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Brightest stars of the freedom struggle light up the sky this I-Day
ADITYA MANI JHA  15th Aug 2015

Gour Hari Dastaan, released on Independence Day, is a film based on the life of a freedom fighter, with its screenplay released as a book earlier this week. Here are some other life stories of our freedom fighters. Read about these extraordinary men and women and how they fought against the most powerful colonial empire of all time.

On 10 August, Yoda Press released its latest book, the screenplay for the biopic Gour Hari Dastaan, directed by Ananth Mahadevan and starring Vinay Pathak. The catch is that the film was released on Independence Day, a full five days after. Publisher Arpita Das of Yoda saw the movie at a festival screening and was impressed enough to suggest this radical move. The published screenplay (written by the poet and journalist C.P. Surendran) will include scenes that were deleted from the final cut of the film.

The film is based on the life of Oriya freedom fighter Gour Hari Das. Das had joined the freedom movement while still a teenager, following the footsteps of his father. But after 1947, he had to fight for over three decades to be officially recognised as a freedom fighter: his son was denied admission to a polytechnic under the quota for freedom fighters. At one point, he had to write to the recently deceased APJ Abdul Kalam to request: "Before I forget the meaning of freedom, please grant me my tamapatra." The tamapatra refers to the copper plaque generally awarded to freedom fighters by the government; Das, even in his moment of victory, was denied this plaque and handed a letter instead.

Like Gour Hari Dastaan, there have been quite a few memorable books about our freedom fighters: a lot of them have been written by these remarkable men and women themselves.

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay's memoir Inner Recesses, Outer Spaces (1986) is a classic of the genre. The author's proximity to some of the leading lights of her time make this book a very entertaining read indeed. There is a chapter about the genius of Sarojini Naidu, and how her activism and her poetry were inextricably linked. The author's education at Santiniketan is also fondly remembered in a chapter. Predictably, this section is dominated by Rabindranath Tagore; the author remembers several walks at dawn with the great man. When Pandit Nehru asks Chattopadhyay to join the Congress Executive, she politely declines, insisting that she was not important enough "to add weight to the Executive" (this sort of thing is firmly in the realm of fiction today). Nehru replied: "May I remind you of the popular allegory of the unostentatious squirrel contributing to the final success of an engineering feat that enabled Rama to cross over to Lanka..."

A.M. Nair's memoir An India Freedom Fighter in Japan (1982) also makes for fascinating reading. Here's a man who left his native Kerala at 18 and joined the fight against the British. After studying engineering in Japan, he became Subhas Chandra Bose's personal valet and later served in Japan's Indian Independence League under Rash Behari Bose. Fluent in Japanese, he was instrumental in getting Subhas Chandra Bose key contacts in Japan's military and bureaucracy. After 1947, he settled down in Tokyo and opened an Indian restaurant.

Another Bose cohort, the late Captain (Dr) Lakshmi Sahgal, also released a fairly well-received memoir in 1998, called A Revolutionary Life: Memoirs of a Political Activist. Sahgal memorably led the all-female Rani of Jhansi regiment of Bose's Indian National Army (INA). She was arrested by the British army in 1945 and later sent to Burma. Even after independence, she was associated with a number of charitable and peacekeeping causes: like leading a medical team to Bhopal after the 1984 gas leak.

Although not a memoir per se, Bhagat Singh's Why I Am An Atheist is one of the most famous books ever written by an Indian freedom fighter. Singh was a Marxist anarchist and in this book, he addresses the question of whether his atheism came out of a sense of vanity.

This Independence Day, it will be well worth your time to pick up one or more of these books and read about an extraordinary phase in India's history.

 
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