Senior citizens recall the hope and ecstasy of our first independence day in Coimbatore district.
Meera Marudachalam was at the Government Headquarters Hospital on Trichy Road, now known as the Coimbatore Medical College Hospital, when India became free. Her brother had been admitted for appendicitis on the eve of independence.
She says that everyone was feverish with excitement. “The nurses had decorated the hospital with garlands of flowers and they distributed sweets. Raghupathi Raghav Raja Ram was playing on the radio,” says Meera who was studying at the Government Training School on Raja Street back then. People offered flowers to portraits of Gandhi and maps of India, she adds.
C.R. Seethapathy, and his friend Kaliappan had boycotted classes in Municipal High School, Variety Hall Road, the year before. "We wanted to replace King George's portrait in our school with those of Gandhi," he says. "Our head-master pacified us by saying that freedom would come soon and the portraits would be replaced," says Seethapathy. He was 20 years old, and was an apprentice with Pakshiraja Studios, Puliakulam Road when freedom came.
Dhirendra K. Desai, former college union joint secretary of Government Arts College— a nursery of nationalism— was then in Stanes Preparatory School, Avanashi Road. In 1946 he organised a nationalist group with 30 to 40 of his school mates.
It was broken up after they were reported. He was caned for the adventure and was threatened with expulsion for raising slogans of “Englishmen go back!” “Many of my relatives, including my father, went to jail for independence. We listened to Nehru's (tryst with destiny) speech on the radio on 14th night. Polis and bajjis were made at home,” says Dhirendra who was 13 when we got freedom.
After Independence, Principal Clay, who had caned him, sold his land and went back to UK. Many of Clay's compatriots, however, shared the joy of Indian freedom. "They were decent people and quite friendly, even in the end," says Kanaklal Abhaichand. Kanaklal was 16 in 1947. "There was jubilation in my school, St. Michael's HSS on Big Bazaar Street. Plantain trees were kept for decoration and the roads were lit up that night. All offices were open all night long," he recalls.
A.S. Karpagambal was a 24-year-old homemaker on Karuppa Gounder Street on August 15, 1947. "The gramophone in the Congress office on our street played D. K. Pattamal songs like Aaduvome Pallu Paduvome that day," she says. "We lived beside freedom-fighter Subri (E. K. Subramanian). He had been to jail often and was ecstatic that day," adds Karpagambal who admits that she knew little as women hardly went out those days.
“Many cars and visitors came to his house. Subri gave flags and sweets to everyone. Our children brought the flags home too,” she says smiling. They had a special pooja at home and prepared payasam that day.
In Tirupur, C. S. Ramakrishnan was in the second form (class seven) in Nanjappa High School then. He was 13.
Songs of freedom
“Bharathiar's songs from Naam Iruvar (a popular nationalist film of that year) were played in the Taluk Office on 14th night. Our school band practised for a week and we marched through the streets next day. We got ladoos, sugarcane and kadalai urandais,” he says. Ramakrishnan, now a Gandhian activist, says, “Before independence day we stood in queue for three hours at the All India Spinners Association to buy a flag for eight annas.”
“Mill cloth was rationed those days and we had to collect them from mills, whatever the colour they gave us. That's why I've been spinning the charkha since 1945,” he adds.
Dreams of the future
Dhirendra Desai says that he thought poverty and dishonesty would vanish after independence. “Maybe I was too young, that I believed so,” he adds. Since Gandhi boycotted tea in protest against the oppression of tea workers in Assam, Dhirendra has never touched tea in his life.
Karpagambal echoes his views. “Politicians were austere those days, she says. “I am happy we got freedom but there is so much violence every where today,” she says with a tinge of melancholy. Desai adds that police were strict even against cycling doubles or without a light. “We never dared to bribe them,” he confesses.
Seethapathy's studio had declared on holiday on 15th. “I went to my village Uppilipalayam. I had joined the Congress there. The membership fee was just four annas,” he reveals. “We burst crackers and sang patriotic songs. There was a huge crowd, but the police were quiet that day. Perhaps, even they were happy.”