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Jai Hind – Long Live India

June 10, 2009

Queen Elizabeth II celebrated sixty years of her marriage in November, 2007. Her marriage anniversary coincided with India’s sixty years of independence celebrations. In Buckingham Palace there was this exhibition where people could see the various paraphernalia on display. Among those was a box along with a hand woven khadi, cloth with the words, Jai Hind. The plaque beneath this innocuous box and the cloth read Jai Hind – Long Live India. The description was apt.

This innocuous piece of cloth in a box was a gift from Mahatma Gandhi to the princess who would be the queen some day. The cloth was bigger than a handkerchief but too small to be used as a loincloth. The young princess could not understand what the gift meant and what was its’ utility. The royal household found it crass and a tad inappropriate. This box with the khadi cloth and Jai Hind written on it must have been lying in some attic in the palace before it was retrieved for the exhibition.

The royals must have set aside the gift from the Mahatma as that from an eccentric old man and could also have thought of it as lacking in taste but for us Indians it is perhaps the most beautiful gift that the old man could have sent to the young princess who would be the queen.

It was November of 1947 and India had just won independence from their British masters.  The country was burning and facing a civil war. The abrupt demarcation of the Radcliff line marking the Indian and Pakistani territories had left the nation in flames. Bloody riots had broken out and this was perhaps the biggest exodus from one land to another. People were running towards their own, in the hope of safety and security, clinging to whatever little they could manage to carry. The nation was burning and there was a sense of insecurity. India was ill prepared to face such an eventuality. Delhi was teeming with refugees from Pakistan. Kolkata was no different.

The Mahatma had said that the partition of the country would be over his dead body. His heart must have sunk on seeing the strife and the mayhem that followed independence. Yet, being free from the foreign yoke must have been a dream come true. The old man who had been there in all battles big and small felt helpless and disenchanted with the strife and bloodshed. He had worked hard towards the ultimate goal – Swaraj. And Swaraj we did get but along with that came the dismemberment of the country that stretched from the Khyber to the Bay of Bengal. It must have been an exhilarating time and yet the bloody, mindless, ferocious and meaningless killing of one another must have left the fakir, who was the Mahatma morose. He went on a fast in the hope that better sense will prevail.

It must have been a man whose dream had turned sour. Gandhi had a lot on his mind when the wedding of the young princess was announced. I am sure that after much deliberation did the Mahatma send the innocuous khadi cloth with the words Jai Hind written on it. This gift from the Mahatma is answer to those who say that Mahatma’s contribution to India’s independence was also opportunism and that his methods were in effect manageable for the British.  The gift to the young princess was from one of the foremost sons of Ma Bharati (Mother India) who was full of love and reverence for his country.

It is true that there were others who had contributed to the independence of the nation. Men like Bahagt Singh, Chandrshekhar Azad, Ashfaq Ullah, Subhas Bose, Veer Savarkar, Udham Singh and many others known and unknown sons and daughters of India who had made the ultimate sacrifice for the independence of the nation. It is a grateful nation that remembers these martyrs. Were we to forget the sacrifices of these martyrs, it will be at our own peril. Yet to say that the Mahatma’s methods were inadequate and perfunctory would be negating the facts. The man was a colossal and his impact was very real. His contribution to the freedom struggle was epitomized in the Bharat Chodo andolan (Quit India movement), when the nation stood as one and told the British that they must leave. It was his ability to relate to the masses and help them stand as one against the Imperial Crown that has left an indelible mark on the history of the sub-continent.

For us Indians, the small piece of cloth was neither vulgar nor an inappropriate gift to the princess from the Mahatma, because we know what our father of the nation was trying to get across. The hand woven khadi cloth signified the industriousness of us Indians and the message Jai Hind (Long Live India) was a message hailing the land of our forefathers.  The Mahatma’s anguish and pain along with his faith in the future of India is evident in this innocuous gift. It was a man telling his former masters that whatever you have done to our country we shall overcome and with our industriousness and love for our country we shall be where we belong. The west can now, perhaps see where this was coming from.

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