I like to call myself and those of us who were young adults in India in the 1950s, the before midnight’s children. Unlike Salman Rushdie’s protagonists who were born at the very midnight hour of August 15, 1947, the moment that India was declared free from British rule, I was born in 1933 and was a teenager at the time of Independence, and a young adult as we threw ourselves into the work of a new and free India. I would say that we experienced an India which we still fantasize about, and which also shaped our politics profoundly. I would go further and suggest that we got deeply attached to some ideas, ideologies and aspirations that were born of that experience that we are not able to shed, even today, in our eighties.
I was 14 years old when India declared Independence on the 15th of August, 1947. I was living in the city of Gwalior in north India, where my father was the dewan of the Gwalior State — the chief minister, in today’s parlance. We, his family, were somewhat screened from the turmoil, the agonies as well as celebrations that were going on, especially in New Delhi. But like a new arrow, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi pierced through our household.
As my father has written in his memoir, Of the Raj, Maharajas and Me, a few days prior to the assassination of Gandhi, the assassins had been in his drawing room, angry with him for restricting the activities of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, and also for not including its party members in his cabinet. They had abused Gandhi and amongst others, my father, for supporting the Muslims and made death threats against Gandhi and my father.
My father’s term as the dewan of Gwalior ended with the integration of the States into the Republic of India. A Chamber of Princes had been formed, mandated with the task of forging an agreement with the princes to join the Republic. He was engaged as the member secretary of this chamber. That task was also done, so he was getting ready to return to Mysore State. He was commended for having done the job successfully.
Gandhi had heard from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, then the home minister, that my father had done well with that task and perhaps wanted to commend him for another government posting. So he had sent for my father and given him an appointment, ironically for January 29, 1948 — the day before he was assassinated, January 30.
My father recalls how Gandhi asked him to stay on after the meeting, and pointing to a few people who were agitating outside his chamber, said: ‘You see those poor people standing there? They are from Bannu. They have come all the way to see me. One of them was quite angry with me today. He told me, “Gandhiji, you should die.” I said I will not die until my inner voice says I should. And do you know, Sreenivasan, what he said?’ Gandhiji raised his hand in a characteristic gesture and said, ‘He said “My inner voice says you should die.”’
Thus, the very next day when my father heard that Gandhi was shot dead, he was devastated. His conversation with Gandhi on that evening was full of portent and left him and all of us, his family, not only deeply shocked, but politicised.
Reproduced with permission from Speaking Tiger
The Brass Notebook: A Memoir
By Devaki Jain
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