By Om Julka
The first nine years of my childhood from 1918 to 1927 was a period of tranquility. The British rulers were well established in India.
King George V., after his coronation in London (June 22, 1911), came to Delhi and held a Durbar on December 12, 1911. (My mother witnessed the ceremony in Chandni Chowk, Delhi, and related it to me.) The King was not only welcomed by Indian Princes, but also taken to Nepal for a hunting trip, in which nearly 250 elephant were used for tiger hunting. At that time any talk of Indian independence would be suppressed by brutal force. The poets wrote only desperate songs in subsequent days. I still remember parts of some such songs, e.g.:
Hum hind ke rehnay waalay hain; dukh dard ke sehnay waalay hain, Kuch munh say na kehnay waalay hain, aye fulk hamein barbad na kar.
(We are the inhabitants of India, silently suffering pangs of bondage, neither complaining, nor uttering sighs. O, Gosh, do not destroy us!).
It was only in later years, when the Indian leaders of freedom movement started protests and were going to jails when groups of people used to sing different tunes:
Chaley jatey hain rehbar quom ke kyon jail-khaano mein; Ilahi bhed hai kuchh quaid ho jaane ke maano mein, Jahaan heer-e ki anguthi, wahan hath-kadee hai gehna; Makhmal pe sonay waley, kambal bichha rahe hain.
(Why are the leaders of the nation going to jails? God knows; there must be a hidden meaning and significance in going to jails for the country…(and, while in jails)… instead of diamond rings on their fingers, they now wear ornaments of handcuffs. Those, who used to sleep on velvet beds, are now spreading blankets to sleep on the hard floors of jails!!)
Patriotic songs were very common when I was a student in 1930s.
The brutality of the British rulers had peaked in 1921. Brigadier General Reginald Dyer ordered his troops to fire indiscriminately at a peaceful gathering of people at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab, killing 1,526 and wounding more than 1,100 innocent persons. This massacre caused tremendous restlessness and resentment in India. It also brought Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to the forefront of the nationalist movement. Soon thereafter, other leaders like Motilal Nehru and his son, Jawaharlal Nehru, along with many other stalwarts joined the freedom movement. They boycotted their foreign-made clothes and replaced with nationalistic attire made from homespun fabric, called khadi.
Then freedom struggle gained momentum. In 1928, a well-known Congress leader, Lala Lajpat Rai, going in a peaceful procession was killed in a brutal lathi-charge (hit with long staffs) on the orders of the British Police Superintendent. This enraged many young men. Three of them: Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukhdev, decided to take revenge against the police officer. These three youngsters killed the Deputy Superintendent of Police by mistake instead of the Chief and were later convicted of violent crimes, tried, and eventually hanged to death at Lahore. Their bodies were secretly brought to Hussaini Wala across the river Sutluj, near Ferozepore, and were cremated clandestinely with gasoline in the middle of the night. The news soon spread like wild fire. I was a student of a high school in Ferozepore. I, along with several other students, rode our bicycles for 18 miles to see the ashes of these three martyrs the next day. Huge crowds came to pay respects to these heroes. Twenty days later was a popular festival, the Baisakhi Fair, on the riverbank. Thousands of countrymen had come to pay respects to the ashes of these freedom fighters and I went there too. It was a sight to see that the ashes of these heroes were placed on three tables full of flowers, with the nameplate of each of them under separate big gates erected. Thousands of people filed past these tables placing flowers to honor them. I personally witnessed how the heroes of freedom struggle were honored. There is now a memorial built at Hussaini Wala, which anyone can see.
Some slogans and songs of those days, which we, as students also used to sing in small processions, were:
Inqilab … Zindabad (Long live revolution)
Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai; dekhan hai zore kitna bazu-e-qatil mein hai.
(We are keen to offer our heads for freedom of the country; and challenge the strength of these murderers).
After these freedom fighters were hanged, we used to sing in groups:
Shaheedon ke khoon ka asar dekh lena; mita denge zalim ka ghar dekh lena.
(Beware. The spilt blood of these martyrs will destroy the abode of the perpetrator.) And also:
Shaheedon ki chitaon par lagengay har baras melay; watan par marne waalon ka, yehi namo nishan hoga.
(Annual fairs will be held at the tombs of these martyrs to commemorate their sacrifices for the country’s freedom.)