How many of us know about the events on the night of the Independence Day, 1947? Well, not many of us, isn’t it? Ever since I read this book- Freedom At Midnight I wanted to share it with you all that it gives me immense pleasure to read more about our history.
Today, I will take you back in history, to the day that has become such an important part of our lives- the night the world slept, but we were awake to witness its historical importance.
A few hours before the midnight of 15th August 1947, thousands of Union Jacks slid down their flagstaffs for the last time, just like they hauled them down after every sunset. Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, had firmly cleared that the British flag should not be ceremonially hauled down, and Jawaharlal Nehru had agreed to it so that the British sensibilities should not be offended in any way.
At, 17 York Road, Jawaharlal Nehru was performing religious rites before his speech. He had just finished washing the ashes, which a Brahmin had applied on his face, and sat down to have dinner, when he suddenly received a telephone call from Lahore, leaving him aghast. The caller telephoned him to inform that the water supply in the Old city’s Hindus’ and Sikhs’ quarter, had been cut. The frightened Hindus & Sikhs, clutching their babies, bedding and a suitcase or two, running around to beg for a little water in the scorching summer heat, were being butchered by the Muslims. A fire was already raging out of control. The trapped Hindus and Sikhs were roasted alive in one of the Sikh Gurudwara.
Stunned, his voice barely a whisper, he said, “How am I going to talk tonight? How am I going to pretend there’s joy in my heart for India’s Independence, when I know Lahore, our beautiful Lahore, is burning?”
All the learned men and women, who would shortly take oath for becoming the first ministers of an independent India, stood before the Brahmin priest who applied a bright vijaibhava tilak on their foreheads. Thus prepared for the cruel burdens awaiting them, those men and women marched into the flag draped Constituent Assembly Hall.
In the packed assembly benches the people represented were an amalgamation, of religions, languages, and cultures, of a diversity and contrast unmatched in the entire globe. Jawaharlal Nehru walked to the speaker’s stand, facing the assembly hall, to make his extemporious, heart-felt speech:
“Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, while the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”
In the hall, the hands of the clock over the speaker’s stand crept up to the Roman numeral XII. Heads bowed, the representatives sat in a meditative silence, waiting for the chimes of midnight. Not a figure stirred as those heavy tolls marked the end of an era. As the echoes of the twelfth stroke fell, a toneless shriek reverberated through the hall. The shankh’s bleat heralded the birth of the nation.
People took to streets celebrating the Independence Night with fervour and enthusiasm. Midnight had become a Midday, it was a new Diwali, a new Id, a New Year’s eve – all the festivals in the land had rolled into one – for this was the Festival of Freedom.
While the clocks had chimed that magic midnight and India had wakened to life and freedom, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had been sound asleep in the Hydari House, 151 Beliaghat Road, Calcutta.