15 August 1947, the day India gained real freedom, after centuries of alien rule. At that time, I was in my early teens, and a first year student of Maharaja’s High School, Mysore. Mysore was a Princely State, the third largest after Jammu & Kashmir and Hyderabad.
What was I doing? Do I remember how the day passed for me? I have tried my best to recollect I still cannot come up with anything significant. Still, there is one thing I am certain of. Not only I, but our entire household, consisting of my maternal grandfather, my mother, my brother and my two younger sisters, was sound asleep on the night of August 14-15, 1947. Sorry, I am not sure whether my grandfather was asleep or was merely lying down. Whichever, he had no enthusiasm for Independence.
My grandfather hailed from Bantwal, a small town in South Kanara, then a district of the old Madras Presidency (state). Bantwal was backward on all counts.My grandfather lived in Bantwal but came to Mysore every summer, and stayed until the end of monsoons. Bantwal was hot and humid in summer. During the monsoon, Bantwal had heavy rains, and it would have been an isolated life for my grandfather in the company of, crickets, lizards, snakes and huge mosquitoes. Grandfather used to tell everyone that he came to Mysore to visit his widowed daughter, find about the welfare of her family, and set right the financial affairs of the family. But, I think he had some other reasons to visit Mysore. He was fond of the Bioscope, and Mysore had seven theatres, while Bantwal had none. Besides, life in the Mysore house was comfortable with electricity, running water and piped sewerage – all absent in Bantwal.
Grandfather adored the British. It seems that his grandfather used to tell all his progeny and friends that God had sent ‘White Men’ to India to save ordinary citizens. In my great-great-great grandfather’s time (probably around 1750 or so) or a little earlier, every year, once the rivers were no longer swollen, the rulers, or their armed men from Coorg, about 70 to 80 km away, would descend on Bantwal and other towns of South Kanara. They would loot the rich; burn, kill, and maim those who opposed them; and take away able bodied persons from lower caste people as slaves.
So, the town’s rich traders and landlords used to post sentries on the other side of river Netravati to warn the town of the arrival of marauding hordes. When the town’s people got word of an impending attack, they would pack whatever they could take away, and run into the dense tropical forests in the nearby hills. In spite of this precaution, some people would get caught.
My grandfather told us that our great-great-great grandfather was an affluent trader who twice lost all he had earned because of such attacks, and the family was reduced to pecuniary misery. It was only after the advent of the British that law and order was established. Grandfather disliked all Congressmen – he thought they were needless troublemakers, descended from Satan himself!
None of the teachers in our school were enthusiastic about Independence, and hardly spoke to us about the Independence movement. These teachers were the cream of the teaching community, working in a prestigious school often called “Collegiate High School”. The student community was a mix of children from the Urs clan (to which the Maharaja of Mysore belonged), Rajput families who were in the Maharaja’s infantry, Muslims and Christians, and others. There was hardly any talk about the Independence movement.
A regular visitor to our house was a Malayalee Iyer gentleman, who had studied up to B.A., which was quite an accomplishment in those days; while I am not sure, I think he got his degree around 1910 or so, and looked ‘ancient’ to me in 1947. He had migrated to Mysore to avoid his relatives, who were unhappy that he had married a woman who belonged to a community that was slightly different from his own. He had some nationalistic leanings, and sometimes he used to discuss politics with my father. After my father passed away in 1945, this gentleman would feed my mother titbits of town news along with some political news. I overheard him telling my grandfather about the clandestine visits of Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, the Dewan of Travancore (in Kerala) to the palace of the Maharaja of Mysore. It appeared that some Maharajas were trying to form some sort of a union of Princely States, and Sir C.P., as he was popularly known, and some other high dignitaries from states like Kashmir, Hyderabad, Bhopal were helping them to formulate a strategy. I don’t know whether they did form a strategy, but, as we all know, it was never implemented.
So, on that historic night of August 15, 1947, we were all asleep. Pandit Nehru’s great speech of “Tryst with Destiny” bypassed us. We did not have a radio then, neither did our immediate neighbours. An Iyengar family (Vaishnava Brahmins who were held in high esteem in the state) that lived in a mansion at the end of the street had a radio but we had no access to it.
On August 15, 1947, Mysore was still being ruled by the Maharaja through a Dewan, and there was no official function to celebrate Independence. However, freedom fighters did make an attempt to raise the Indian flag on Attara Kacheri in Bangalore, which was the State Government secretariat at that time, and, according to some of my friends, succeeded in their effort.
Within days of Independence, an agitation was launched to force the Maharaja to hand over power to a ‘responsible government’, and in September 1947, the Maharaja did so. I participated in this movement, mostly by helping older agitators in carrying stones to create road blocks, warning them of the arrival of a police van, and distributing cyclostyled (cyclostyling was the duplicating process prevalent at that time) news sheets in our locality. I am not sure whether I understood what ‘responsible government’ meant – for me, as an enthusiastic teenager, it was more of an opportunity to enter the ‘elders club’!
Grandfather passed away in 1952. In those days, in the social system in our community, teenagers like me were not free to discuss weighty political matters with grandfathers. So, I never talked to my grandfather about how he felt after Independence, but I believe he never changed his views.
© M. P. V. Shenoi 2008
M.P.V. Shenoi, a civil engineer and MBA, rose to the rank of Deputy Director-General of Works in the Indian Defence Service of Engineers. He has also been a member of HUDCO’s advisory board and of the planning team for Navi Mumbai. After retirement he has been helping NGOs in employment-oriented training, writing articles related to all aspects of housing, urban settlements, infrastructure, project and facility management and advising several companies on these issues.
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