There were rumors about the desolate oak tree with giant trunks. It stood on a bend in the green landscape marked with a simple sign in cardboard “Welcome to Berkeley.” As a student, Arun had traversed the path beside the tree many times. And except for its emphatic gloominess, he did not see or feel anything out of the ordinary. However, today when he went by the tree, he felt something. Something so strange that his throat went dry, and his eyes popped up. He felt a sharp current course through his body, as he heard a long and sad sigh – a sigh so agonizing that he shuddered as if he had met a being from Hell. He stood rooted to the spot, unable to move, his tongue stiffened and his hair stood on end. He felt the agony of the majestic tree held in bondage by an accursed spirit. As if the specter read his thoughts, it spoke in a piteous voice, “For God’s sake, please have pity on me and hear me. Tell my ghastly tale to one and all else I cannot even get the peace of the grave.”
“Speak,” said Arun after he found his unfrozen tongue, though he was still shaking with fear. The white moonshine glowed on the ancient tree reminding Arun about the encroaching night. He waited to listen to the forlorn specter. The light glimmered on the lonesome lane and the eerie ghost began his tale. “I am the traitor, Kirpal Singh. Because of me, heroic men have been lashed to lonely posts of death and I am haunted by the curse in their eyes. I tried to pray but the Heavens spurned me, and the martyrs looked at me and said, “Tell your sordid, slimy tale to everyone passing by, until impervious immortality groans with the burden of your evil and decides to get rid of you.” Since then, I have been alone, all alone, a hunk of blackness hurtling through vast dark spaces of menacing stillness telling my tale of woe to everyone and anyone waiting for redemption and forgiveness. For I was a hated traitor and here’s my chilling tale of treachery.”
“It was over 100 years ago, around the year 1900. The British were the undisputed masters of India. The country was reeling under poverty and migration of Indians to the British dominion of Canada began. At first cheap labor from India was sought but as the numbers grew, racism reared its ugly head, discriminatory laws were passed, and in 1909 legal immigration to Canada virtually ended. Then the Indians, mostly Punjabi farmers, moved to the coastal United States. In those days, America was truly a white man’s country. Articles such as “the turbaned tide,” referring to hard working Sikhs and the “Hindu, the filth of Asia” were circulating in the popular press. There were riots resulting in severe loss of lives and property. Other immigrants such as the Chinese and Japanese, had the support of their governments whereas Indians were on their own. The Government of India was a foreign occupier and couldn’t care less for the brown and black Indians.
The blatant racism coupled with the pristine air of liberty for India which was denied to them, spurred the expatriate Indians to social and political activism resulting in the formation of the Hindustan Association of the Pacific Coast with headquarters in San Francisco. The association produced a magazine called “Gadar” (revolt) and advocated for armed revolution to throw the British out of India. Gadar was wildly popular and the association came to be known as the Gadar party. Gadar literature appeared in several languages and was widely distributed to Indian revolutionaries all over the world.
In 1914, a Japanese ship, Komagata Maru set sail to Canada with approximately 350-380 Indians on board. It was denied landing rights and forcibly turned back. This unfair treatment to Indians happened when over 400,000 people of European origin were given free entry to Canada. The unequal laws galvanized the Indians to join the Gadar party in huge numbers. Key members of the Gadar party included Lala Har Dayal, Rashbehari Bose, Sohan Singh Bhakna, Maulvi Barkatullah, V.C Pingle, Harnam Singh Tundilat, and the youngest and fiercest, a tiger chafing at captivity, Kartar Singh Sarabha. He went to the gallows when he was barely past 18 and I cannot forget the chilling calm of his eyes which haunt me every moment and twist my soul in agony.
The Gadarites were not alone. The Germans, Turks and the Japanese were with them. They had as much hatred for the British as the much reviled Indians. When Har Dayal was arrested due to British pressure, he escaped to Germany and continued his activities there. Along with Virendra Nath Chattopadhyay (Sarojini Naidu’s brother), Bhupendra Nath Datta ( Swami Vivekananda’s brother), Champak Raman Pillai, and Tarak Nath Das, he established the Indian Revolutionary Society in Berlin in the year 1914. The purpose of the party included fund raising, training fighters, transporting arms and ammunition and finally to counter the powerful megaphone of Imperial Britain which called them terrorists instead of freedom fighters.
In 1914, World War 1 broke out and Germany declared war on Britain. The Gadarites seized the opportunity to get rid of the British using German arms. The plan also included infiltration of the Indian army and inciting them to revolt, getting support from Indian troops in Hongkong and Singapore, and chartering several ships of arms and ammunition from Germany. Approximately 6000 expatriate Indians gave up their careers, and joined the revolution to free their motherland. The plan was perfect. With Indian manpower, German technology and Finance, the British would have been savoring the ashes of defeat. They would have left much earlier than 1947. But the brave revolutionaries had not bargained for traitors like me. There were others too but none as bad as me.
The result of my treachery – ships carrying arms and ammunition never reached India. Many Gadarites and volunteers were captured as soon as they hit the shores of India. However, Kartar Singh and Vishnu Pingle escaped and managed to get in touch with the Indian underground revolutionaries such as Rash Behari Bose. Punjab and Bengal were humming with underground activities against the British. Everything was coordinated brilliantly. The date was set for the revolution to begin on Feb. 21, 1915. But I informed the Punjab CID well in advance. The revolutionaries sensed the leakage so they advanced the date to Feb. 19, 1915 and this also I managed to leak to the British. When I went back to the revolutionaries, they kept me prisoner but I escaped on pretext of nature’s call.
The Gadar movement, an epic quest for freedom and justice lost its moorings with several of their leaders being imprisoned, exiled or sent to the gallows. The stalwart heroes who came to heal a broken country, to sound the bugle call of freedom amidst smashing forces, were done to death by treachery and the sweeping cross currents of an India under Gandhi which supported the British cause. The idealists who came to jolt a nation, who could make bombs, organize powerful armies and develop elaborate codes to evade the British did not think of fighting the snakes in the grass. Their noble minds did not think that one of their own would be responsible for treason that would enslave millions for another 32 years.
Sadly, this has been the tragic History of India. At critical junctures, a traitor like me emerges and stabs the country in the back. It has happened in the battle of Plassey, in the 1857 mutiny, the first Anglo-Sikh war, and earlier in capture of Shambaji, during the Maratha wars. India produces thousands of brave men who defend their motherland under great odds, but do not seek to ferret out the lone traitor who undoes all the good in a single smashing moment.
The British on the other hand could smell a rat of a traitor miles away. I was always kept on a need-to-know basis and knew only a small piece of the plan. I could never figure out the whole plan. Besides, they were always testing me with decoy assignments and tasks. On the other hand, I was surprised the revolutionaries shared their whole plan with me and never restrained me even when they suspected I was the informant. They were brave men but the British were street smart. And as Chanakya says, “If a ruler does not possess the power to punish traitors, he is attacked by them.”
Then the ghost looked at Arun and said sadly, “I have to go now and find another person to tell my pathetic story. Meanwhile think about what I said and remember it could happen again, even now as we speak, even now as a Nationalist party is leading the charge and the quislings are not all dead.”
Without waiting for the overwhelmed Arun to respond, the phantom of despair vanished, moaning the whining dirge, “When will I get amnesty for my past, when will my long sentence be reduced?”
And thus ended the tale of the spy who sold his soul and is still trying to get it back. The unknown world kept its score and marked on the ledger of the infinite every time he recited his tale which brought him closer to the gathering shadows of death and release.