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My Tryst with A Great Freedom Fighter

We live in a world of dwarfs. All great battles have already been fought; all great thoughts have already been debated; all great arguments have already been settled. We live in a world where terrorists and murderers are called freedom-fighters, while all they have on offer is another cage which they claim to be holier and more beautiful. Nationalism has been made, by the crafty, conniving, so-called conscience-keepers, nasty and patriotism, petty. It is no wonder that the youth of this nation is so disenchanted with the world around him. We like it or not, we identify ourselves with the world we live in, the society that sustains us, the country that is our custodian. When we badmouth and belittle them, we abuse our roots. Devoid of our roots, we are nothing more than helpless, floating balloons in a hostile, or at least, indifferent skies. We struggle to settle our feet on the slippery ground which is fast turning into quagmire. We shout at the poor auto-rikshaw driver who has brushed past our car and feel masculine; we call anyone with different view Behenji and Bhakt and are urgently drunk on our fake intellectual spirit. 

We look for inspiration in Che Guevara Tee-Shirts, Posters with pitch-black structures on Blood-red backgrounds and think it is revolutionary. We stand naked devoid of pride in the past and hope in the future. In such a scenario, I picked up the Autobiography of Pandit Ram Prasad Bismil. I did not have much hope from it, in terms of literary content or historic significance. After all, the man gets no more than couple of lines in our history books. Reams and reams of paper have been written about the quiet and clever political maneuvers of the political freedom fighters. They were educated in Britain, had good English, and came from rich backgrounds which matched the affluent lifestyles of the British Colonial rulers in India. 

The lovers of the motherland, who operated in silence, in sadness, in desperation, in poverty, made the British uncomfortable. The generation of intellectuals, the British created and left behind, were at an equal unease with them. Unlike the vast and rich expanses of Anand Bhavan which was kind of base for movement funded by rich merchants, Bismil grew up in abject poverty in the area of Bundelkhand, under the Gwalior royal Kingdom. The family literally struggled for one square meal, braving droughts and scarcity with the poise of the prices and calm of the kings. Today, when I read intellectual braves questioning why we should celebrate the glory of our motherland given the poverty, the mis-governance over the years, the corruption, on India's independence day; I am totally confounded by the love, unmoving, unchanging and unyielding, which Bismil preserved in his heart. 

Not only was India much worse in 1897, June when Bismil was born in a poor Brahmin family, merely Forty years after the failed Mutiny of 1857, crushed cruelly under the heavy boots of the British empire. In an India as it was then, in a world as it was then, Bismil would still pray:

"यदि देश हित में मरना पड़े, मुझको सहत्रों बार भी,
तो भी ना इस कष्ट को, निज ध्यान में लाऊँ कभी। 
हे ईश भारतवर्ष में शत बार मेरा जन्म हो,
कारण सदा ही मृत्यु का देशपरक कर्म हो। 

(If I were to sacrifice a thousand lives, 
I will still not be concerned of my welfare;
Oh God, may I be born in my Bharat in every birth
And meet my end doing my patriotic share.)

When I read this book and I considered that there were many people today who are more of English-readers than the readers of Hindi books. I felt saddened that I could not find any English translation of this great book by such a great man.  I could however gather the reasons for that. Once we encounter the real patriots, we will be easily be able to differentiate them from the fake who have crowded the political space since the Independence of India, bestowing the highest awards on themselves. Do not get me wrong. Bismil did not hate Congress leaders. He, in fact, advised the revolutionaries to work under the leadership of Congress. But then, he could not have imagined how his memories would be wiped out from the collective memory of his countrymen by the same Congressmen to maintain their sole proprietorship over the India's freedom movement, for political gains. His trust for his nation was incorrigible, as he went to the gallows, with his head held high, at the age of Thirty, singing

शहीदों की मज़ारों पर लगेंगे हर बरस मेले 
वतन पे मरने वालों का यही बाकी निशाँ होगा 

(The nation will celebrate the memory of martyr's every year,
That and only that will be the mark of martyrs which the nation shall bear.)

He could not have imagined that in 1946 when the Congress leaders would be busy in mechanization to land themselves position of political power after the exit of the British, his own mother will live a life of penury, resulting in an eventual wiping off of the family, in public neglect and silence. When a writer writes something, he has reasons in his mind. When Bismil wrote his autobiography, languishing in Gorakhpur Jail, awaiting his death sentence, only reason he had was that the nation may learn from his life and build upon it. When I translated it, my only reason was that I wanted his life to be learnt by as many people as possible. I wanted my fellow Indians to know about the India where a staunch Arya Samaji Bismil had a Patriotic Muslim who would sing Vande Mataram proudly to the gallows, Ashfaqullah Warsi as his best friend, whom he considered almost his younger brother; a world in which a staunch leftist Bhagat Singh would kill a British officer to avenge a Right-wing leader Lala Lajpat Rai. This is an honest, inspiring and gripping story of human spirit soaring so high as if to kiss the sun. It is also an honest account of betrayals, sadness and still hope for a nation. A nation, any nation, survives on hope; this is the story of unyielding hope in the nation and offers the same to anyone who might spare time to read it. Do share it, review it, for it is a story which ought to be read by every India. 


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