An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way –Charles Bukowski
The story of India’s freedom struggle as told till now moves in spurts and lacks continuity. If one were to read it from the popular sources, one would believe that post the First War of Independence, which has been projected by the British as murderous mutiny by a murderous mob, there was a brief lull, during which AO Hume, erstwhile British bureaucrat, formed Congress and then Gandhi arrived from South Africa and metamorphosed a sleepy movement of elites and brought it to the masses.
While it is true that Congress for almost half a decade was a loyalist British-sponsored convention of Indian elites, which Gandhi managed to broaden it as a popular movement, this presumption that until then there was no activity towards freedom is hugely misplaced. From the Sanyasi movement to the armed resistance in Maharashtra to the revolutionary movement in Bengal, and Arya Samaj in the Western India to the revolutionaries of Central provinces under the Hindustan Republican Army- the zeal to free the motherland continued unabated.
This book ‘Mitramela’- taken from the first revolutionary group formed by legendary freedom fighter, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, is third in the series of ten books the author has planned to write, in this praiseworthy attempt to resurrect those lost heroes. One big casualty of caricaturisation of history is that while they make the heroes too big in stature, they reduce everyone else so small in size that they are like miniature toys in the background not worthy of any attention.
While this is unjust to the great heroes, it also is unjust to those who we are trying to make appear as giants of history. Apart from the commendable motive of Manish behind writing this series, what is exceptionally notable here is that his writing allows all those personalities to come out of hiding and breathe in the fresh, free air of India for the first time.
Much like the previous books in this series, the narration is in story-telling pattern. As we had in the second book of the Krantidoot series, Kashi, where Azad as a young recruit in the Hindustan Republican Army, as an off-shoot of Anushilan Samiti, is told the history of revolutionary movement and key characters are introduced, here the backdrop is of National College also known as Tilak School of Politics in Lahore (Tilak was from Pune and this College is in Lahore, then Western India, now Pakistan, and we are told that before Gandhi and Congress, there was no national movement for freedom which ran across the regions) where Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and other students are being introduced to Savarkar, the revolutionary movement in England, by their teacher, Bhai Parmanand, himself a noted leader of Ghadar movement.
Somewhere, the reader is transformed into one of those students of National College, Lahore, and almost imagines himself or herself sitting on the classroom benches, elbows on the desk and face held between the palms, charmed with the story of Savarkar who could with sheer power of his words transform the disdainfully passive into a daring patriot.
The story touches upon the hard research that went into the first proper record of India’s First War of Independence coordinated across various regions of India, put together by Savarkar and published as India’s First War of Independence. The book was promptly banned by the British looking at the emotions it stirred across India. Ironically Savarkar’s book was banned in England and Nehru’s books were published and sold in England, with Krishna Menon as latter’s literary agent in England.
The story touches on the fear among the British in 1907-1908 as the Fifty years Anniversary of the Revolution of 1857 came up and activities in the India House. Number of articles celebrating the first national uprising were published by the Indian Sociologist brought out by India House. On May 9, 1907, Lala Lajpat Rai and Sardar Ajit Singh were arrested and deported to Burma by the British Government fearful of the repeat of the rebellion.
The record of David Garnett, a young Irish revolutionary from those times who visited India House and met Savarkar in 1909, mentioning the environment in the India House where Savarkar read a chapter from his book and the moved audience, after the reading went to another room and sat poignantly listening on the gramophone Vande Mataram. Coming back to this book, we have Bhagat Singh devotedly listening to the inspiring story of India House. We the readers, learn about the first movement to boycott the British clothes in Pune organised by Savarkar on October 2, 1905, under the guidance of Tilak and supported by the Brahmins of Pune at Mahadev Temple of Sardar Natu (Gandhi is still in South Africa and yet to support the Zulu War of the British). We learn about the founding of Mitra Mela, a revolutionary group. Mitra Mela is a front for revolutionary organisation Rashtrabhakta Samuha under the codename – Ram Hari, by Savarkar, still a school child.
The narrative-builders of Independent India who often pose as historians do not speak about this phase of Bhagat Singh’s life. This does not go well with their motive of setting Bhagat Singh in the mould of a staunchly communist and mildly Hindu-hating revolutionary. Bhagat Singh was sent to the DAV because students in Khalsa school of Lahore were made to sing prayers praising the British Empire. Bhagat Singh joined DAV in 1917.
The college which forms the backdrop of this book is affiliated to the Punjab Qaumi Vidyapeeth founded by Lala Lajpat Rai and Bhai Parmanand. Acharya Jugal Kishore, who also appears in the novel carrying the story forward, was the Founder-Principal of the College. While we have no way of knowing if the story was indeed narrated to Bhagat Singh as a student as it is detailed in this book, but what we do know is that Bhai Parmanand who tells the story of Savarkar who wrote the book on 1857 revolution was also sentenced to death in 1915 in the first Lahore Conspiracy case for writing history of India.
After his death sentence was commuted, he was sent to Andaman, like Savarkar was sent in 1911. Bhai Parmanand was released after five years in Andamans, having served hard labour in the prison. While he was away, his property was forfeited by the British and his wife lived in penury supporting two of his young daughters with a monthly salary of Rs 17 a month as a vernacular teacher in Arya Samaj Primary School. Both his daughters died, one in childhood, another later in her early youth as he writes in The story of My Life due to the hardships she suffered as a child. This is not a book of one-upmanship between one freedom fighter against another. It is simply an attempt to bring forth inconvenient truths. We need more such books to be written and be read across the board. We must fight against the zeal of current politicians to create villains out of those who suffered for their desire to serve the motherland. The contents of the book are backed by a long list of references.
The only way to fight lies is facts and this book by Manish Shrivastava scores high on facts. We owe it to those of our leaders who have been pushed to the shadows forgetfulness in order to honour politically important ones. The sincerity, honesty and simplicity of the writer stands out in this book. This is a must read and reading this will be a true tribute to our patriots in this Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.
(The writer is a columnist an author of several books)