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Freedom At Midnight, by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins: Moving Story of Gandhi’s Assassination
Mahabharata and Ramayana are the two great epics of India. There are several classical literatures in different regional languages. The English language has only been known to Indians for the last 300 years. But Indian Literature in English has reached new heights and there are thousands of lovers of English literature in India too. Especially some writings have reached the classic level and received worldwide attention.
These literatures can be broadly classified into two. The first is literature written by Indians on the background of India and the second by English writers on Indian events. ‘Midnight Freedom’ belongs to the second category and it is one of the most appreciated books on Indian events.
This book covers the events that led to the partition of India, the achievement of Indian independence, the mindless violence between Hindus and Muslims, the great problem of Kashmir, annexation of the Princely States State and finally the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
In this article we will see the important aspects of the book with particular reference to the assassination of Gandhi.
1. The Construction of the Story:
The contents of this book dealing with contemporary History can be called ‘story’ because the events recorded in it are more touching than the story. It began with a meeting Lord Mountbatten held with British Prime Minister Attlee. The entire first chapter deals with the appointment of Lord Mountbatten as the last viceroy of India with the task of giving independence to India. The main question at hand was how to give freedom to India and more importantly, safe passage to the British in India, who were accustomed to a life of luxury.
2. Enter Mahatma Gandhi:
The Mahatma enters the narrative with a description of the famous Noakhali tour where he made an unsuccessful attempt to stop Hindu-Muslim violence. Moderate leaders of both religions humiliated him. The authors have made an in-depth study of the newspapers of those days and have given a true account of the events.
The process of granting independence began under the leadership of Lord Mountbatten as viceroy. He had several rounds of talks with Patel, Jinnah, Nehru and Gandhi with the importance of India’s independence in increasing order. Gandhi and Jinnah have a special place in this final solution, Gandhi as the Father of the Indian Nation and Jinnah, as The Creator of Pakistan.
3. The Misery of Division:
The authors described the actual partition as ‘The most complicated divorce in History’. Not only the land is divided, but the assets are divided as in the case of family partition.
The cost of partition was paid by the citizens of the border States, Punjab in the North, West Bengal in the east while there was a lot of bloodshed in other states as well.
The violence is described in detail in the chapter ‘Our People Are Mad’. Mindless violence would bring tears to any leader’s eyes.
The author says that “if a person is killed by violence, it is a ‘mercy’ shown to him, because acid attacks, rape, mutilation and other tortures are very common. They are known by various religious marks on their bodies and mercilessly tortured.
A multi-millionaire from Lahore becomes a beggar for a day and he has to walk a long distance without food or water to reach Delhi while an Industrialist in Punjab has to walk in the wrong direction and reach Karachi by walking through the loss of everything. There are many trains that reach India full of dead bodies. By all accounts, the authors say that at least for the Muslims who have moved to Pakistan, a better future awaits as it is a newly born nation while for the Hindus, who have reached the Delhi, no future. They are not accepted by their relatives, rejected by former friends and literally orphaned on the streets of Delhi and Calcutta. They must arrive in a country that only expects work from its subjects and has nothing to offer refugees. There were murders and bloodshed everywhere and in this atmosphere India got its freedom ‘at midnight’
4. While the World Sleeps:
This chapter deserves a special mention as it gives a minute account of the independence of India and Pakistan. The important features are:
13.8.47: While the whole of India was waiting to get its freedom and when most of the leaders were preparing to take power, Mahatma Gandhi who led the freedom struggle through non-violent means did not participate in the celebrations. , instead he walked across. Noakhali forest to stop the mindless violence between the two communities. The hatred against Gandhi among the Hindus who were severely affected by the violence started from this place. In fact, the sadness of the story starts from here and a darkness falls on the readers showing the tragedy that is about to come in the future.
14.8.47: This marks the last day as Viceroy for Lord Mountbatten. The last order he signed was the elevation of the Nawab’s Australian Begum to the dignity of Highness. The order was placed on his desk at 11.58 PM With a hint of the purest happiness lighting up his face, he took out his pen and took the last act as viceroy of India.
14.8.47 at midnight:
“When the whole world slept India woke up to freedom” Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India hoisted the National flag with these words and declared that India has become a free country henceforth.
If all goes well, the book should end on these lines of Nehru. But less sweet things awaited Indians after independence.
A Tamil poet, after 50 years of Independence wrote: “We have freedom at midnight, without seeing the dawn of the day”, how true!
Lord Mountbatten was made the First Governor General of India until Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) was elected for the post. India continued in the League of Commonwealth Nations. These were great moves on the part of Nehru and his Government. But this same greatness creates a perennial problem for India ie KASHMIR.
5. KASHMIR ISSUE:
Kashmir had a special place in the hearts of Nehru and Jinnah. Pakistan is planning a tribal invasion of this valley. Due to the invasion, Hari Singh annexed Kashmir to India. Nehru was very liberal and promised a plebiscite and also declared a ceasefire. Until now, a part of Kashmir belongs to Pakistan which India calls Pak Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Pakistan claims it as Azad Kashmir (Independent Kashmir). This is the big thorn in the relationship between the two countries where there is no immediate solution.
The book fulfills the need for humor in the chapter on Maharajas (Kings), through descriptions of palaces, tigers, elephants and jewels. The Maharajas lost their crowns and were forced to annex their states to the Province of India, thanks to the efforts of Patel (known as the Iron Man of India). The descriptions of the lives of the kings their funny decisions and eccentricities provide relief to a very serious subject handled in the book.
6. The Second Crucifixion:
No other title aptly describes the assassination of Gandhi like this title which equates Gandhi with Jesus Christ whose crucifixion was the first.
The day is Friday the 30th of January; 1948. The murderer was a Hindu whose name was Nathuram Godse. There was absolutely no proper security for Gandhi except for his personal assistants, most of whom were women. Gandhi took his last walk at his usual evening prayer. The assassin, hiding the pistol in his palms approached Gandhi, bowed before him and said to him “Namaste Gandhiji”.
Using his left hand, Godse brutally threw the assistant and then took the black Baretta pistol in his right hand and pulled the trigger three times. Gandhi gasped “Hey Ram” (Oh God) and in the final act of blessing the assassin, he fell lifeless. It was one of the most unforgettable moments in Human History.
The first question Lord Mountbatten asked, upon hearing the news of Gandhi’s assassination was, “Who did it?” He was relieved when he found out that a Hindu had killed him (not a Muslim) because a Muslim had killed him India would live through another horrific massacre the world had seen. Possible assassination was averted by repeated announcement of ‘a Hindu who killed Gandhi’, on All India Radio and Hindus and Muslims mourned the death of the great man.
Jawaharlal’s eyes filled with tears as he stepped in front of the All India Radio microphone. “The light is gone in our lives and there is darkness everywhere,” he said, “The father of the Nation is gone”.
George Bernard Shaw made the punching remark “It shows how dangerous it is to be good”
“Generations to come, perhaps, will not believe that someone like this in flesh and blood walked this Earth.”
J.Krishnamurti, deviating from his usual practice of not commenting on the death of leaders commented, “It was not one man who killed Gandhi. We, the entire population killed him because of our little religious fanaticism”
This is reflected in the editorial comments of the Hindustan Standard which states:
“Gandhi was killed by his own people whose redemption he lived for, the second crucifixion in the history of the world was carried out on a Friday – the same day that Jesus died nineteen 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 India today, it paints a sad picture. Widespread corruption, bribery everywhere, power monger, manipulated elections, communal clashes, caste differences and things like this usually rule in India. We cannot avoid thinking “Is it because of this that we got freedom, is it because of this that thousands of freedom fighters sacrificed everything and suffered in Jails, Is it because of this Apostle of Peace that sacrificed his most precious life?” It is the prayer of every Indian that Mahatma Gandhi will be reborn in India.
The greatest success of the book “Freedom at Midnight” lies in the fact that it creates this awakening in the readers.
I wish the readers of this article success!
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