By: Barnali Bose, Editor-ICN Group
The Date: 15th of August
The Year : 1947
The Country: Bharatvarsh–India
KOLKATA: We very often struggle to remember the birthdates of many a dear one but the one date no Indian has to set a reminder for, is the day Independent India was born. It is the date that symbolises the quintessential birthright to freedom, the Republic of India stands for.
We have been enjoying the fruits of the hard labour and untold sacrifices, our ancestors made at the altar of our country’s freedom. Although we have been blessed to be born in a free country, many of our former generation were born in an India that was a British colony.
They experienced what it meant to be colonised and enslaved, to have their dreams devastated and what it meant to have endless restrictions imposed on their basic freedoms. They are the real heroes that have struggled, suffered and yet not given up so that they could tell us what real heroes are made of.
Oct 16,1905– I remember my great grandma telling me about this day, the day the Partition of Bengal had taken place, about how heart- broken they had all been. In Bengal, no household had lit the ‘chulha'( clay oven )in the kitchen that day. Everybody went hungry. There were tears; there was disgust ; there was anger. But the common feeling the Indians, especially the people living in Bengal and Punjab shared was that of betrayal, of being let down.
I remember my father narrating the gory incident of his close brush with death when he had witnessed the horrifying sight of mass slaughter at a station at the time of Partition. Although the attackers had tried to stop the train he was travelling in, it sped, thereby carrying the passengers to safety.
I remember having met my aunt-in- law’s mother some years back in Kolkata. With a faraway look in her eyes, she seemed to be muttering something under her breath. What my aunt-in- law told me, left me dumbstruck. ” My younger sister was physically assaulted and her modesty outraged in front of my mother,” said my aunt-in-law. She continued saying, ” But she left her behind, so that she could save us, her other daughters. Till today, her conscience pricks her and she lives in a shell.”
Another story that I had heard from my mother was that of the Great famine of 1943 in Bengal. She said that there were the impoverished coming to her maternal home everyday to beg for at least rice gruel if not rice. I was inquisitive to know who these impoverished people were. Were they refugees from the other side of the fence? Why did the famine occur?
I did some research on my own and this is what I came to know. More than crop failure accorded to lower rains, it was the apathy of the British government back in England that was squarely responsible for the deaths of numerous people in Bengal that year. While people here were starving, food supplies were being diverted to England. The then British Viceroy’s request to save the starving people was rudely turned down.
It was not only the refugees but many from this side of the fence that went begging unable to afford rocketing prices of food grains due to the famine. Millions died. I shuddered when my mother said to me,”Corpses lay scattered on river banks.” My childlike curiosity thus enflamed, I said to her,” Why so?” What she said next, send shivers down my spine. “When they did not have money to buy rice, wherefrom would they get money to buy firewood to cremate? “, she reasoned brushing the tears that poured down her cheeks. I now realize the pain she felt having had to narrate such a nightmarish incident she had once been witness to.
I, in my childhood have come across many an unsung hero who had contributed in some way to the freedom movement or those who have crossed paths with such a hero. I remember my paternal uncle, for instance receiving a monthly pension, for having been a freedom fighter. There were quite a few elderly people in our locality who prided in having been jailed during the freedom movement.
When I was a child, my mother had said to me, ” You talk of heroes. Do you know which hero I had seen ? ” As I looked at her with curiosity writ large on my face, she said, ” The bespectacled man clad in only a dhoti.” She laughed as she saw the glint of sheer disbelief in my eyes.I stuttered ,” You…don’t …mean…” “Yes, it is Mahatma Gandhi,” she beamed with pride and reverence glittering in her eyes.
I still remember as a child we would very often hear whispers about Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose being alive. In fact, I recollect the elders in the neighborhood holding a meeting discussing that Netaji had been seen somewhere in disguise.
There was an unhidden glimmer of hope reflected in every eye at the anticipation that Netaji was alive and he would soon emerge from his hideout. But as the years passed, hope waned away from their hearts. The dream of Netaji making a return gradually faded like an unrealized dream.
Now there is hardly anyone alive that I know of who had been a part of the Freedom struggle. They are all dead and gone. However they abide in my heart and will continue to do so till icy death carries me into oblivion.