Mahabharata and Ramayana are the two great epics of India. There are several classical literatures in various regional languages. English language is known to Indians only for the past 300 years. But Literature in India in English has reached new heights and there are thousands of lovers of English literature in India too. Especially some writings have reached classic level and have received attention worldwide.
These literatures can be broadly classified into two. The first is literature written by Indians on Indian background and the second is by English writers about the events in India. ‘Freedom at Midnight’ belongs to the second category and it is one among the most widely appreciated book on events in India.
This book covers the events that led to the partition of India, India’s attaining freedom, the mindless violence between the Hindus and Muslims, the great Kashmir problem, annexing of Princely States and finally the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
In this article we shall see important aspects of the book with particular reference to Gandhi’s assassination.
1. The Building up of the Story:
The contents of this book dealing with contemporary History can be called a ‘story’ because the events recorded therein were more moving than a story. It starts from the meeting Lord Mountbatten had with the British Prime Minister Attlee. The entire first chapter deals with appointment of Lord Mountbatten as the last viceroy of India with the assignment of giving freedom to India. The primary question dealt with was how to give freedom to India and more importantly, the safe passage of British in India, who were accustomed for luxurious lives
2. Enters Mahatma Gandhi:
The Mahatma enters the narration through a description of famous Noakhali tour wherein he made an unsuccessful attempt to stop the Hindu-Muslim violence. He was humiliated by mediocre leaders of both the religions. The authors made a deep study of newspapers of those days and give a genuine account of the happenings.
The process of giving freedom starts with Lord Mountbatten’s taking charge as viceroy. He had several rounds of talks with Patel, Jinnah, Nehru and Gandhi who had the importance in India’s freedom in increasing order. Gandhi and Jinnah have a special place in this final solution, Gandhi as Father of the Nation in India and Jinnah, as The Creator of Pakistan.
3. The Misery of Partition:
The authors describe the actual partition as ‘The most complex divorce in History’. Not only the land was divided, but also properties were divided as in the case of family partition.
The cost of the partition was paid by the citizens of border States, Punjab in North, West Bengal in east whereas much bloodshed was there in other states too.
The violence is described in detail in the chapter ‘Our people Have Gone Mad’. The mindless violence brings tears in the eyes of any leader.
The author says that “if a person is killed in the violence, it is a ‘mercy’ shown to him, because acid attacks, raping, disfiguring and other tortures were very common. Kidnapping of minor children, raping and killing them were very rampant. They were identified by various religious marks in their bodies and were mercilessly tortured.
A multi millionaire from Lahore will become a beggar in one day and he has to walk long distances without food or water to come to Delhi whereas an Industrialist in Punjab had to walk in the reverse direction and reach Karachi by foot by losing everything. There were several trains which reached India with full of dead bodies. By all counts, the authors state that at least for the Muslims who were displaced to Pakistan, a good future was awaiting because it was a new born country whereas for Hindus, who reached Delhi, there was no future at all. They were not accepted by their relatives, rejected by erstwhile friends and were literally orphans in the streets of Delhi and Calcutta. They have to reach a country which expected only labour from the subjects and nothing to offer to the refugees. There were murders and bloodshed everywhere and in this atmosphere India got its freedom ‘at Midnight’
4. While the World Slept:
This chapter deserves special mention because it gives minute to minute account of freedom of India and Pakistan. The salient features are:
13.8.47: While entire India was waiting for getting its freedom and when most of the leaders were preparing to enjoy powers, Mahatma Gandhi who led the freedom struggle by non-violent means did not take part in the celebrations, instead he was walking across jungles of Noakhali to stop the mindless violence among the two communities. The hatred against Gandhi by Hindus who were very severely affected by violence started from this place. In fact, pathos of the story starts from here and a gloom falls on readers indicating the tragedy which looked imminent in the near future.
14.8.47: It marked the last day as Viceroy for Lord Mountbatten. The last order he signed was elevating Nawab’s Australian Begum to the dignity of Highness. The order was placed on his table at 11.58 P.M. With a sign of purest pleasure illuminating his face, he took his pen and performed the last action as viceroy of India
“When the whole world sleeps India awakes to freedom” Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India hoisted the National flag with these words and declared India had become a free nation henceforth.
If everything went on well, the book should have been over with these lines of Nehru. But not much sweet things were waiting for Indians after independence.
A Tamil poet, after 50 years of Independence wrote: “We got freedom at Midnight, never to see the dawn of the day”, how true!
Lord Mountbatten was made First Governor General of India till Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) was elected for the post. India continued in League of Commonwealth Nations. These were magnanimous gestures on the part of Nehru and his Government. But this same magnanimity created a perennial problem for India i.e. KASHMIR.
5. KASHMIR ISSUE:
Kashmir had a special place in the hearts of both Nehru and Jinnah. Pakistan planned a tribal invasion into this valley. Because of the invasion, the king Hari Singh annexed Kashmir with India. Nehru very liberally assured a plebiscite and also declared a ceasefire. Till date, a part of Kashmir is with Pakistan which India is calling as Pak occupied Kashmir (P.O.K) and Pakistan claiming it as Azad Kashmir (Independent Kashmir). This is the major thorn in the relationship between the two countries for which no immediate solution is in sight.
The book fulfils the demand for humour in the chapter on Maharajas (Kings), through the descriptions of the palaces, tigers, elephants and jewels. Maharajas lost their crowns and were forced to annex their states to Indian Province, thanks to the efforts of Patel (known as the Iron Man of India). The descriptions of the lives of kings their funny decisions and eccentricities provide some relief to the otherwise a very serious subject handled by the book.
6. The Second Crucifixion:
None other title might have aptly described the assassination of Gandhi like this title which equates Gandhi with Jesus Christ whose crucifixion was the first.
The day was Friday the 30th January; 1948.The killer was a Hindu whose name was Nathuram Godse. There was absolutely no proper security for Gandhi except his personal assistants, most of them being ladies. Gandhi made his last walk to his usual evening prayer. The killer, concealing the pistol in his palms approached Gandhi, bowed before him and said to him “Namaste Gandhiji”.
Using his left hand, Godse brutally thrust the assistant out and then took out the black Baretta pistol in his right hand and triggered three times. Gandhi gasped “Hey Ram” (Oh God) and with the final gesture of blessing the assassin, he fell down lifeless. That was one of the most unforgettable moments in Man’s History.
The very first question Lord Mountbatten asked, on hearing the news of Gandhi’s assassination was, “Who did it?” He was relieved when he came to know that a Hindu killed him (not a Muslim) for had a Muslim killed him India would be living another ghastly massacres the world had ever seen. The possible slaughter was avoided by repeatedly announcing ‘a Hindu assassinated Gandhi’, in All India Radio and both Hindus and Muslims mourned the death of the great person.
Jawaharlal’s eyes were filled with tears as he stepped before the microphone of All India Radio. “The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere,’ he said, “The father of the Nation is no more”.
George Bernard Shaw made the punching remark “It shows how dangerous it is to be good”
“Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”
J.Krishnamurti, deviating from his usual practice of not commenting about deaths of leaders commented, “It is not a single man who killed Gandhi. We, the entire population have killed him because our petty religious fanaticism”
This was reflected in the editorial comments of the Hindustan Standard which stated:
“Gandhi has been killed by his own people for whose redemption he lived, the second crucifixion in the History of the world has been enacted on a Friday- the same day Jesus done to death one thousand nine hundred and fifteen years ago. Father, forgive us”
The reader closes the book with a heavy heart. This book is a must read for any patriotic citizen with a sense of sacrifice.
But, when we come to the state of affairs prevailing in present day India, it gives rather a gloomy picture. Rampant corruption, bribery everywhere, power mongering, manipulated elections, communal clashes, caste differences and things of this sort are predominantly ruling India. We cannot avoid thinking “Is it for this we got freedom, is it for this thousands of freedom fighters sacrificed everything and languished in Jails, Is it for this Apostle of Peace sacrificed his most invaluable life?” It is the prayer of every Indian that Mahatma Gandhi should be reborn again in India.
The greatest success of the book “Freedom at Midnight” lies in the fact that it creates this awakening among the readers.
I wish the readers of this article all success!