For all those who are reading this, and are in their 30s or above, what were you doing at the age of 21?

When I was a 21 year old, most of my earnings, a few lunch boxes, a laptop, few books and a couple of barely used phones went to the Autorickshaw wallahs of Mumbai.

The reason – I was never able to learn the art of getting inside a Mumbai Local.

Being from a city where everyone would often get down from a tram, do some marketing (yah, that’s our word for shopping), perhaps have some puchkas[1], watch a Bumba da[2]starrer, argue with a complete stranger on the Argentinian economy, and still hop back on the still slowly moving beauty on rails, to occupy the same seat – The experience of the Mumbai Locals was overwhelming for me.

This is my story – when I was 21 years of age.

At 21 years of age, he along with a friend, pumped 8 bullets into a British Officer, he thought was responsible for the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, a leading ideologue and freedom fighter of India.

4 months later, he along with another friend – exploded two non-lethal smoke bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly of New Delhi – shouted slogans – distributed pamphlets and courted an arrest.

He was 21.

While in Jail, he went on a 116 day satyagraha and hunger strike to demand better conditions for the Indian prisoners.

The British jail authorities tried hard to break the strike. They even filled the water pitchers in the jail cell with Milk, hoping that either the strikers would die of thirst, or break their hunger strike. They failed.

His hunger strike was broken only after the death of fellow satyagrahi, Jatindra Nath Das and an emotional appeal made by his father.

He utilised his ongoing trials to become the voice of a subjugated nation – ready to break the chains of the British Raj.

A whole nation sat up to take notice – Nehru went to Jail, just to meet him – Jinnah dedicated his speeches to him – he became a national symbol of the Indian resistance to British Colonialism.

There was a noose hanging above his head, and he wanted the Britishers to deliver latest newspapers, pen and paper in his jail cell.

He was 22.

The then Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin had to declare an emergency in India on 1st May 1930, just to quell the nationwide demonstrations and to bring in an ordinance to set up a fast track court to prosecute him.

During the 1 year 11 month period, when his trial was on – He along with his associates, became a torch of light – inspiring a nation, which had long given up the idea of self respect – He was as much a hero for an Afridi making illegal weapons and bombs for our freedom in Darra Adam Khel, as he was for an Iyer Lady in Coimbatore, secretly donating all the little jewellery she had, for the cause of the Indian freedom struggle.

The British Raj was rattled – Gandhi realised that he wasn’t the most popular Indian anymore – the Lords in the British Parliament lodged protests – the regular Indians poured on the streets despite the beating and humiliations – The Indian poets, thinkers and writers caught the tailwind of an idea whose time had finally come.

At 7:30 PM, on 23rd march 1931, he was secretly hanged by the British, a day (11 hours actually) before the announced schedule, for waging a war on the King.

He was 23.

He had written and I quote:

“Generally a wrong meaning is attributed to the word revolution… Our understanding is that BOMBS AND PISTOLS DO NOT MAKE REVOLUTION. THE SWORD OF REVOLUTION IS SHARPENED ON THE WHETTING-STONE OF IDEAS.”

He was not from a poor family- he wasn’t someone who had ‘nothing to lose’. He wasn’t an undereducated brain washed emotionalist. He wrote in and edited newspapers – won competitions of scholarships at a very young age – started a youth organisation in his teens – he too could have chosen to lead a comfortable life like the others – he was well aware of the consequences of his actions – he still chose to do, what he did.

He did not become a hero when he shot a British officer – He became one when he courted a voluntary arrest.

He did not become a national icon for his act of violence – he became one for challenging the British Raj with the power of an Idea and a voice which was just and right.

Shaheed Bhagat Singh lives – not because he picked up a gun – He lives because he picked up the sagging spirits of a nation and taught us all the true value of our freedom.

Jai Hind. Inqalab Zindabad.
(Translation: Hail the motherland. Long live the revolution)

Naman Chakraborty

Footnotes

[1] phutchkas – Google Search

[2] Prosenjit Chatterjee – Wikipedia