Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Or, how I learnt to think

My grandfather was once in jail.
As a kid, I’d pronounce this with a little flush of pride. My grandpa! Way back in 1939.
As a young man, my maternal grandfather became involved with student politics and wrote rousing poems, neither of which the British government cared for. A warrant was issued. He went underground, but was eventually arrested.
I know nothing of his jail stint except that he wrote more Urdu poetry and learnt the Hindi (Devanagari) script. I did ask once if his mother was mad at him for getting arrested. She was upset, he said, mainly on account of the family’s reputation. His marriage had been fixed, but after his arrest the girl’s side broke off the engagement. Clearly, not everyone thought it was such a fine thing to go to jail – not even in the name of the freedom.
My pride rested on the fact that Grandpa was a political prisoner. So was the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, and our first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the tallest leaders of India’s freedom struggle. Some were charged with ‘sedition’, causing disaffection towards the government, but that didn’t stop them. They courted arrest, confronted police batons and went on hunger strikes. They emerged from jail with their heads held high.
Then came freedom. On 15 August 1947, at the stroke of midnight, politicking was no longer quite the same. Inquilab Zindabad – ‘Long Live the Revolution’ – became a fraught slogan. My grandfather was no longer so political. The sedition law stayed on the books.
ONE OF MY earliest memories has me standing under a dilute sun at morning assembly in school, feeling nervous and weepy. Every day we stood in neat rows, sang a prayer, recited a patriotic pledge wherein we swore that all Indians were our brothers and sisters, after which our hair, nails and teeth were inspected by the class teacher. That particular morning, in 1984, we were asked to stand for one minute’s silence to mourn Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Read the full essay here (Note: the 1941 mentioned in the link is actually 1939; I had written the essay long after my grandfather's death and did not recall the year precisely, but have since gone back and looked in the archives, and found the correct year, hence the change in this post):

https://griffithreview.com/articles/dangerous-little-things-turning-political/

1 comment:

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