The literary trail of independence  

Capturing the essence of Indianness through books 

August 16, 2022 10:32 pm | Updated August 17, 2022 12:49 pm IST

Books on independence

Books on independence | Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR. K

The road to independence was an incongruous juxtaposing of sacrifices and aspirations, struggles and autonomy, sufferings and jubilation that characterised the complexities of a long freedom movement. Even as we celebrate Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav to commemorate 75 years of freedom to resonate with the pulse of contemporary India, it is imperative to remember the country's rich history, culture, people and diversity.

Towards freedom

Thankfully, there are no dearth of writers who have documented India’s freedom struggle and poignantly captured the essence of Indianness. While highlighting different perspectives, the narratives on the dawn of August 15, 1947, have a powerful and lingering impact and also help to imagine and revisit moments in the long journey of colonisation.

If Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India traces the history from the Indus Valley civilisation to the establishment of the British Empire and tracks the rich cultural heritage of the country, Anandamath by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, set in the sanyasi rebellion of the late 18th century, offers the synonym of Indian integrity in the form of Vande Mataram.

Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins details the last year of the British Raj, with the appointment of Lord Mountbatten as the last viceroy of British India. Filled with interesting stories, it is an evocative piece of historical literature that brings out the reactions of the princely states' to independence, the pain of the Partition and travails of people who were divided into territories on the basis of religion, and the despondency following the death and funeral of Mahatma Gandhi.

Taking stock

Another non-fiction tome, The Last Mughal: The Fall of A Dynasty, Delhi, 1857 by William Dalrympyle, looks at India’s independence movement by going back to when it all began. It highlights the first war against the British, the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, the aftermath of it and how it revolutionised the march to freedom and the political landscape.

In 2018, Kishwar Desai wrote Jallianwala Bagh, 1919, on the scars the massacre left when General Dyer’s order turned into a death warrant for peaceful protestors who had gathered against British rule. In 1956, Khushwant Singh wrote Train to Pakistan, a fictional account set in a town on the India-Pakistan border. Though the Partition was a political fall-out, Singh talks about several horrific local situations that increased the hostility between the Sikh and the Muslim. He gives a human dimension to the incidents for a sense of reality and believability. Aanchal Malhotra delivers a poignant story about the refugees of Partition through the objects they carried with them across the border in Remnants of a Separation. The belongings tell the fascinating stories of their owners and what they experienced during their darkest days.

Salman Rushdie’s 1981 novel Midnight’s Children is a classic post-colonial literature that deals with the transition from British colonialism to independence with the Partition at the core of historical events. He narrates the story of Saleem Sinai, born at that magical midnight moment when India became independent, and is gifted with a special power of telepathy which he uses to connect with other children born in that hour between 12 and 1 am. Their conference is a reflection of India’s post-independence issues pertaining to culture, language, religion and politics. Gyanesh Kudaisya in A Republic in the Making: India in the 1950s looks at the momentous decade marked by dramatic events and challenges; the uncertain trajectories that gave hope and anxiety to political leaders and the people in those times and how India transformed significantly and anchored itself as a resilient, democratic polity.

A bend in the river

A God In Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie is an unusual story about a young Englishwoman Vivian Rose Spencer, an archaeologist who travels to Peshawar, Pakistan, after a brutal betrayal and Qayyum Gul, a soldier in the British Indian army and his younger brother Najeeb who becomes Vivian’s pupil. Through the three characters, the story traverses from the First World War to India’s independence bridging the gulf of several decades and connecting the dots of changing history. Describing the socio-political unrest and violence that changed the nation forever, Manohar Malgonkar documents events in A Bend in the Ganges that led to the civil disobedience movement in the 1930s and eventually to the Partition riots in Punjab.

The Partition of India by Haimanti Roy puts together contextual histories with a comprehensive account of the causes, experiences and consequences of the Partition. She reflects upon the multiplicity of meanings of 1947 that led to violence, migration and rehabilitation in Bengal and Punjab. Unless we understand those experiences, we cannot understand the challenges faced in South Asia today, is the underlying point.

Even after 75 years, contemporary society grapples with India’s history, memories and legacies as much of it remains locked with families and individuals who lived through the trauma of loss of home, life and work, uprooting and survival. When we talk about independence, there are also many books on the heroes of the independence struggle. The recently published, Her Name Was Freedom, by Anu Kumar, is about 35 women, many of whom have never met each other, but defended their country against tyranny. Their fight for freedom was not only about ending British rule but also about reforming the old ways and changing it for the better.

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