All Indians should read this book for various reasons. First of all, it is a vivid and well-written account of India’s liberation from the British, the dramas and the agonies that accompanied the liberation, and a close look at some of our freedom fighters and other leaders of the time. Secondly, it shows how history can be made interesting to read unlike the tedious stuff we are usually made to study in schools. Thirdly, it is a look at India of that time through the eyes of two persons from the West: an American and a Frenchman. Fourthly, the present generation whose views on historical figures like Gandhi and Nehru are being distorted through wilful propaganda need to be aware of the truths beneath the propaganda.
Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins wrote the book after an exhaustive research that lasted four years and gathered 800 kilograms of documents. Their research began with none less than Lord Mountbatten himself whom they met at his residence in London in 1970. Mountbatten was “the last living protagonist of this classical tragedy,” in the words of the authors. Their research then extended to all the metros and other important places in India.
Mahatma Gandhi is the central figure of this book and he is described as “a strange blend of great moral principles and quirky obsessions.” The authors show us both the sides of this great man. Other major leaders of the time also come vividly alive in the pages.
Some of the princes of the time were blatant contrasts to these freedom fighters. The authors took pains to present some of the bizarre practices of these princes. Their unabashed opulence, vanity, lust and even sadism come alive in the book. We meet the Maharaja of Patiala, for instance, at a ceremonial annual function in which he appears before his subjects stark naked but for a diamond breastplate, “his organ in full and glorious erection.” The Maharaja of Alwar was “a homosexual of particularly perverse taste” who used the handsome young men of his army for his inordinate pleasures some of which culminated in sadistic murders. He also used children whom he picked up from the huts of his impoverished subjects as baits in his tiger hunts. The authors point out, however, that most of the princes were excellent administrators.
We meet Savarkar and his friends like Nathuram Godse, Narayan Apte and Digamber Badge. The entire preparations they made for assassinating Gandhi are described in extensive detail. Apte tells us that “Savarkar wanted Gandhi, Nehru and Suhrawardy ‘finished off’”. But Savarkar managed to save his skin after the assassination of Gandhi and the authors tell us how.
Savarkar and his gang “cherished an historic dream,” say the authors, “to reconstitute a great Hindu empire from the headwaters of the Indus River to eastern Burma, from Tibet to Cape Comorin. They despised Gandhi and all his works. To them, India’s national hero was the arch-enemy of Hinduism.”
When Jawaharlal Nehru hoisted the tricolour at the ramparts of the Red Fort in that historic midnight, Savarkar’s gang was in Pune hoisting another flag: “an orange triangle, and emblazoned upon it was the symbol which, in a slightly modified form, had terrorized Europe for a decade, the swastika.”
The authors of this epic book go on: “That ancient emblem was on the orange pennant in Poona for the same reason as it had been on the banners of Hitler’s Third Reich. It was an Aryan symbol. It had been brought to India at some juncture lost in the mists of time by the first waves of Aryan conquerors to subdue the sub-continent. The men gathered about it in Poona all belonged to the RSS, the para-fascist movement, some of whose members had been assigned the task of assassinating Jinnah along with Mountbatten in Karachi 48 hours earlier. Hindu zealots, they saw themselves as the heirs to those ancient Aryans.”
Today, 73 years into the hard-won independence, India is in the hands of a political party whose foundations are laid in those Aryan traditions, a party which is making all kinds of overt and covert attempts to rewrite the history of the very struggle that Lapierre and Collins recorded with meticulous details and supporting documentation. The young generation of today may not be aware of the real facts because fabricated truths are peddled as glittering truths all over the mass media as well as social media. It is important to get back to the real truths. This book, Freedom at Midnight, is one of the many that can help.
PS. This is part of a series being written for the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge. The previous parts are:
3. The Castle
Tomorrow: The Grapes of Wrath