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Salute Sarkar who takes care of discarded Indian Tricolour flags

Priya Ranjan Sarkar with the Indian flags he has collected from the roads, drains and dumps

He gets busy, especially, after the two national festivals, the Independence Day and the Republic Day, are celebrated. Why? Because he does what none of us bother to – pick up the National Tricolour lying around on the roads, streets, rubbish dumps and drains, discarded unceremoniously after being used and honoured!

Meet Priya Ranjan Sarkar, who is in his early 30s, and suffers from speech impairment, yet undauntedly has been collecting hundreds of thousands of flags – made of paper, plastic and cloth — for more than 12 long years.

Sarkar aka Monu, lives in Kolkata’s Howrah Bali area in Nishchinda locality, and is fondly and popularly called as the “Flag Man” by people who live in close proximity and those who know him. Unable to speak properly, his selfless and patriotic act of collecting the Indian Tricolour has made him a hero. These could be carrying pan stains or shoe stamps and be covered in dirt and muck – yet nothing deters this young man from picking them up without a moment’s hesitation!

Having lost his father in infancy, life for Sarkar and his mother, Abha Devi was full of hardships and challenges. Along with a tough childhood, he struggled to get admission in a school because of his congenital speech problem.

When asked as to how it all began, Sarkar explained: “One Independence Day evening I was walking with my mother. I then noticed my mother stopped, bowed and picked the Tricolour. On asking her why she did this, she just told me that this Tricolour is our National Flag and our pride. Since then I have been collecting the flags.” She also told him that the flag was his mother like her and that it is every citizen’s duty to respect and protect mother’s honour.

Her comment that “the flag is the saree of India’s mother. That is why if you ever see a flag like this, pick it up,” got imprinted in his heart and soul and since then he picks up the flag uncared for.

Whenever anyone – a stranger or known person asks him as to why he is doing it, unfazed and undaunted by his speech deficiency, he explains the importance of respecting our Tricolour.

His patriotic fervour made a quantum jump on growing up when he learnt about Indian Army. He told the media that if Indian soldiers were willingly ready to die for this flag’s honour, then as a citizen, he must respect and not allow it to lie on the road.

After collecting the flags, Sarkar keeps them neatly in a suitcase made of tin. He even uses moth balls to keep away the insects which may damage them. Meticulously he keeps record by tagging on the flags the place he collected them from and the date.

Subjected to derision, taunting and teasing has never deterred Sarkar. He remarked: ‘If I ever find my mother lying helplessly on the street, won’t I pick her up and bring her home? Our National Flag is also our mother. If anyone laughs at me for rescuing my mother from the street, I don’t mind. Let them enjoy it at my expense.”

But things have changed over a period of time. Today not just his neighbours but also others join him in this noble endeavour. Now, youngsters from Burdwan, Sreerampur and other parts of Howrah join him. At times gurus, spiritual leaders, doctors, and teachers also help him.

He has been provided employment – though temporary – by the West Bengal Government in the State Irrigation Department but his passion for the Indian Tricolour remains the same!