Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

A Straightforward Revolutionary

Mukundalal Sircar

One evening while I was locked up in my cell in the Madras Penitentiary, and busy reading the evening news, one sentry came running to inform me that some Raja had come as a prisoner. I was the only political prisoner in the yard which was known as "European Yard", and naturally, the sentry broke the news to me alone and that too most cautiously, lest any one else might know it. As is known all over the country, in jails, everything is kept secret, but the beauty is that such secrecy is known to all the inmates of the prison house before it is to be actually known by all. So, the sentry also thought that his information could be revealed first, though within a few minutes it would be known to all. Yet, secret news has its own charm, specially in a prison. Therefore, this piece of news created in me eagerness to know further details of the newcomer, a comrade in jail. Who that Raja might be was the thought in my mind at the moment? In matters like this the sentries, sepoys, warders indulge in a competition as to who would be the first man to convey such news to proper quarters. So, another man came running to say that a very big person, probably a Bengali, had come and had been waiting in the office at the tower. That set my mind speculating who that Raja-like Bengali might be? Then the warning came from the main gate that the Jailer was coming from the office. Naturally, both the sentries ran away from my place in a few seconds' time, because they were not supposed to enter into my yard. They had come surreptitiously only to inform me of the new arrival. Then the Jailer came and told me that some one had come from the Jubbulpore Central Jail and he seemed to be a very important political leader, and a Bengali. I could at once guess, it was either Sarat or Subhas as both the brothers were then lodged as State-prisoners in that jail. The Jailer came to select the place where the newcomer could be accommodated. He accepted my suggestion to keep him in the verandah (upstairs) just opposite my cell which was on the ground floor. Within a few minutes the paraphernalia including the heavy luggages of new prisoner came in, but not the owner. Then the Jailer ushered in a tall and majestic figure and when I peeped out of my cage-like cell, I was really thrilled to see dear Subhas. Both of them went upstairs, and I wished Subhas Babu in Bengali. He was surprised to know that I was also there. Returning his wishes to me Subhas Babu remarked — "The earth is round — at a certain point all meet." This was at 9 P.M. on the 17th July, 1932.

A small incident had taken place in the office at the time of admission and that detained him there for about an hour. It was this: the Jailor most courteously asked Subhas Babu to follow him to the yard without the luggages and articles that had come with him. Subhas refused to move an inch from the office without his companions — the luggages. The Jailer said it was getting late to go through all the formalities to look into the luggages and make entries thereof, but they would be sent to the yard next morning. On being questioned about the so-called formalities, the Jailer had to admit that there would be a search of all the luggages before they could be allowed to remain with the prisoner. Subhas retorted that he would not allow any one to lay hands on his articles and he would prefer to remain in the office unless the luggages also go with him wherever he might be. This incident was reported to the Superintendent in his bungalow over the telephone, and the Jailer had to yield. Thus Subhas crossed the first hurdle.

It may be recalled that when Gandhiji came back disappointed from the Second Round Table Conference in London, the Congress called it Working Committee to meet at Bombay towards the end of December, 1931. Subhas was also given a special invitation to attend this meeting. As General Secretary of the All-India Trade Union Congress I also summoned the T. U. C. Central Executive Council to meet at Bombay at that time. We all were there and we anticipated another struggle after the failure of the second R. T. C. On the 4th January, 1932, Gandhiji was arrested, and Subhas was arrested the next day when he was travelling by the Calcutta Mail. He was taken down from the train at Kalyan station (G.I.P. Rly.) and sent straight to Seoni jail (C.P.). There his health broke down within a short time. On enquiry from him we could learn that his food was very bad, and in certain quarters there was a suspicion that some kind of mild poison was administered through food and the drinking water. Due to ill health he was transferred to Jubbulpore jail and Sarat Babu was also brought there to keep him company. But the elder brothei also began deteriorating in health, and there he first got the disease of diabetes.

The condition of Subhas grew worse and according to the medical recommendation for change of place, he was brought to Madras. There also he could not and did not take any solid food. He was then living on morning tea and the rest of the day on plain water or sometimes mixed with, sour lime juice. He lost his weight by 82 lbs. and became a physical wreck. Despite his ill health, Subhas was as cheerful and energetic as ever. He would not eat but he would feed others and for that, he would cook himself. That was his pleasure. His preparations were really excellent. One day he said in all humour that when he would be released he would be able to earn at least Rs. 40 per month as a cook and thus remove himself from the list of vagabonds. In this connection, I remember, our Mej-Da (second elder brother) — Sarat Babu — used to call us in affectionate banter 'vagabonds' and Subhas the Prince of Vagabonds. We enjoyed this joke heartily. That Prince became the supreme head of the Free India Government and idol of 40 crores of Indians.

As a political being. Subhas was the sternest of men, but as a social being, he was the sweetest. It was by close association with him for nearly three months in jail, I came to know that he had a woman's heart, but in dealing with the officials of the bureaucracy he was the stoutest to enforce his will on others. And in that all would have to yield. He drew me so close lo him that I gave my service to save such a noble soul who would save India from ignominy and misery. There would be no rest in his political thinking and reading, but he would be indifferent in taking medicine and for keeping health. That made me so miserable that sometimes in my own cell (which was just next to his bed) I used to weep like a child. Sometimes I had to tell him that I would like to eat certain things and with all smile in his face, he would prepare them for me. Intentionally I used to order something which he could also take in that state of health, and when he served me that food I would refuse it unless he would also agree to take that. In this way I could make him eat something when he was free from the stomach-pain and indigestion. That was the case with medicine as well. Whatever medicine would help him, I managed to get through him in my name. Naturally, I used to take it only to induce him also to take. Ultimately he understood my tricks, but yielded to my desires to remove my sadness on account of his health. That was the man.

In matters of politics he knew no rest and he started a Sunday class in which about 125 'Satyagrahi' prisoners in "C" class used to participate. Subhas used to give his talk for an hour in this class every Sunday. Before the boys came to our yard at 10 A.M. he would prepare something for them to eat — be it halwa or khir; be it sandesh or tea and toast. He must give something new every time either in politics or eatables. He did not believe in staleness or repetition. After this hour's healthy talk the boys with their refreshed and inspired mind would be taken back to their own yard. In this class my part was only to see to the perfection of arrangements and discipline in order to bring them nearer to Subhas and his teachings. That was successful and to-day it is proved by the fact that politically Madras is more militant and revolutionary than what it was before 1932. We used to send out through secret agencies manuscripts of political literature for print and distribution.

One evening the Madras newspapers reported that Subhas was writing a book with my assistance, and as a matter of fact, I had to type the manuscript. Of course, I had my portable typewriter with me. Next morning the Superintendent drew Subhas' attention to that piece of news, and Subhas humorously remarked, — "The imagination of the news seems to be incomplete. Because it has not been said that the book will be printed in the Government press inside the jail." We all had a hearty laugh over the news.

As a matter of fact, a small book of about 100 pages was written, smuggled out of jail and printed at Coimbatore. The name of the book was "Indian Struggle", on the basis of which he wrote and published a larger volume in Europe under the same name. But the British Government banned it in India. The ban was, however, lifted after Subhas became President of the Haripura Session of the Indian National Congress in 1938.

In observing 'Jatin Das' Day we had a fast for the whole day and held a meeting in the evening, immediately before the lock-up and the tri-colour was flying over the pipul tree whole day and night. The special feature of this Day was that all the criminal convicts also observed fast of their own accord.

One morning, as an official visitor, the Chief Presidency Magistrate of Madras, in the ordinary course of his visit to the Penitentiary, went upstairs and enquired of Subhas, — "Are you comfortable?" Subhas at once gave a mild retort by saying, — "Please introduce yourself first." The Magistrate said, — "I am the Chief Presidency Magistrate and an official visitor." Subhas said, — "You should feel ashamed of yourself and of your Government to keep me as prisoner without any charge or trial. Don't you think it is sheer mockery to ask a prisoner if he is comfortable? Why don't you put yourself in this position and then get the answer?" Since then no visitor — official or non-official — met him.

Subhas was the Treasurer of the All-India Trade Union Congress in 1931-32, while I was the General Secretary. The annual session of the T. U. C was due then and it was held in Madras when we both were in the Madras jail. We kept ourselves in touch with the session and our resolutions and accounts along with the report which we sent from jail, were accepted by the T. U. C.

From Netaji: His Life and Work, edited by Shri Ram Sharma, published in 1948 by Shiva Lal Agarwala & Co. Ltd., Agra

Author: 
Mukundalal Sircar

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