Friday, April 29, 2011

When the King lost the jewel in his crown

"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we will redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. We end today a period of ill fortune, and India discovers herself again." These were the words uttered by the first Prime Minister of India when British granted a dominion status to India and hence giving independence to its 40 crore people. But little do we about the detailed events that happened among the British in deciding to give India its independence. Alex Von Tunzelman in her book Indian Summer: The secret history of the end of an empire deals with, in detail, the lives of Nehru, Gandhi, Jinnah and the Mountbattens who are the crucial people in birth of India and Pakistan. These are the people who triggered various actions that led to the independence. And these countries endured a lot of struggle and suffering even after their birth.

The author, a history student at Oxford, starts with a startling perspective. There were two countries in 1577. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organised and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swathe of the earth; and the other was an underdeveloped semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its masses. Guess what! The first is India and the second is England. In 1857 it was the other way about! Now you know what alien rule does to the ruler and the ruled! But, the country divided by its diversity fell prey to the British who found a way to enter this land as traders in the name of The East India Company. And India became a prized possession in the King's crown.

It is difficult to make history an interesting read, but Alex overcomes this problem by making the text highly readable. Her research deals with treacherous politics and personal details of the key players and her presentation of the otherwise boring history, clear and restraint.

Of all the things this book had to offer, I was particularly disturbed after reading about the aftermath of the independence. The Indian summer of 1947 had witnessed the transfer of power by the British empire to the Indian Union and the Dominion of Pakistan. But, it had to also witness one of the worst tragedies mankind had ever seen. The tragedy in which about one million people were murdered in communal and religious clashes. Sad, we celebrate independence every year but fail to mourn the death of these countless civilians. Perhaps Stalin was right, 'Death of one man is tragedy; death of millions is statistic'.

And, these key players has achieved what had not been achieved in 130 years of Mauryan rule, 180 years of Mughal empire or 90 years of British Raj. A united India by bringing about 570 princely states together. But then, is India really united? I think Nehru's words during the hour of independence will achieve salvation only when India becomes united in the true sense!


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