In light of the rather heady nationalism that has taken over the country in the recent past, we decided to look back at some of the most gut-wrenching and soul-inspecting works from some of our most prominent freedom fighters in order to understand the true sense of freedom and what it meant to these different people. So here’s a list of five must-read books by our nation’s most famous freedom fighters:
Written in 1909, Mahatma Gandhi’s seminal work provides insight into the problems of humanity in the modern times. Written in his native language, Gujarati, Hind Swaraj takes the form of two characters, ‘The Reader’ and ‘The Editor’ where the former talks about the common beliefs surrounding India’s independence struggles while the latter explains why these arguments might be flawed. The British government banned the Gujarati version post which Mahatma Gandhi released an English version.
Rabindranath Tagore’s collection of over 100 poems was first published in 1910 in Bengali. It was later translated into English by the India Society of London in 1912. Tagore’s translation of the poems were considered very radical and superior to the original version since the poems were altered and at times even fused to create newer and more radical versions. Gitanjali offers an insight into how Tagore viewed the nation and how the notion of nationalism figured within it. It’s often suggested that Tagore turned against his own nation, but these poems posit the idea of a nation as a community over nationalism’s need for defining geographical borders.
An Indian work that still holds currency in the current times is Bhagat Singh’s Why I Am an Atheist. Written in Lahore Central Jail in 1930, as a response to an inmate’s conviction about the existence of God, Singh talks about the pitfalls of theism and religion, and how it’s not his vanity that urged him to become an atheist. Rather he emerges as a revolutionary who understood the difference between communalism and religion as a source of nationalist inspiration. One of the most pertinent lines from the essay reads: “I tell you that the British rule is not there because God willed it but for the reason that we lack the will and courage to oppose it.”
Written in 1899, Sri Aurobindo’s Love and Death is a narrative poem based on the “Mahabharata”. The book looks at the concept of freedom first from the lens of a revolutionary leader and poet, and then through the eyes of a mystic. What is the meaning of freedom? This was a question that hounded him for years. The book is thus his way of striking the right balance between individual freedom and the society’s collective interests. To him, love and death were intricately linked to the notion of freedom, which in turn was the most integral aspect of the human spirit.
Originally published in 1905, Sarojini Naidu’s The Golden Threshold contains the most famous poem that we, as students, were exposed to: Palanquin-Bearers. One of India’s most illustrious daughters to emerge during the freedom struggle, Naidu fiercely articulates her pain and hope for the Indian nation through her praise for the motherland. Her attachment towards the country shines through her poetry especially in the way she embraces the need for freedom. Her works are considered secular in the sense that it dealt with all the segments of society apart from providing a space for all the major Indian religions.