Freedom at Midnight

It does not happen much nowadays but I always like time travel. Twilight zones that leave you dazed mid-step and flit away before the heel hits the ground. It leaves you with a tantalizing whisper of evacuated presence.  Elusive and probably all the more delicious because of its ephemeral quality. Diaphanous thoughts and gossamer emotions, resulting in unsettled individuals.

Deja vus can be unsettling to some. A premonition of darker times or sometimes a trigger to suppressed secrets. The sudden glitch leaves some brooding over the time twitch.

History oftentimes has the same effect on me. I have come to relish the extended sensation of deja vu but it could easily evoke emotions of unsettling dread in many. A dizzying vertigo when confronted with the vast, convoluted and chaotic timeline that has culminated in us doing precisely what we are doing at right this moment. An uninterrupted web of events tumbling and rushing,set in motion by unknown movers in whose wake we are living. Even perturbing is the realization that through our actions countless unknown externalities spread their ripples.

Freedom at Midnight

Much is written about the book Freedom at Midnight, extolling its readability and condemning its colonial perspective. It is a perspective that is generally left out of Indian curriculum. It was not without reason that European powers could easily conquer and manage to rule a continent for centuries. The Indian subcontinent was fragmented, stratified and lacked vision. When an American and a French author derisively refer to the leaders of the Indian Independence movement as “chastened school boys” it is bitter pill. When they acknowledge how Gandhi with his army of nonviolent, sexless Indians managed to repeatedly galvanize the country towards a common goal it is exhilarating.

And thus the read progresses. The authors are like sleazy money grubbing geezers in their exploitative cart rattling down jaw dropping vistas of pre-and post independence India. Like many travelers today who know more about their vacation destinations than the hyperbolic local guides the reader smiles indulgently at the pointed edifices.

There is naughty Nehru the dreaming theoretician who came running to Mountbatten with every problem. Here is obstinate Jinnah who ran on “willpower, whiskey and cigarettes”. Oh this man. Nobody. Just a Pathan named Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. And if you squint into that blinding angelic white light you will make out the silhouette of Lady MountBatten herself.

The tiniest of negligence in tone can nudge penitence into the precipices of mockery. Freedom at Midnight’s authors are still flying down that chasm. So many times, in so many ways they extol imperialism.

Britain wanted to unite India. The Princely states were under British suzerainty. Division of not-their-land. Adding more structures and rigidity to an already creaking caste scaffolding. Divide and rule. Plunder and pillage. Leave a subject population to die by the millions. Build infrastructure that exclusively keeps out the ruled. Enact the most scatterbrained retreat to wash their hands of any moral culpability. Partition.

However all these are history. Freedom at Midnight is fantasy. It presents a cocoon of ideas and impressions of the ruling class British Raj’s keepers about their white man’s burden. A perspective that could be distasteful at times but such is always the view of the ruler.

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