(My rating: 3/5)
Published in 2010, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Indian Republic, Penguin’s series Words of Freedom – Ideas of a Nation, showcases the speeches and writings of 14 visionaries who most influenced India’s fight for Independence.
The series consists of 14 separate books, each dedicated to one visionary / freedom fighter: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Vallabhbhai Patel, C. Rajagopalachari, Rabindranath Tagore, Aruna Asif Ali, B.R. Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, E.V. Ramasami Periyar, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Subhas Chandra Bose.
My father had picked up the Bhagat Singh book and passed it on to me after I had asked him to suggest a few books that would give me a better idea of India’s struggle for freedom.
I think reading someone’s actual words, rather than an account of what they did, gives one a much better understanding of the person in question.
Bhagat Singh’s words reveal a fearless person, one who is unafraid to disclose exactly what he is thinking, one who is committed to his beliefs and above all one who has clarity of thought. He comes across as a perceptive, far-sighted person who is very clear about what he wants for his nation and is not afraid to go after it, even while he is simultaneously aware of the realities and monumental obstacles that accompany the situation. What is even more shocking is that he was all this before he was 24 years old! (He was hanged by the British when he was 23)
One of the 9 pieces, The Manifesto of the Naujawan, Bharat Sabha is a powerful and rousing call to the youth of the country to wake up and claim their liberty. An excerpt:
“Shall we wait for an uncertain sage to make us feel that we are an oppressed people? Shall we expectantly wait for divine help or some miracle to deliver us from bondage? Do we not know the fundamental principles of liberty: ‘Those who want to be free must themselves strike the blow?’ Young men, awake, arise; we have slept too long!”
In another piece, a letter written to the editor of Modern Review, in response to a piece that attempted to point out the meaninglessness of the revolutionaries’ slogan ‘Long Live Revolution!’, Singh wrote:
“… For instance, when we shout ‘Long Live Jatin Das’, we cannot and do not mean thereby that Das should be physically alive. What we mean by that shout is…the noble ideal of his life, the indomitable spirit which enabled that great martyr to bear such untold suffering and to make the extreme sacrifice, so that we may show the same unfailing courage in pursuance of our ideal. It is that spirit that we allude to.”
I intend to read the other books in the series as well. What has struck me as I have slowly begun to explore this part of India’s history is that I never before realised how much the opinions of these great leaders differed. Though they all had more or less the same common goal (that of a free India) each of their visions for what India should be once it was free differed – sometimes only slightly and sometimes drastically so – as did their preferred means for achieving India’s Independence.