Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we will redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance .... We end today a period of ill fortune, and India discovers herself again."
-- Jawaharlal Nehru in his Speech on Indian Independence Day, 1947
India became sovereign 59 years ago today -- after nearly 200 years of British rule.
And tomorrow is Pakistani Independence Day.
The British rulers' haste and lack of planning in creating Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan resulted in the bloody period called Partition, when some 14.5 million people crossed the borders between India and Pakistan and communual (religious) violence killed as many as a million people. From Wikipedia: "Based on 1951 Census of displaced persons, 7.226 million Muslims went to Pakistan from India while 7.249 million Hindus and Sikhs moved to India from Pakistan immediately after partition. About 11.2 million or 78% of the population transfer was on the west, with Punjab accounting for most of it; 5.3 million Muslims moved from India to West Punjab in Pakistan, 3.4 million Hindus and Sikhs moved from Pakistan to East Punjab in India; elsewhere in the west 1.2 million moved in each direction to and from Sind. The initial population transfer on the east involved 3.5 million Hindus moving from East Bengal to India and only 0.7 million Muslims moving the other way..Massive violence and slaughter occurred on both sides of the border as the newly formed governments were completely unequipped to deal with migrations of such staggering magnitude. Estimates of the number of deaths vary from two hundred thousand to a million."
For fine fictional accounts of Partition, there's Salman Rushdie's Booker Award-winning Midnight's Children and Deepa Mehta's 1998 film Earth: 1947 (which stars a very young Aamir Khan and has a rather startling ending). It was made by the director of the controversial films Fire and Water and banned in both India and Pakistan -- which means she probably got a lot of things right.
To learn more about the movement for Indian Independence, go here. (And yes, they do mention Hitler). Or see 2002's The Legend of Bhagat Singh. If your'e still bored, today's Times of India has a roundup of Bollywood types -- a more thoughtful group than, say, Hollywood types -- talking about independence.
Me? I'm celebrating by eating half a loaf of multi-grain bread purchased for Rs 200 ($4) at the new Austrian Bakery on Chicago's north side.
And later I may ride my new saffron-colored bike to Mysore Woodland -- which is open Tuesdays and boasts no fewer than fourteen types of dosas.
If that's not freedom, I don't know what is....