Innumerable unsung freedom fighters and martyrs had given up everything to win independence for our country. The need of today is to invoke the Gandhi within. A special story by Ramendra Kumar on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti.
Dr. Jeevan looked at his watch. The time was 3.10 pm. The young lady had told that she would be coming by three. Dr. Rai was a stickler for punctuality and people who didn’t value it, irritated him.
Just then the door bell rang. Dr. Rai got up and opened the door. A young woman of around twenty was standing outside. She was tall and slim with short hair and a pretty face.
“Good afternoon Dr. Rai, I am Anindita Sen from the National Express.”
“Good afternoon, young lady. Please come in,” Dr. Rai said. Anindita followed him into a small room. It was sparsely furnished with a centre table and four cane chairs. What caught her attention was a wall to wall bookshelf which was filled with books. She could make out thick volumes related to medical science as well as books on philosophy and poetry.
Dr. Rai asked her to sit down and went in. He emerged a few minutes later with a tray in which were two mugs and plate with biscuits.
“Dr. Rai, you need not have taken the trouble.”
“Young lady, you have come to my house for the first time. I may be an old man but I haven’t forgotten how to take care of guests. And don’t you worry, I know how to make tea,” Dr. Rai said with a smile.
As they sipped tea Anindita observed her host carefully. He was around eighty with thick hair which had gone completely white. He was tall and well built, with a broad forehead, sharp nose and kind, gentle eyes. He gave an impression of quiet strength which she found very reassuring.
Anindita was a reporter working for National Express. To commemorate 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi, the newspaper was bringing out a special supplement on 2nd October. They had decided to do a feature comprising interviews with senior citizens and their views of India today. Dr. Jeevan Rai’s name had been suggested by her editor.
After they had finished their tea Dr. Rai looked at her and asked, “So Anindita, what do you want to know from this old fogy?”
“Dr. Rai, as I explained to you yesterday, we want people of your generation who have actually witnessed the last days of the freedom struggle as well as the euphoria of independence to tell us something about your experiences.”
“I’ll do that but before I commence I want you to stop calling me Dr. Rai. It makes me feel as if I am sitting in my clinic and a young woman has come to me complaining of stomach ache. You can call me Uncle… but I think I am too old for that. Why don’t you call me Baba?” Dr. Rai said, with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Y…yes Doctor. Dr. Rai…I mean Baba.”
“Anindita, during the last days of the freedom struggle I was in my early teens. Though I couldn’t actively participate I had an opportunity to observe closely the happenings of those tumultuous years. Freedom was an emotion, a sentiment, madness – something which your generation will find it hard to understand. History knows of only a handful of freedom fighters and martyrs but there were thousands of people who gave up everything up for the country. I know of many ordinary people – cobblers, vegetable vendors, coolies, tailors, dhobis, teachers, students who left their professions, their families and friends and plunged headlong into the freedom struggle. Some of them lost their lives, many spent years rotting in jail while others had to give up their careers and property. I remember we had a tailor whose name was Sheikh Hussain. Those day’s Gandhiji’s ‘Quit India Movement’ was gaining momentum. Hussain’s only son, sixteen year old Zakir joined the struggle. One day he was taking part in a procession when the police decided to lathi charge it. Zakir got hit on the head and died on the spot.
Another incident which I’ll never forget involved our village postman’s sixty year old father Namdev. Inspired by Bapu’s call, in our village too, meetings and rallies were held. Namdev was addressing one such meeting, defying prohibitory orders. The District Commissioner came to know and ordered the police to fire without warning. Namdev was the first to be hit. His son couldn’t even get his body.”
Dr. Rai stopped speaking and looked intently at his interviewer. “Anindita these were very ordinary people, with ordinary backgrounds, leading ordinary lives. They were neither great leaders nor powerful politicians, nor were they eminent social workers. They lived in obscurity and died in obscurity. But it is these unknown freedom fighters who gave us our freedom which today is taken for granted.”
“Was anyone in your family involved…”
“Yes, my father’s younger brother, my Kaka. His name was Pran and he was just seventeen when he joined the freedom movement. My grandfather and father were opposed to him getting involved in what they termed the ‘national madness’. Kaka had been a brilliant student and they wanted him to continue his studies. But he was adamant. He would come home late every night and sometimes for days together he would not be seen. My poor Dadi would worry herself sick. My father would ask him, “Pran, where were you the last four days?” Kaka would just smile enigmatically and reply, “In the service of Mother India.”
“I remember, one night, it was past twelve, there was a loud knock on the door. We all got up. My father opened the door. One of my Kaka’s friends, or comrades as he called them, was standing outside.
“Bhai Saheb, I have got bad news. Pran has been caught by the Police. They have kept him in the Town Jail. You must meet him tomorrow. He doesn’t have much time. They will probably hang him in a day or two.”
“H…hang him! But what has he done?”
“He has killed Eric Smith, the DSP who had ordered his men to fire on a procession of women and children last month.”
The next day Dada, Dadi, Babuji and I went to the Town Jail to see Kaka. Babuji didn’t want to take me. But on my insistence Daadi convinced him.
“Pran will be happy to see Jeevan,” she said.
After we entered the Jail compound we were taken to small room. Five minutes later Kaka was brought. Dadi clung to him and cried her heart out.
“Amma, why are you crying? You should be happy and proud. I am lucky God has given me an opportunity to serve my country.”
I stared at my Kaka mesmerised. He didn’t have a very impressive personality but that day he looked magnificent. There was a bright sparkle in his eyes and his face was radiating a kind of brilliance which I can’t quite describe.
After the hanging his body was brought home. As my Kaka lay on the ground I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His eyes were closed and his face had a calm and serene expression. It was as if he had achieved everything in life and was at complete peace with himself.
Two years later India got its independence. On that memorable night of 14th August my father took me to New Delhi. There in front of the Parliament House, at the stroke of midnight as Pandit Nehru unfurled the national flag, my Kaka’s face kept flashing in front of my eyes. How happy he would have been to witness this glorious scene.
‘Kaka wherever you are I am sure you must be proud that your sacrifice has not gone a waste,” I whispered looking up at the heavens.
My Kaka had a tremendous influence on me. I decided to emulate him in my own small way. I had read somewhere an anecdote about Swami Vivekanand which had made a deep impression on me. Once a young man had gone to Swamiji and asked him, ‘Swamiji, I want to serve my country. Tell me, how can I best do that.’
‘What is your profession?’ the Swamiji had in turn asked him.
‘I am a student.’
‘Well then the best way of serving the country for you would be to study with dedication and sincerity. The ideal way for each one of us to serve the country is to do his or her duty with utmost devotion and commitment.’
I worked very hard and became a doctor. I could have opted for private practice and earned lots of money. Instead I joined a Government Hospital even though the pay was quite low and the facilities were far from adequate. My objective was to serve the people. I knew, while the rich could get the best treatment by throwing money, for the poor the only option was a Government Hospital. As a result these hospitals which were woefully short of good doctors attracted huge crowds. All my career, I worked in different Government Hospitals. After retirement I started a small dispensary where I give free consultation and charge only for the medicine.”
Anindita was quite moved by Dr. Rai’s words.
“Baba, you must be happy to see the India of today, the world’s biggest democracy, will soon be celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of its independence.”
“No, Anindita. Actually I am not. When my Kaka’s generation fought for freedom they had a dream, a vision of India. We too grew up with the same ideal. We felt that for the first time India would be free from the shackles of foreign rule. After centuries of bondage India would finally be ruled by its own people. Freedom would bring peace and prosperity. There would be equal opportunities and equal rights. We would live together like one happy family. But now when I look around I feel completely disillusioned. The dreams lie in fragments. The word freedom has become a misnomer. Nothing seems to have changed. The foreign tyrants have been replaced by domestic despots. Only the color of the skin has changed.”
Dr. Rai stopped and looked at Anindita. She seemed to be hanging on to every word of his.
“Anindita, it is said people get the leaders they deserve. In our case it couldn’t have been truer. Why point a finger only at the rulers? We are all to blame. But more than anyone else I would blame those who were born in a free India. It is this generation, now ruling us, which is to a great extent responsible for the present state of affairs. My Kaka’s generation and to a lesser degree my generation was the ‘We’ and ‘Us’ generation. We always thought in terms of the country, the society and the family. But my son’s generation and your generation, young lady is the ‘I’ generation. You cannot see beyond the ‘I ’, ‘Me’ and ‘Myself’. Your basic objective in life is the pursuit of pleasure. And if pleasure is the end, then the means is money. So naturally everyone is busy making money as fast as he can and any which way he can.
There was a time when joining the defense services was a matter of great pride. Now it is viewed like any other career – simply a means to earn money. The Government now has to issue ads and sell the concept of serving one’s country like one would sell soap or toothpaste. The youth have to be enticed with offers of foreign tours and other freebies to join the defense services. Isn’t it quite shameful? Even the other so called ‘noble’ professions like teaching and medicine have been reduced to money making avenues. Why should I blame others? In my own house money has become the presiding deity. My son Umesh was a very bright student. I wanted him to study law and he did. He topped the University and won a gold medal. I hoped he would use his brilliance to fight for the poor and the exploited. Instead he chose to do exactly the opposite. He is now one of the leading lawyers of our State. He defends hard core criminals, corrupt politicians and unscrupulous businessmen and earns pots of money. That is why I stay away from my only son and his family in this little flat all by myself,” Dr. Rai paused.
His eyes had a sad and vacant look. Suddenly he looked vulnerable and Anindita reached out to hold his hand.
“Baba, is there no hope for India?”
“Of course there is, my child. Our country is too great to wither away so easily. It cannot be destroyed by the selfishness of a generation or two. What it needs is another movement, another revolution. Earlier, we fought the British. Now we have to fight the enemy within. He is the three-headed monster of self-interest, avarice and intolerance who is devouring the vitals of our society and our country.”
“But Baba, how do we fight this monster?”
“By discovering the Gandhi in each and every one of us. Bapu stood for the ideals of selflessness, love and contentment. It is these values which will save us. They will lead us from ignorance to knowledge and darkness to light.”
Dr. Rai paused and taking the young woman’s hand in his said, “My dear Anindita, the time has come for us to invoke the Gandhi within. We should start another satyagraha and fight for a new freedom. A freedom, which will finally usher in an era of peace and prosperity, of love and contentment.”
More stories by Ramendra Kumar
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