This year the Independence Day finds Allahabad flooded with thousands of houses in low-lying areas under water. Flood waters receded recently only to stage a comeback. It is in such a flooded atmosphere that the city will celebrate the 66th anniversary of India’s independence.
Allahabad is a changed city. If we faced floods 66 years ago, no house went under water because the marshy land had not been touched by the land mafia who were then non-existent. Change is the law of nature. If we have to survive and save our heritage and improve upon it, we have to move forward and carry the past with us too but as a source of inspiration and not as a cause for obstruction or destruction. And 15th August is the day when we must pause for a bit of introspection. In the turbulent times that we live, it is no mean an achievement to maintain continuity of a system that was ushered in on August 15, 1947. Glory to the nation. Glory to the lucky hands that unfurled the flag of free India on that auspicious day. And that man was one of us, born and bred in this city –Jawaharlal Nehru. In a way it can be said that Allahabad unfurled the national flag in Delhi. Allahabad ruled the country for several decades and unfurled the national flag at the Red Fort, first through Nehru, then Lal Bahadur Shastri, then Indira Gandhi, V.P.Singh, Rajiv Gandhi. Hasn’t Allahabad played a major role in shaping the destiny of the nation ? It is quite another matter, a disquieting matter, that Allahabad’s destiny was never the concern of the destiny makers of the country. The result is there for all to see.
In 1947, when freedom came people came out of the streets to greet one another, embrace one another. Today the next-door neighbour avoids you because he is not sure whether you are going to greet him or ask him for a favour or stab him in the back!. We seem to have discarded the ‘good’ of yesterday and replaced it with the adulterated times – when food is adulterated, milk is adulterated, vegetables , vital drugs and medicines are adulterated – even love and affection are adulterated. But those who have not seen the good old days will never know what it was like nearly seven decades ago.In 1947 it was a jubilant Allahabad that woke up to greet the day of deliverance so to speak. At dawn temple bells were heard chiming all over the city. . People were out on the streets in a festive mood. It was like a Holi Milan without colour. People felt so free, so independent as if a big load had been lifted from their minds though in reality things were moving as before. But there was a big difference. Now no British Collector would stop the processionists raising the slogan of ‘Jai Hind’. I remember seeing pictures of the rallies taken out on the independence day, of school children marching through the streets. FLAG HOISTING:To acquaint you with facts, the national flag was unfurled by the then Education Minister of U.P., Dr Sampurnanand at the Government House (‘Laat Sahib ki Kothi’ as it was referred to till the spacious place was handed over to the Medical College). Pandit Gobind Ballabh was the Premier of the State. In those days state heads of government were known as Prime Ministers as well till this practice was discontinued and Prime Ministers of States became Chief Ministers.
MARCH PAST:It may be mentioned that a march-past from Purshottam Das Tandon Park by the armed constabulary till the Railway station was a highlight of the day. Boys and girls of Bharat Scouts and Guides also took out an impressive procession. The city area was tastefully decorated. Near the historic Neem trees, Lok Nath crossing, four huge gates, bedecked with decorations, had been set up. By their side huge portraits of Bharat Mata had been placed where the excited people were offering flowers as a thanksgiving expression of indebtedness to the motherland, to the great martyrs whose sacrifices had made it possible for us to see the glory of independence day.
AT HIGH COURT: And at Allahabad High Court also a ceremonial function was held when the then Chief Justice, Mr Kamala Kanta Verma unfurled the national flag. There were the usual speeches. Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru noted jurist was ailing at that time. Even so, from his bed he dictated his speech for the occasion which was read out at the High Court function. He was lustily cheered in absentia.
FREE CINEMA SHOWS:It happened only once – never before and never after. Cinema halls of Allahabad, in order to celebrate the independence of the country, announced that all shows would be free that day. That was a great, grand gesture which can hardly be imagined. Not even after the victory of the Bangladesh war in 1971 did any cinema hall announce a free show as a part of rejoicing. A respectable ticket at Palace Theatre cost Re 1.50. Today you have to pay Rs150 I am told!
BRITISH DANCED TO WELCOME I-DAY: Barnetts Hotel had been taken over by Indian management. But their customers were still mostly white-men. Some aristocratic Indians also went there. Late Advocate Mr G.P.Tandon would go daily to Barnetts during lunch-break for his meals. Some others too were seen around. But the English couple running Barnetts till April 1947 had not organized a ball-room night. The Indian proprietors did. They wanted the British to also participate in the IDay festivities. My father was running the show. The Dance show was held on Aug 14 and was to conclude at mid-night to herald the Independence Day. I also went to see the show in curiosity. But there was a long time to go for 12 midnight. So I decided to go and see a movie at Palace. It was, I think, Mehboob Khan’s ‘Taqdeer’ starring Nargis, Motilal. Charlie and Chandramohan Since the film was made during war-time when there were restrictions on import of raw film, the movies used to be small. By 11 pm I was back in Barnetts where a hilarious scene was visible on the dance floor. Whether it was Carlos’ Band or D’Souza’s band I don’t recall. But they did not know the tune of ‘Jan Gan Man’ which was decided to be played at 12 midnight. What was to be done ? It was suggested that a gramophone record be played instead. But no one seemed to have the record. I volunteered to go to civil lines and buy it from the Gramophone Mart. It was located by the side of the Lucky Sweet Mart. Much later, when it closed down the Lucky people took over that shop too. A servant was sent along. You would be surprised that in those days there were no restrictions on shop timings. They could remain open till even 12 midnight and were not closed on Sundays either. The Gramophone Mart, run by one Mr Mazumdar who later on became a hand-writing expert, was open at that hour. He had the song. It was from film ‘Hamrahi’, had a bluish label and was priced at four rupees – quite a big sum in those days when four seers of buffalo milk could be had for a mere rupee.
I purchased the record. We went back. The gramophone was readied. At 12 midnight the band stopped. ‘Jan gan mana’ was played for full three minutes. The crowd of Englishmen and women, Anglo-Indians and others stood respectfully and silent for the duration of the song. Once that was over, there were loud bursts of jubilation. Sound of crackers could be heard from so many sides in the city. The British rule had ended. India had become free. But there was the other side too. I will recall that in the next issue. But for today, I wish all of you a very, very happy Independence Day.