November 11, 2008
At the stupendous, breathtaking Olympic Stadium in Athens, as so often happens on vacation, a young man came up and requested us to take his picture against the five world rings that dominate the spectator stands. He happened to be Bolivian, on holiday in Athens from Paris where he is posted for a year on work--talk about globalization! There I was in Athens, originally from India, now based in the USA, on holiday in Athens from London where I am posted for a year on work. The similarities were striking!
He told us he was out and about on a long weekend in France where the nation is celebrating Armistice Day--November 11, 1918 was when the First World War ended. And I am reminded of the ceremonies in London that I have seen year after year on TV during the BBC World News in commemoration of Remembrance Day (as it is in known in the UK). For years I wondered why the BBC reporters and its guests wore a brilliant red favor in their lapels for a couple of weeks in November. Then, at the Cenotaph, a monument in London that I have yet to seek out and find, Tony Blair would lay a red poppy wreath as war veterans hobbled forward or were wheeled in their chairs to the front, all decked out in their military regalia. We have no such ceremonies in the States to mark this date--probably because we were not involved in the intrigues of World War I.
However, a few years ago, when my mother Edith was visiting the USA, I had taken her to the traditional parade to mark Memorial Day (last weekend in May). There, on the cheering streets of our local home town, Southport, Connecticut, she watched fascinated as people waved the star-spangled banner and floats laden with vivid red poppies passed by to the enthusiastic waves of elderly men and women whose clothing was covered with poppies fashioned out of red construction paper. My mother was enthralled, indeed almost teary-eyed, as she watched. "Look at all those poppies", she said. "That takes me back to my childhood. When we were children in school, we celebrated the end of the War with these poppies that were sold as favors in Bombay. In fact, we used to make these poppies ourselves, out of red crepe paper! Everyone bought a poppy and wore them in their lapels. I haven't seen anything like this in so many years", she marvelled.
So it was in my mother's honor that I bought a poppy, two weeks ago, while I was with Dorothy Dady in Richmond. It was with pride that I wore it in my lapel for a couple of days before Llew arrived and we left for our Greek Odyssey. Karen, my colleague at NYU, saw me walk into our office with the poppy on my coat pocket and asked me, "What's with this thing? I see so many people wearing it here." I explained the significance of the Poppy Appeal about which I had heard on BBC TV only two days previously. Every single BBC reporter and guest had worn the poppy and I was so delighted to be a part of this tradition during my year in London.
So many thoughts coalesced as we crossed Western Europe last night--albeit at thirty thousand feet above sea level--en route to the UK. It was Armistice Day in Europe--Poppy Day in London--and my mother Edith, in whose honor I purchased and wore a poppy, turns 77 tomorrow in Bombay. I cannot wait to call her and tell her about my small tribute to the many nameless brave and courageous men and women whose contribution to the War Effort continues to be recalled here in the UK on Remembrance Day. I was only sorry that I missed the ceremonies in London as I would dearly have loved to be a part of the rituals of the day in person on English soil.