Letter dated in 1947 Recounting the Celebration of India's First Independence Day
by Translated by Ananya Sarkar
(This historic letter was written By Satchidananda Sarkar)
Gajen received your letter on Sunday. It was from him that I came to know about how you were doing. You were late in sending that letter. We had all been waiting for it for days so that when only a small postcard arrived from your end, it really dampened my spirits.
Anyway, you had written that you "felt like envying our fate for getting the opportunity to celebrate 15th August". This does not come as a surprise to me. Indeed, those who were not present in Calcutta from 14th to 19th August "do not know what they have lost".
It was from the evening of 14th August itself that the celebrations started. People rejoiced openly while moving about in hired vehicles uttering the slogan "Hindus and Muslims be one". All the Muslim localities witnessed overnight decoration and the propping of makeshift entrances to welcome visitors. Throngs of people were on the streets that dwarfed outright the crowds seen during Durga Puja in Calcutta. On 14th August, after having my dinner at eleven o' clock at night, I went out. On reaching Gajen's house, I found him asleep but shook him awake. Later, Gora joined us. He and I decided to go to Shyambazar's busy road junction to see the state of affairs. At Panchmatha, it appeared as if a few thousand lunatics had been set free from the mental asylum! We had fun watching the wild ecstasy and jubilation of the people and returned to coax Anil into joining us.
At the time, it was midnight (according to the time in West Bengal) and we were suddenly taken aback by peals of the conch shell from a few houses. The sounds grew so that soon there was a chorus accompanied by the firing of guns to celebrate the moment. Such a situation at that unearthly hour was so astonishing that we were left befuddled. Had we lost our sense of time? But it only took a while for the matter to be crystal clear. Certain people, either having lost a sense of the Standard Time or Bengal Time or eager to gain independence an hour earlier, had started blowing the conch shells first. And no sooner did this happen that other households followed suit.
Anyway, we returned and after taking Gajen, went to call Anil to join us. When we reached his house, we found him on the veranda. He knew that we were coming as we had informed him previously. However, left to himself he would have spent the time differently. According to plan, he would have celebrated Independence Day with his wife at midnight. But alas, that could not happen because of us!
On the streets, we noticed that the west of Baghbazar Street had additional decorations and looked brighter and more festive in comparison to the road towards Shyambazar. We went to Shyambazar Panchmatha to further drink in the sights. There were three thousand people at the place doing whatever their hearts dictated. The cries threatened to burst my eardrums. There was chanting of different slogans as well as singing and dancing. All kinds of vehicles appeared packed to the full with people whose cries were literally bringing the city down. We proceeded towards Hatibagan on foot. It was one o' clock at the time. It felt like Ashtami* evening. The road was flooded with lights. Here, the locality of Uttara had been decorated most festively. We soon returned to the Shyambazar junction. Two trams appeared, which had probably been forced to leave the terminus at Belgachhia by public demand! Thank god the drivers were there as well. Even more surprising was the number of people who had boarded the trams. I do not think any tram in
Calcutta has ever borne the weight of so many people at once.
At the Shyambazar road junction, both Hindus and Muslims had assembled. There were all kinds of merriment including song, dance and even devotional song without any passing of judgement. We saw a rally of the Student Federation that was on its way back from Belgachhia. Finally, I tuned homewards but truly speaking, the desire of actually returning had abandoned me. After a year, on witnessing such unity among Hindus and Muslims it was impossible to think it to be any other day. Had it been only independence, I don't think Indians and especially Bengalis would have rejoiced as much. It was the joint celebration of independence by Hindus and Muslims that made the elation tenfold. I went to bed at 2 a.m. but it wasn't until an hour later that sleep claimed me.
I woke up at 4 a.m. and after splashing some water on my face, left the house to see the ferry boats at dawn and to buy the day's newspaper. On the way, I went to Anil's house, roused him from sleep and took him along. We managed to buy newspapers after a lot of scramble as there was such a rush! We went to Gajen's place at seven o' clock. At eight, Gora, Anil and I set out to roam the city. Bus rides were free for the day. We reached the Dalhousie sub-office and saw the Indian tricolour flag flying high on the building. After spending some time at Anil's office, both of us left for Government Place, which was milling with people. All the large halls were packed with revellers. I soon lost track of Anil here as we got lost in the crowd.
It was Dharamtala that I visited next. Everywhere, scenes of Hindus and Muslims together greeted the eye. I walked down roads that had been most ordinary even a day ago. I had breakfast at a Muslim eatery and received a lot of hospitality. When I reached home (on foot), it was 1 p.m.
In the evening, Gora, Roma, Vimal, Vinay and I set foot outside the house to see the illuminated city. We travelled through Cornwallis Street and Vivekanada Road to Howrah. From there, we returned making our way through Harrison Road and Central Avenue. Vivekanada Road had the most illuminations. Baghbazar was decorated and lit up as well but the style appeared somewhat old-fashioned. Gossip had it that compared to North Calcutta, South Calcutta was not that illuminated. That could be the case since those who had earned this independence mostly resided in North Calcutta. Anil had taken his wife out to see the illuminations and returned at 10 p.m. We chatted till midnight before making our way back home.
Again, on Saturday, Gajen, Kamalash, Anil, Vinay and I went out to roam in the Muslim neighbourhoods of Dharamtala. It seemed that everybody, like us, was doing the same. A group of people had gone to Park Circus (mostly a Muslim-populated area) on Sunday. On Sunday evening too, we went about basking in the illuminated sights of the city and celebrating the feeling of solidarity. The entire day of Eid was spent about roaming and it continued into the next day. I don't think history has ever witnessed what Calcutta did in the past few days. Even girls and women frequented the Muslim neighbourhoods on their own with ease! And instead of acid, there was rosewater. By being away from the city during this time, you missed a lot. Anyway, we will have fun in June next year.
2/4 Ramkrishna Lane, Calcutta ***
*Ashtami: One of the days of Durga PujaNOTE: "Please use the contact form if you wish to read the original Bengali letter in the pdf format."