India Independence August 1947 Guyana Village Celebrates.

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall 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….’

India Independence August 1947 Guyana Village Celebrates.

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall 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….’

This is the start of Pandit Nehru’s speech that heralded India independence. We heard it on the radio in the morning of August 15 1947. Weeks later, records of that speech were on sale in British Guiana. 

India independence was a significant moment in the history of mankind. It was the beginning of the end of centuries of colonial rule, and freedom for peoples the world over to rule themselves. Red which covered a large part of the world map -colonies of the British Empire- gave way to other colours.  

 

Independence was the subject on everyone’s lips. In 1947 as a boy, I was in the thick of celebratory fever. Indian elders throughout British Guiana, were full of excitement at the prospect of  India independence. The end of the long struggle was nigh.  The grown ups had been avidly following progress to this day for years before. Hearing my parent’s stories, the names of freedom fighters were indelibly printed in my brain - Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Vallabhai Patel, Sarojini Naidu, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gokale, Madan Mohan Malviya, Subhas Chandra Bose, countless others. The contributions of Swamis Vivekananda and Dayanand, Rabindranath Tagore, were well known.

The meetings with the British Government in UK and movement towards granting independence were well publicised in British Guiana and even in my village Rosignol thousands of miles away. A photo in our house showed Gandhi, Malviya and Radhakrishan with the British Prime Minister attending the 2nd Round Table Conference. The name Sir Stafford Cripps was well known. He had gone to India to meet Indian leaders. He was a vegetarian and sympathetic to the Indian cause. Lord Wavell was the last but one Viceroy of India. Lord Mountbatten became the last viceroy appointed to oversee British withdrawal. He had good relations with the Indian leaders Gandhi and Nehru.

When it was decided that Independence day was 15th August my parents and the Indian village elders organised a big celebration for the day. Everybody was to have a little Indian flag to wave. In addition we would have a paper flag to pin on our shirt. We produced a stamp from cork to stamp out the little Indian flags on paper. For the stamp the trick was getting the colours, orange, green and blue on to the stamp.  My water colouring set came in handy. I carefully painted each colour on the stamp and voila, printed out the India flag on white paper.

There was a minor problem with the flag. We were used to the Independence flag with a spinning wheel at the centre. An uncle, a tailor, produced a flag with the spinning wheel hem-stitched  in blue thread on the white centre strip of the flag. All of a sudden, just weeks before Independence day, we heard that the spinning wheel was replaced with the Ashoka chakra. This was a simple wheel, easier to do, but this meant all the work on the flag with spinning wheel was wasted.           

On the great day at daybreak, we started our celebration. We were all dressed in white kurta, some of the men wore dhoti, others white trousers, and the women donned their white dress, and ohrni.  We all had an Indian flag to wave and a little paper flag pinned on our clothes. We assembled at the Hindi School. People from Blairmont, Rampoor and Cotton Tree came to join in the celebration.

The community leaders made speeches of praise and admiration for the Indian leaders who fought for independence. After this we set off on our march heartily singing the well known freedom songs. We marched from the Hindi School to the end of the next village, Sir James. We turned back and headed towards the Stelling.  From there we marched  through Plantain Walk, a part of Blairmont to the Aqueduct, turned and marched back to the Hindi School. There we ended our singing and relaxed with refreshments, bara, phulowri and pine drink. It was a happy day for the community.

The freedom songs we sang, among others, were Bande Mataram, Sare Jahan Se Accha, Ek Naya Sansar, Dur Hatto Hindustan Hamara hai, and Jana Gana Mana

Jana Gana Mana  was decided on by the Indian leaders as the country’s national anthem. The song was originally composed in Bengali by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in 1911. This was new to us but whenever I hear it I become tearful because it reminds me of our parents and our Rosignol community singing it, and of the photos and cinema clips of the Indian leaders’ struggle and Gandhi’s ‘salt’ march.

 

Bande Mataram meaning ‘I praise/bow to thee O Mother India.’ was well known as the patriotic song of the Indian National Congress. It was originally a Bengali poem made into a national song by Rabindranath Tagore. 

Sare Jahan se accha. ‘This is the best place in the world.’ Mahatma Gandhi sang this regularly when he was imprisoned. It was put into music by Ravi Shankar in 1945. It was a popular song for soldiers on the march.

Dur hatto, hindustan hamara hai. ‘Go away, India is ours’. From the film Kismet in 1943, during the time of the ‘quit India’ movement when many of the Indian freedom fighters were jailed. Cinemas in India used to play the song to several encores from their audiences. 

 

Ek Naya Sanasar Basaale. ‘Let’s make a new world.’ From the film  Naya Sansar in 1941. The lyrics were by Pradeep, famous for many other Bombay Talkies films. His songs are popular to this day. 

For the celebration in the next year I had a big job to do. An uncle suggested that we have a big picture of Mahatma Gandhi rigged up on a dray cart and we would march with this. Guess who was to draw the picture?  I volunteered. Made up of several sheets of shop paper, these were stuck on a sheet of tentest (hardboard) 8 feet high by 4 feet wide. I drew the Mahatma, a part of the drawing on each sheet, when put together you had the complete picture. It was the well known drawing of  him in walking posture. Mounted on the dray cart with wooden frame to keep it upright, it was something to impress. It was my day of fame.

 

In New Amsterdam,  the celebration in one year was held at the Esplanade in Queenstown. The Chairman was the Mayor of New Amsterdam, an Indian businessman. The Guest Speaker was Mr Balram Singh Rai, newly returned from England, qualified as a Barrister at law. His speech included sentences in fluent Hindi, very musical to the ear. This was exciting for me. Here was a young Indian leader, a professional, a lawyer, the epitome of pride in our Indian heritage.

There was a definite change when India became Independent. Throughout the country, Indo Guyanese of all faiths, with few exceptions, openly identified with India and Indianness. One year, in New Amsterdam, a prominent Indo Guyanese businessman, former Mayor and established among the elite in  society, proudly dressed in his dhoti and kurta and led the celebratory parade on India Independence day.     

Yes, in my boyhood days we celebrated India Independence with great fervour and pride in the achievement of the Indian people, the kith and kin of our ancestors. At that time British Guiana was a colony. Yet India independence set the course, and two decades later we celebrated Guyana’s Independence.

 

August 7 2018.