Six decades ago on 15th August, I was a young lad of six. Fortunately I have vivid memories of the first Independence Day and the events that followed. I remember one day my Teacher Mrs. Blunt hugging each one of us, bidding tearful adieu. We were all confused what it was about. Kaki (Father's aunt) told me 'she is an Englishwoman and all of them are leaving'. I was not able to understand why they were leaving, why suddenly we were despising them suddenly!
Since my father was a bureaucrat with the British, as far as I remember there was no open resentment against them in the family. That is why no one either criticized or praised the British. One of my uncles Comrade P.C. Joshi was a famous communist and the British hunted for him like a dog. He used to often appear clandestinely at our place late at night. I have faint memories of his trips. But next morning even before I would get up he would vanish. After his departure things like cruelty by the British used to be discussed in hushed tones in the house, but none of them were understood by me.
Then came the 15th August, our tryst with freedom. Entire evening the small town of Bareilly where my father was posted as a Magistrate was agog with festivity. 'Why every one looked so happy'! I used to wonder. Earthen pots were lit in thousands. The Diwali like celebrations were quite confusing because it was not yet Diwali. Late night I saw my father and uncle huddled close to the radio, listening to something and then shouting with joy. Suddenly uncle went for a bath.
Those days running tap water was unheard of. There used to be either a dug well or affluent people had a hand-pump installed in the courtyard of the house. There used to be servants to draw water. I asked my uncle the reason for a bath at that hour. He said we are free from the bondage of the British. 'I am washing my "gulami" he said. I didn't know the meaning of the word, but I could understand that there was something terribly wrong with the Europeans.
There was a long holiday and since Mrs. Blunt had left, I was admitted to another school, run by a Church. The crowd of boys and girls there was completely different. There were the Anglo-Indians, 'Chamresian' we used to call them and they called us 'Desis'. There used to be always fights with the Anglo-Indians. They were stronger than us we felt. The orderly who used to take me to school would say 'beware of those boys, they eat meat and are hence more strong'. One of them used to enjoy cutting a live lizard in to two. I used to despise him for his cruelty.
So the Europeans were bad because they ate meat and they were bad because they were cruel. This is what I learned from my newly made 'desi' friends.
Life was fun and play for few months to come. Suddenly there was an influx of strange people in thousands. Their men wore 'Salwar-Kameez' and turbans. They are Punjabis informed the friends. At home I learnt that they were the 'Refugees' from Pakistan. Their houses and properties had been completely destroyed. Since lot of hatred against the British had been pumped in to my mind by then and I presumed these people fled their homes because of atrocities by the British.
I was mistaken and my uncle explained me how they were not acceptable to Muslims in Pakistan. He also told me the difference between various religions and first time I realized that my friends Hamid, I and Kenneth Luke belonged to different religions. Discussions about refugees amongst the Hindu boys used to be in their favor, whereas boys of other religion ignored the issue.
An innocent boy about to enter the seventh year of life had been doctored the basics of Hinduism and differences between the religious practices. Till then all friends of different religion were nothing but friends. Post-Independence strife had sown the seeds of distinction in mind. I used to ask Hamid and Kenneth, everyday, 'Do you eat beef at home?' 'How does it look like?' The reply used to be preceded by curses and 'you bhamman (Brahmin)' they would shout at me.
One day I went to see the movie 'Mira' with my parents. Rarely did we go to see movies. It was a big occasion for me to sit close to my father on a sofa and pester him with questions about the movie. Suddenly the movie stopped and the hall was full of whistles and shouts. I was scared. A notice appeared on the screen and I found everyone including my parents weeping. I also started to cry without knowing what it was about. Tears came because I saw my father weeping. Everyone left the Hall and hurried home. On the way I was told that Mahatma Gandhi had been shot dead, by Nathuram Godsey. There was gloom all over.
The divide between the Hindus and Muslims had suddenly become deeper and wider. The refugees had been allowed to open temporary stalls near the Civil Hospital Bareilly. They were doing a brisk business by selling bakery products, cloth and general merchandise. One night we had gone visiting some relatives and the sky in the direction of Refugee market was lit red. My father was at the steering and he announced 'looks like a major fire'. He dropped us home and rushed to the site. Some anti-social elements had put the temporary shops of refugees on fire. Once again they lost whatever they were trying to regain by doing business. The society seemed to not to accept them yet.
That night is difficult to forget as a crowd of nearly 500 people assembled at our house. They had no place to live, nothing to eat. They were lodged in hurriedly organized Camps. Some even stayed in our compound. Two of their boys Bhagat ram and Gurcharan Singh became my best pals for the years to come.
Thus freedom for a seven year old had changed meaning. The British were bad, they were cruel. But the Indians killing the refugees by burning their properties were no less cruel. At least this is what I thought then.
These sixty years of freedom have been a great experience for those born after Independence. My own children have never seen the social strife to which I was a witness. Yes they do read of terrorism and bomb blasts every day. But they can not imagine how millions of people could move in from across the borders and become part and parcel of our country. It was sheer tolerance on part of the government and the society, which made such feats possible. Tolerance is part of Indian culture.
We have progressed in all the fields without discrimination. That is why we have advanced so much in Information Technology and many other technological fields. Not only science and technology, industry or agriculture we excel in adding population at a fast pace, we also excel in corrupt practices. Yet we progress. That is India.
Today we talk of vision 2020. For some from the newer generation it might be enlightenment that Pundit Nehru's speech on attaining the Freedom on the midnight of 15th August, 1947 was nothing but his vision about the future of India.
Tryst with Destiny what Pundit Nehru spoke that night was perhaps one of the best speeches which only a great Statesman like him alone could deliver. Each word was full of meaning when he said, '….We have to work hard ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are the citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard ..'
Freedom was our destiny. Bold advances can only be made through hard work.