The Perfect India
The news was everywhere. The Winston Churchill’s government had moved their entire fleet of ships with loads of food stock to British Troops fighting in ‘’Battle of Atlantic’’ during ongoing World War 2. The supply of rice from Burma stopped to Bengal after its Japanese invasion. All appeals for food supply to famine hit areas of Bengal were ignored by British. It seemed worst ever famine in the globe. The “Great Bengal Famine” of 1943 as we call it. Over one Million people had already died of starvation and malnutrition. History screamed of many British colonial crimes including” Jallianwala Bagh Tragedy” of 1919.The current situation portrayed even worse impression of British atrocity. Locals and the villagers from the surrounding areas had hit the streets of Calcutta searching for rice and grain. And all this was taking place right in front of me.
Let me first introduce myself. I am Abhijeet and I was in my final year of graduation in Hindu College in Delhi. I belonged to Calcutta and my father had proudly named me Abhijeet. The name meant ‘the one who conquers’.
‘But what have I conquered’? My mind thought for a while.
The newspaper screamed of bleeding Bengal all over the place. I was reading the newspaper like a respectable aristocrat, or perhaps I was pretending to. We were a lower middle class family of Calcutta and I was trembling to imagine the fate of my only dear brother Tapas and our mother. Dad passed away when I was just five as he was mercilessly beaten by a British police officer during one of the agitations against the regime. Tapas had only studied till class five and had always been a rebel. He joined father’s revolutionary party and led many protests against the British. He was a firm supporter of Quit India Movement. Though he wanted me to be a part of the movement but mother insisted on keeping me away from this. It was her desire that I should fight the system through good education. God knows how my brother managed my college fee. The news about famine and riots in Bengal was making me restless and I wanted to dash off to Calcutta to help my family.
‘’Hope they are safe’ ’I thought.
‘I guess I was sure they must be. I received the money order of my college fee from Tapas a month back.’
‘’But that was almost a month back.’ The negativity again weakened my mind.
I was getting impatient now. Suddenly there was a knock at the front door.
‘’Who can it be at this hour ’’ I thought as I stared at my watch, gifted by an old British man as a token of thanks for helping him to shift his house a week back. He served in Indian Railways for past 35 years and was leaving for his home country England. It was around seven in the evening. I opened the door and there stood my college Chowkidaar.
‘’Yes, what is it?” I asked.
‘’Sahib there is a telegram for you from Calcutta. It arrived at roughly 4 o’clock in the evening in college but forgot to give you.’’ watchman said.
’What…?’ U silly man I said as I grabbed it from him.
With heavy hands and thousands of thoughts in my mind I opened the telegram. It was sent by my old school mate Swapnil from Calcutta who lately joined British Police.
The Telegram read.” COME SOON, TAPAS TO BE HANGED BY BRITISH ON 20TH NOV’.
A flash of lightning fell upon me. All I could hear was my heart pounding. I shut the door and started crying. My heart dropped and my mind went completely blank .It was 17th Nov and only three days left. Later on an hour of pause mode, I got up from my bed, collected all my strength and set out to meet my college friends who stayed in the neighborhood.
Zahoor Zaidi and Lakhwinder or Lakkhi in short, were my college mates. It was never hard for me to share anything with them. On hearing me, they were equally concerned about my grief.
‘’I have to rush to Calcutta by the earliest train. ’I said.
’Mother would be all alone .I need to take care of her’.
‘’Don’t worry. Zaidi and I will also come along with you’’. Lakkhi said with outright authority and friendly emotions.
I left a written request with the watchman to inform the college authorities about our absence for the next 10 days quoting illness of my mother as the cause and my two friend accompanying me. I dreaded to give away the real reason of leave.
Next day we bought three tickets of general compartment of the Lal Quila Express. It was 38 hours journey as the jam-packed train stopped at nearly 100 places. The presence of my two friends gave me strength throughout the journey. My usual train trips used to be an exciting affair, but this one was horrendous .Nightmares of my brother being hanged and plight of my wailing mother haunted me. I kept looking outside the window .My eyes turned blood red due to little pieces of coal which came flying from the roaring steam engine. Entirely through the journey the co-passengers talked about outbreak of an epidemic in Bengal as result of aftermath of famine and death of millions.
The train arrived at Howrah Railway Station at 5’clock in the morning .There was no space to move. The railway station was crammed with people as a goods train had just reached with supply of fresh grain and rice. I could see children running after the bogie and poking wire in the grain bags to take in some of it. It took lot of time to decide for the authorities to supply food to Bengal via rail link. Though the sea route in Bengal was established hundreds of years ago for trading purpose but recently all ships with fresh food stock were diverted to feed the British troops fighting in the war. Railways were the only mode but was used by careless authorities only after millions perished. We came out of the railway station only to be persuaded by a group of Rickshaw Pullers. I hurriedly hired a man pulled rickshaw and rushed straight to Swapnil’s house.
As I passed over the streets of Calcutta I saw many starved families waiting outside the government grain shop to open. Women and children were lined up for food from a recently arrived army convoy of grain across Howrah Bridge. The relief truck was taking many of the dead to Calcutta’s burning Ghats. I noticed the rickshaw puller’s bones had almost sunk inside his skin as he was racing as fast he could.
I reached Swapnil’s house and I found him standing outside the house as if he knew our exact time of arrival. I told the rickshaw puller to wait.
I hugged Swapnil and asked ‘’what happened?
‘’The police has arrested all the rebels protesting against the deficiency of food supply. Your Brother was the leader of these revolutionaries and police have accused him for all local protests and loss of lives and public property. He would be hanged today. ’Said Swapnil
‘’Are you alone’’ Swapnil asked.
I stated yes to save time as I had already sent my friends to gather more information.
I was there with Swapnil for a while and then rushed towards the Alipore Central jail at Judges Court Road to meet Tapas for the last time where he was supposed to be hanged at 10 am. Alipore jail housed one of the notable inmates in the past, including Subhash Chandra Bose and Sri Aurobindo who was jailed after the Alipore Bomb case in 1908. Every passing moment was torture. The rickshaw puller sensed the disturbance and ran as fast as he could on his bare feet.
‘’Sir, today there is news of another man is to be hanged in jail, are you his relative’’ the rickshaw puller queried.
‘’Yes’’ I said. “I am his brother’’.
The rickshaw puller did not utter a word after that. I got to the jail at 7 am and asked for the fare. The rickshaw puller had tears in his eyes and went away without taking anything. With a heavy heart I walked inside the jail and met the Jail Authorities introducing myself as younger brother of Tapas. They led me to a room and told me to wait. There was a door in the room that opened to a big ground where Tapas was to be hanged. I waited for close to two hours. Then I heard footsteps outside the doorway. The thundering noise of my heart grew faster as the door opened. There stood my brother handcuffed with two police man. His eyes glowed and his starved roughish looks just vanished. We hugged each other like never before.
“Please take care of Mother “said Tapas with his voice not hoarse but tougher than before.
‘’Don’t worry about me, more like me will sacrifice until these English leave’’ he said with confidence.
I requested policemen to isolate us for two minutes to spend some final moments with him.
‘’It is already 9’clock and he will be hanged at sharp 10 am. And you are not permitted to go outside this door to the ground’’ So hurry up,” said the policemen in a grumbling voice.
I spent some quiet moments with my brother and wished him goodbye for the final time. I watched him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out, but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath’’ ten, nine, eight, seven…..
I wanted to count slowly. Slower than a watch’s second needle could ever move. That was the moment I understood the feeling of losing someone close to your heart, that too when a person is still alive. I just had to do something about it. Time was quickly running out.
My mind blasted ‘’what was the purpose of all my education if it isn’t helping anyone, whether it is my brother or my country. ‘’
“Six, five, four, three… as Tapas reached the door, I mustered all the courage and now like a fearless mutineer, pounced on the policeman holding my brother and seized the gun from his hard leather holster wrapped around his waist. The policemen stood still.
The other policeman holding my brother instantly went for his pistol.
“Save yourself Abhijeet” Tapas screamed.’ he will shoot you.
‘’No, don’t worry ‘’ that is for you’’ the other policeman said.
‘’What!’ Said Shaken Tapas.
The other officer had taken out his handgun by now and said. ‘Take this Dada and leave quickly’’. Tapas could not believe this. Yes the other policeman was Swapnil.
‘’You are not the only person who wants to die for free India, we are also part of it’ said Swapnil
We heard gunshots outside and myself and Tapas ran out and found two British officers lying on the floor. Standing right in front of us were Zaidi and Lakkhi holding rifles.
“The jail has been surrounded by revolutionaries.’’ Lakkhi said. And we all ran out only to discover hundreds of revolutionaries who had rounded the jail premises. Tapas insisted on freeing all other revolutionaries from the jail.
Don’t worry Dada ‘’I said leave that to my two friends, they will take care of it, we must move to the warehouse to release the food stock stored by British as well as local hoarders.
We ran to the Rickshaw waiting outside accompanied by a dozen of people in bicycles and rickshaws. We headed straight for Strand Warehouse located on Hooghly riverfront. It was a Victorian styled three storied brick building built in 1902 and stocked rice more than plenty to feed thousands of people dying of starvation and malnutrition. It had a huge door on the front with a heavy iron lock on it. Tapas went near the lock and attached a crude bomb around it and waited it to blast. The sound of the bomb was deafening as the iron lock melted into two pieces. Tapas along with ten other people pulled the huge iron gate of the warehouse. The sense of pride and satisfaction spread across the faces of everybody as the thought of feeding so many mouths pleased our minds.
But as they say happiness is not forever.
The huge iron doors opened only to find at least twenty of policemen standing inside fully armed. It was a huge shock to us since as per our information the warehouse had only four guards. It was a trap.
The police opened fired mercilessly and five people perished on the spot. It was suddenly dark everywhere. I could see Tapas lying on the ground with two shots of bullets on his shoulder. Behind the group of policemen I saw someone familiar. He was Swapnil. His shadow slowly coming near to Tapas
‘’Why did you do this’’ I shouted.
‘’Your brother Tapas was one of the biggest rebels and his hanging was not enough’’. ‘’We had to get all his associates who had conspired against the British. After all, I work for them and cannot betray them. And of course I will be promoted after such a feat.’’
’Fine’’ I said.’
Stop this bloodshed and I promise all his allies would surrender, even those who are not present here. But don’t kill Tapas. And arrest me as well as I already killed policemen on Jail premises.
‘’O.K. ‘’we will see’’ said Swapnil as two of Tapas’s friends carried him out of the warehouse.
I got near to Swapnil with my hands drawn straight waiting to be handcuffed. As Swapnil came near I hugged him.
’What is it’’ asked a surprised Swapnil.
‘’Nothing Much, just a token of love from your old friend.’
’ I am sorry Swapnil’’ I said softly.
‘’For what?’’ asked Swapnil’
‘Even Gandhijee lied once when he was young .You know sometimes it is good to lie for a Right cause. ’
Saying this my hand drew towards the trigger to the explosives tied under my body.
There was a heavy explosion. Large enough to blow Swapnil and at least fifteen policemen across me. I was prepared for this one! My two good friends had gathered enough information in the morning from Swapnil’s neighborhood of him being a police informer and his past few days’ activities.
Now the message was loud and clear to the British Regime. Blood against blood. And a typical Indian would take no non sense any more. There was enough food inside the Strand warehouse to feed at least few thousand people for some more time. Even Zaidi and Lakkhi managed to free many freedom fighters from the jail later. Zaidi was killed by the police while Lakkhi managed to escape to Delhi. And my dear brother Tapas! He lived long enough to experience a free and fresh India in 1947.
Tapas whose name meant Saint. I always wondered if we both were ever named right. Most of such incidents were wiped off from history records and went unknown.
But that day Tapas was devastated to see me dying and kept on calling my name.
‘’Abhijeet, my brother. Please don’t leave me, Abhijeet, Abhijeet …..
The sound of my name echoed all over .It echoed and resounded.
I wakened up with a jerk only to find my Dad standing next to my bed.
“Wake up, Abhijeet ‘’ Dad said. You were mumbling in your dream.’
Is that so? ‘’May be, I said sleepily’.
I have been reading about ‘Unsung Heroes of Freedom Struggle’ till 3 am last night. I think I just related to a namesake from the book.
I sighed heavily and opened my eyes. It had seemed like the longest night ever. My eyes hit straight at the calendar hanging right in front of me. It was 20th Nov 2014.
Before my dad could say anything further I said, I know, ‘’only a soul like me can get rid of this dirt of corruption and unscrupulous politics from present India’’.
‘‘GREAT, and what do you plan to do? Asked Dad laughing.’’ Thinking of turning into a rebel?
‘’Of course not!’’ Dad. There are simpler, yet more powerful ways to it.
‘’ And what’s that ‘’ .Dad asked curiously.
I shall ‘WRITE’, I said.
‘’WRITE!! Dad cried out impatiently.
Saying this I got up from the bed and opened my laptop to close an unfinished article I was writing for my college newsletter. The prestigious Hindu college in Delhi University.
‘’What about your Australian Dream.’’ Dad Asked.
That can wait till my generation leads India to perfection …