Over two-thirds of a century has elapsed since then, yet memories of that magic day when, at the stroke of the midnight hour, India awoke to life and freedom remain fresh in my mind. Times were difficult because the ecstasy of Independence was accompanied by the agony of Partition. Massive communal massacres and the largest mass migration in peacetime in history had followed. In paralysed north India, there was no rail or road transport. Luckily, my family was only 10 miles (16 kilometres) away from Delhi. So my brother, three friends and I walked the distance. Having imposed ourselves on gracious hosts, we managed to join thousands of others around Parliament House in good time to listen to Jawaharlal Nehru’s “tryst with destiny” speech, unquestionably one of the finest of the 20th century. Arrangements to relay it to us were perfect.
Unfortunately, before embarking on the padyatra to the nation’s capital, I got involved in a row with the girl next door. Constantly questioned by a very young brother about the extraordinary excitement, she had said:
“Aaj Panditji ki tajposhi hai (today is Panditji’s coronation)”. Furiously, I told her that we are “going to be a great democracy and you are talking about royal rituals”. Over the years, I have often wondered whether the seemingly ignorant girl was really prophetic. Incidentally, 1947 was the only year when the tricolour was hoisted at the Red Fort on August 16, because the forenoon of August 15 was taken up by the swearing-in of Louis Mounbatten as independent India’s first governor general and of the Nehru cabinet.
Since then, I have heard the Red Fort speeches of the 13 prime ministers so far and am waiting to listen to that of the 14th, Narendra Modi. Up to now, there has hardly been an Independence Day speech so memorable as to need a mention here, though some landmark events have affected the tone and tenor of Red Fort orations. On August 15, 1948, for instance, Nehru spoke mostly about the first Kashmir war, which Pakistan had started the previous October. Two years later, in 1950, his Red Fort speech celebrated the commencement of the Constitution and the inauguration of the Republic of India. His last I-Day speech was gloomy because of our shattering defeat in the border war with China in 1962. Lal continued…