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When Bhagat Singh got a pat from Bal Gangadhar Tilak

By the time Bhagat Singh was hanged on March 23, he had 130 letters, petitions, statements and essays, to his credit, the last written a day before his execution

The “pictorial book” as it is called, is divided into nine chapters that start with tracing his family tree and early childhood.

Do you know Bhagat Singh was three when he first began to sow what he called guns? At 12, he bunked school to visit the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and bring back a pouch of soil. He was 16 when he penned his first essay and won a handsome prize of Rs 50. By the time he was hanged on March 23, he had 130 letters, petitions, statements and essays, to his credit, the last written a day before his execution. But do you know that besides being fluent in English, Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi, he was also proficient in Sanskrit and Bengali?

A mix of articles and rare photographs, ‘Life and legend of Bhagat Singh, a pictorial volume’ by Prof Chaman Lal is an intimate peep into the life of Bhagat Singh, the revolutionary icon whose fame continues to grow instead of waning with time. The book was unveiled at the sixth edition of the Military Literature Festival here on Sunday.

Prof Chaman Lal, the author, who is a veritable encyclopaedia on Bhagat Singh, having dedicated his life to researching the life and times of the freedom fighter, was himself all of 20 when was captivated by his idol.

Lal recalls how he first read a small profile of Bhagat Singh by Manmathnath Gupta, who had taken part in the Kakori rail dacoity but was saved from the gallows due to his tender age. “After reading his sketches on revolutionaries, I was so impressed that I translated the small book into my mother tongue Punjabi.

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The “pictorial book” as it is called, is divided into nine chapters that start with tracing his family tree and early childhood. It traces the birth of a revolutionary — Bhagat Singh was very young when his father Kishan Singh took him to meet Bal Gangadhar Tilak who gave him a pat on the back. He was hugely impressed with the young Kartar Singh Sarabha, the Ghadri revolutionary, who used to visit his house. Hanged to death at the age of 19, Sarabha left an indelible mark on Bhagat who made sure his photo graced every function of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha he formed . Lal says he would carry Sarabha’s photo in his wallet.

Two chapters are dedicated to the associations Bhagat Singh joined and founded. The role played by the
Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) is also discussed at length as is its disintegration. Another chapter zooms in on the Lahore conspiracy case for which Bhagat Singh was sent to the gallows.

The writing is interspersed with photos, as diverse as those of Bhagat Singh’s old house at Narli village, his family photos, the orchard planted by his father to the coverage he was given by the media.

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Prof Lal says such was the force of his personality, utterances and deeds that once The Tribune devoted eight pages to him in one single day.

Bhagat Singh, writes Prof Chaman Lal, was greatly influenced by his grandfather, Arjan Singh and uncle, Ajit Singh who was living in exile. Lal says Bhagat Singh began devouring political literature in the form of patriotic journals, mostly in Urdu language, at home, at a very early age.

The readings helped him sharpen his ideology. “Bhagat Singh introduced qualitative advancement in the ideology…Generaly, revolutionary organisations are underground, armed group of activists, but both NBS and HSRA had their civil wing also.
Singh wanted to awaken his countrymen and provoke them to fight for their freedom, and thus experimented with various revolutionary tactics. One such approach was to use public platforms such as courts. Their fearlessness and intellectually sound answers to trial judges made the whole prosecution look like persecution!,” says Prof Lal.

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Not many know but Bhagat Singh also registered his protest with hunger strikes. Prof Chaman Lal says Singh observed hunger strike for a total of 157 days with 110 davs in one go.

Prof Lal says the book is based on authentic, primary sources like Bhagat Singh’s own family’s writings, interviews with them and interviews of his comrades and other revolutionaries in archival records of credible institutions.

First published on: 05-12-2022 at 10:43 IST
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