Sunday, November 9, 2008

Freedom at Midnight

Recently I read Dominique Lapierre's Freedom at Midnight. Has anyone read this? Its a very famous one which gives ample insights into an outsider's view about India and Pakistan and their independence.

This book covers the last days of Raj - The British Rule of India. It talks about extravagance enjoyed by the British, the miseries of Indians(and the then unborn Pakistanis of course), the country with its huge population, thousands starving, hundreds living a life as good as the British. It talks about the country which once was truly called the crown jewel of the British empire. 

The tight struggle between Nehru's congress and Jinnah's Muslim league is really gripping in nature. the offers made by Gandhi to keep India united (the one where he told Mountbatten that let India be given to Muslim League's rule and he will tour the whole of country to get the leaders of Congress and common man's agreement) was astonishing in nature. It also talks about 
the experiments of Gandhi. Lapierre obviously had his share of doubts on Gandhian policies. 

The best thing about the book is its not a mere drab monotonously written historical account. Rather it is full of anecdotes dotted through out a historical account. This book is impartial in nature. It has certainly highlighted British values in some places, while denouncing its color apartheid in many. Lord Mountbatten can bee seen in a different light than what we are used to look at him with, the husband of Edwina Mountbatten who used to have an affair with Nehru. :) But Mountbatten's character and his grip on politics comes to the fore again and again in tihs book as he shapes the face of the world's largest secular country, and the second largest Islamic country. It depicts the vagaries the Europeans had to go through while in India too. 

Dominique roamed around India to different historical cemeteries. Those containing hundred year old tombs of English men in India. In one place he found tombs of two kids who died in consecutive days. there were many tombs which told many unknown stories. These in all, gives a feel of an India which was full of snakes, mosquitoes diseases and what not. 

Then there was a vast account of native states and their princes. The grandeur they lived. Their show off. The kind of riches the Nizam of Hyderabad enjoyed and the kind of cheapskate he was. The book is full of legends, anecdotes and stories about different events that unfolded during those years. The best part of the book is its lucidity and story telling. Dominic is a master at (hi)story telling. and he excels in this book. Its a must read for all Indians and Pakistanis to generate a view about themselves and to come out of the staunch feeling of nationality that we suffer from whenever we face each other.

I mean, as a Pakistani, I always try to show Jinnah as an out of the world person probably the best leader of the world. And as an Indian, the same I try to do with Gandhi. They were not super humans, and when you read about them in a book which carefully avoids the eulogy you find elsewhere, they turn out to be perfectly normal and human beings. Gandhi a social experimenter some of whose experiments brought India the much sought after freedom, while some of his experiments or rather inability of conducting those, could not stop its vivisection. On the other hand, Jinnah, a staunch believer in United India, who could not hold on to his initial ideals, and took petty party politics over his ideals which finally led to the partition. The good and bad of both sides comes in to picture pretty clearly, and its hard to close your eyes and deny that.

The book takes a dig at the pettiness with which Hindus and Muslims fought over petty things like ink pots and bookshelves when all the official assets were being divided. It also has a lot of inside stories about the scandals of the Princes of different native states. I won't tell you more about this book. Go, get it and have a pleasant read! Cheers.


Sikander Fayyaz Khan said...

I am reading a similar book, although a biography, but not a typical one. It's a scholarly written biography of Jinnah which gives and avid detail of British raj from 1890 to its end. It is called 'Jinnah of Pakistan' by Stanley Woolpert.

It's really an eye opener, knowing that your most cherished leaders were humans after all, and frankly that makes them much more appealing.

ayyo.... said...

I have been thinking of reading this book since 4 years. I was simply apprehensive of reading a dreary history book.
Now, I am sure what is my next read!

ad libber said...

I would also recommend The Great Indian Novel. It has a very interesting account of the freedom struggle juxtaposed with the Mahabharatha and provides an interesting insight to the characters of the people involved politically.

Good post.

The Ancient Mariner said...

ritu, as a member of inp you are welcome to contribute here as well.and thanks for your comments.

ayyo.... said...

@Ad libber
Are you talking about Shashi Tharoor's book??