I sold peanuts on Republic Day as a kid: Jackie Shroff

Patriotism, for me, is just like any other feeling you have for mother earth or the place that you belong to… Patriotism is looking after your country, respecting your national flag and taking care of it. It also means standing up as a mark of salute when you see the flag being hoisted or the national anthem being played… Simply put, it is like the attachment you have for your family and the sense of responsibility that comes along, of taking care of it…

I have some fond memories of celebrating this patriotic day as a kid. I remember I used to sell peanuts on the roads of Walkeshwar and Teen Batti in Mumbai, the areas where I grew up. You see, I was not born an actor. I have lived in a chawl all my childhood and literally grew up there. And January 26, every year, used to be a day of great celebrations throughout the city. A lot of people would be out on the streets, and as a kid, I used to see big trucks pass by, with many revellers within. I used to happily sell channa-sheng (gram and peanuts) to everyone. That was my way of rejoicing - feeding people and making money out of it too! After some years, I started selling flags and going for the many jhenda vaadans (flag hoisting ceremonies) in the neighbourhood. As I grew older, there would be Republic Day celebrations in school, which I used to thoroughly enjoy.

However, there was one dream I always nurtured when I was growing up - I wanted to join the Indian Navy. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen as I couldn't pass a certain test. My ultimate dream though was to be a fighter pilot. And I feel thankful that I got the opportunity of portraying one in the film ‘Border', which remains my most favourite patriotic film till date. When I met the pilots at the air base during the shooting of the film, it humbled me so much. That was the day I realised who the real heroes were. I still remember I had a tough time finding my size G-suit (an anti-gravity garment worn by fighter pilots) and finally when we found it and I wore it, it fit so beautifully! It was an awesome feeling!

Incidentally, my father-in-law, Air Vice Marshall Ranjan (conferred with the Vir Chakra), has always been my hero and someone I always looked up to. I also look up to all those officers and jawans doing the march past on Republic Day at the prestigious parade at Rajpath in Delhi. When I see them on television, all I want to tell them is “Aap hai, toh hum hai. Hamare jawaan hai, toh hum hai (We are here because of our soldiers). Salute to the real heroes!” This year, of course, it is celebration of women power with Captain Tania Shergill becoming the first woman army officer to lead the Republic Day parade. It’s Shakti Ma all the way. Jai Mata ki!

Today, my responsibility towards my country is in the form of giving back to the environment and mother earth. And I am doing my bit by planting trees. I have planted around 1,000 trees in Pangloli, a village in Maharashtra, and in my organic farm in Pune. I must tell you that the best tree I have planted is that of baobab, a highly nutritious fruit, rich in vitamin C, potassium and carbohydrates. It is extremely beneficial for health.

As a nation, India has progressed so much scientifically and in so many other fields. We have reached Mars. And in the last few years, we have supposedly given the maximum trees to the world. The goal has been to increase forest cover and absorb carbon monoxide from the environment. We can all add to this by planting more trees. I have recently taken up a challenge that says ‘selfie with a plant’ wherein you nominate three people to plant a tree. It’s a great campaign and I sincerely urge more and more people to come forward and pledge their support in ‘going green’. Jai Hind!

— Co-ordinated by Shobhana Rao

Environmental issues are very clear to actor Jackie Shroff’s heart.

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