone…all without looking at my “too many times folded” note. I would still occasionally forget words and sentences during the final day and look at the sky as if some good God from the Heavens will whisper what’s forgotten! I also had to conduct the flawlessly coordinated Independence day parade and march past at school. And no, that wasn’t end of the pang. Then there would be a few cultural events, and the final rounds of all kinds of sports competition that the students participated in. Announcement of the winner and then prize distribution. And a not a very brief “thank you” acknowledgement by everyone those who inaugurated it — the Principal, headmistress, a couple teachers, a few students. The end would mark a ritualistic distribution of “laddus” to every student and the staff — one each and no more! I can’t remember if at all there was any more to the school-day agenda I mentioned here…my memory has refused to register and archive any further! We’d eat the round yellow Indian sweet with much happiness and run back into our school buses to ride back home.
My grandpa’s elder brother (my boro-dadu), Shri Umapati Mitra, was a freedom fighter. He was a wise, learned, and a well respected man. He left his job to protest against the British and had set up his own school in his village to educate the poor. Dadu (my grandpa), as well as his siblings joined him in his mission and had taken up responsibilities. Rain or shine, they’d ride a bicycle for several miles each day, to teach children and for their other humble jobs. Our president, Pranab Mukherjee was Boro-Dadu’s student as a child, and grew very close to him emotionally. Once upon a time, a young Pranab-ji had also lived with Boro-dadu in his Kirnahar house (in Birbhum district of West Bengal), to stay close to school. To help some reform causes, Boro-dadu eventually grew some interest in politics and joined Ajoy Mukherjee‘s Bangla Congress, later to be joined by Pranab-ji. In the course of time, Bangla Congress unified with the Indian National Congress. Boro-Dadu then retired from politics, and went back to his modest, and peaceful village life near Kirnahar. He did visit Pranab-ji in Delhi when he became a Finance Minister, and his most favorite student would always meet him on his trips to his native. Boro-Dadu couldn’t live to see him as the President — he would’ve been so happy, so so proud.
After graduation, Dadu took up a job in the Ordnance Factory in Madhya Pradesh, and moved back to his ancestral village post retirement. Till he was able, I remember Dadu providing free medication and other necessary assistance to anyone who would need them in his village. It’s several years now that I’ve lost both my Dadu and Boro-Dadu. They still remain the most patriotic men I have known up close in my family.
Papa inherited this huge Indian flag from Dadu. It was a 2 ft x 3 ft flag, made of Khadi that came from a Gandhi Ashram. Unlike in America where you find the blue-red-and-white-strips-and-stars almost obsessively everywhere, Indian national flags aren’t a common sight in most places. And there is a reason. The dimensions and display of Indian flags are guided by strict protocols and Flag code of India. So they only have them on official, government or national buildings/spots/vehicles, under special rules as permitted. However, it does allow all citizens to freely fly the flag twice a year — on the Independence and Republic day. Papa would wake up early on these days and proudly fix the flag pole right in the middle of our garden. He still wishes me as bold and loud over phone on 15-Aug and 26-Jan. As a little girl, I’d find it a little embarrassing. “Papa, why do you display that big flag out there? None of our neighbors have it and now everyone’s staring and smiling at me!”, I would say. Papa would always explain “Isn’t it a good thing? Aren’t you proud you have a big flag? And no one’s looking at you. It’s a happy day!” Indeed it was and still is!
Years after, now when I look back at these memories, I feel glad these happened and inspired me. They say distance seasons and strengthen bonds. It did that to me. Being here, drew me an inch closer to my roots. I believe the optimism there is, largely predominates whatever appalling negative we see reported in the news. May the bad be just a passing phase and a stand alone instance that never repeats. Let there be peace, harmony, mutual respect and love of country in abundance. Let India unite us. May nothing dividing us, ever gain strength. Let not a thing make us feel any bit bigger or smaller — race, religion, caste, community, skin, gender, position, wealth. We are equals and may that always prevail supreme.
I got a few little things to help J learn a bit about India. Indian flag, easy books on Indian freedom fighters, the great dynasties, festivals, fun facts, and traditional board games and toys among other things. However, there’s only this much and a little more that we can do so our kids can know about India, whilst growing up half-a-globe away from the culture. I cannot urge my children, but I am happy that J is taking interest. She is with Ma and Papa on her “grand” vacation in India. I miss her and yet feel content that for the very first time, she will be able to see the Independence day celebrations there. And while there will a country full of people celebrating their day in India, August 15th here, will see an Indian woman busy baking lots of delicious, sweet and crisp tricolor Meringue roses with love and quietly distributing them to the neighborhood kids and explaining them the occasion, as a way of her celebrating her country’s Independence!
Have a sweet rosy day all, and here’s wishing everyone a happy independence day too!
Meringues are sweet crisp cookies that traditionally belong to the Swiss, French and Italian cuisines. They are classically made out of stiff foam peaks that form when egg whites and extensively whisked with sugar. These are said to be very healthy and diabetic-friendly, because they have the good proteins from the albumin and small amounts of simple carbohydrates from the sugars. Mine is a very basic meringue recipe that I have perfected over time and the ingredient ratios are just the right for us — the way we like it! I added orange and green colors to make them occasion appropriate for today! Since I did not have any orange color, I mixed red and yellow colors in the ratio 1:2 to get my saffron.
- Cream of tarter is an acid that is often added to the recipe because they provide a nice volume and rise, and catalyzes the process to help forming a rather glossy foam that doesn’t collapse easily. It’s absolutely alright if you choose to go completely without the cream of tartar or it’s substitutes — you may just have to whisk a little longer and dry them more in oven. (I am told that cream of tarter substitutes in order of choice are lemon juice, salt and white vinegar. However, since I’ve always used cream of tarter in my cookies, I’ve not had to use these substitutes.)
- Also, I do not add vanilla in my meringues. One, because they (and the moisture they bring in) tend to destabilize the egg white foams. Two, because any micro-drop of moisture causes the meringues to quickly “sweat” and thus drastically reduces their shelf-life. Three, because I prefer the classic sweet meringue taste without an overpowering vanilla flavor. I also don’t use too much sugar.
- Use a clean dry and empty plastic bottle to “suck-out” the yolk if it helps. Any bit of yolk is a meringue spoiler!
- Oven drying with add more highlights and fluff them a bit. Leave enough gap between the roses, so they can swell up slightly and dry in the oven.
- There are two ways of oven-drying (yes, they aren’t baked!) these cookies: at 200°F for 2 hours or at 250°F for 1.5 hrs. Because roses take more time to dry evenly, 250 degrees works best for me and I get perfect and completely dry meringues roses that are crisp inside out!
- Exposure to moisture causes the meringues to naturally sweat or bleed and get sticky. To keep the meringues better and fresh, immediately transfer them to an air-tight container or a ziploc bag (after extra air has been pushed out and the bag sealed and clipped). If stored properly, meringues are crisp and have a shelf life for up to 7 days (only if you can resist the temptation to not eat them all in a day!) Do not refrigerate meringues.
For Tricolor MERINGUE ROSES you will need⇒
Yields 1/2 quart bag (about 1/2 liter bag) full of cookies
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup fine granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- Orange and Green gel food colors (I used Wilson’s)
- An electric hand mixer for whisking (preferably one with a double beater)
- A drop flower, Icing/decorating tip — I used Wilson’s 2D nozzle
- 1 disposable Piping/icing/decorating bag — I used Wilson’s 12″ inch bag (*You may also use a large ziploc bag for icing)
- A cookie sheet
- Parchment paper
- 2 small bowls, a clean and dry paint brush and absorbing paper for applying colors
- A super clean and super dry Mixing bowl (preferably of glass or metal, with no moisture on)
Step by Step method with pictures⇒
Preheat oven to 250°F (120°C). Then, line the cookie sheet/tray with parchment paper (for easy clean-up and easy life!), and keep ready. **Please Note: Once the egg whites had stiffened with perfect peaks, proceed with the rest of the steps quickly. It’s because egg whites are poor keepers on counter tops and prolonged wait/warmth may destabilize the mixture, causing the foam to collapse/fallback. (Please do not forget to read the tips/ideas mentioned in purple right before the ingredient list!)