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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Remembering 1857 Revolt Via L.K.Advani's Eyes

Today is a sacred day in the long history of our Motherland. A day becomes sacred when it is associated with the life of an outstanding historical personality — a hero or a martyr, a saint or a social reformer — who meant a lot to the nation. But its sacredness grows manifold when it is associated with the heroism and sacrificing spirit of an entire nation struggling unitedly to recover its freedom from foreign rule. May 10 is one such super-sacred day in the history of India for it marked, 150 years ago, the beginning of what subsequently came to be regarded as India’s First War of Independence.
I pay my respectful homage to all those brave sons and daughters of India who fought in that war to liberate India from the yoke of an alien people from a faraway island, who had come to India as traders but became its colonial rulers. We know some names of the leaders and martyrs of the war of 1857 — Mangal Pandey, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, Nanasaheb Peshwa of Kanpur, his close confidantes Azimullah Khan and Tatia Tope, Raja Kunwar Sinh of Jagdishpur in Bihar, Maulvi Ahmed Shah of Oudh, and many others. But the names of countless others have either entered the oblivion of history or are still lying unexplored and unsung in local histories across the vast expanse of the then united India. All of them deserve to be gratefully remembered.

Of course, on this occasion, we should not forget that in several places in India the flame of the struggle for freedom had been lit by patriots well before 1857. Two great names that come to my mind are: Veerapandya Kattabomman of Tamil Nadu, who waged a guerilla war against the British and sacrificed his life in it, and Rani Chennamma of Kittur in Karnataka.

My own introduction to India’s first national uprising against the British rule happened at a young age. And it happened through a remarkable book by a remarkable writer, both having become inseparable from the legend of 1857. I was a schoolboy of 14 in Karachi in Sindh, the city of my birth where I spent the first 20 years of my life before migrating to this side of India after Partition. I was already touched by the winds of the freedom struggle in Sindh. Due to my interest in patriotic literature, I came to know about Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s book 1857: The War of Independence. It was banned by the British and hence unavailable. Someone told me that I could get it from a person selling underground literature. I purchased it from my accumulated pocket money — for Rs 28, which was a lot of money those days.
The book’s journey

I have still not forgotten the effect Savarkar’s book had on me. This book truly deserves the appellation “incendiary”, which is an honour when used by a foreign power that was so frightened by it that it was banned even before its actual publication. The story of the journey of the book’s manuscript from India to England, France, Germany, Holland and back, and the role it played in inspiring revolutionaries after its clandestine publication, is as thrilling as any of the battles fought in 1857. Savarkar wrote it in London, where he had gone to study law but soon got involved in revolutionary activities, when he was only 25. The original text in Marathi was completed in 1907, to mark the 50th anniversary of 1857, and was secretly sent to India. But it could not be printed in India because the British authorities, who had come to know of it, raided the printing press.

Miraculously, the manuscript was saved and sent back to Savarkar in Paris. His fellow-revolutionaries translated it into English but no printer in England or France was willing to print it. Finally it was printed in Holland in 1909 and copies of it were smuggled into India. But the author was arrested in London in 1910 on charges of sedition, brought to India, convicted for two life imprisonments, and transported to “Kala Pani”, the dreaded Cellular Jail in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It was the same place where the British had deported thousands of patriots who had participated in the uprising of 1857. Savarkar spent 11 years in near-solitary confinement in a dark, dingy cell that overlooked the gallows where prisoners were routinely executed.
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