Giving up comfort to embrace an ideology, being arrested for speaking your mind, and being ignored by friends and neighbors for standing up for what you believe in… history repeats itself.
This is what our corner of the world was like not so long ago. When the British took over India, they were better armed and organized than we were. And once we understood the impact British Rule was having on our right to life, we didn’t know how to unite to defeat the British. What made it harder was the fact that we had fallen for the oldest trick in the book: divide and rule. A vast country such as ours is home to several kinds of people who follow different religions and belief systems. Even horrible beliefs such as the caste system were adhered to by too many people. And that’s when Mahatma Gandhi took charge of the freedom movement.
Admonishing us to change our ways and look at the larger picture, to give up old, limiting ideologies and beliefs that were coming in the way of our unity. What was it like then? To be about 11 or 12 years old, with parents who were open-minded and brave?
Supriya Kelkar’s book Ahimsa is a cinematic story about the Quit India movement from the point of view of a young girl. Right from the first page till the end, she weaves together rich details about life as it was then to really give you an immersive experience as you read. It’s really like you really are there, in a little quiet town, peopled by all kinds of characters, including a British tyrant, his friends, and well-meaning teachers and women who will fight with all they have to defend their way of living.
There are several poignant moments in the story, such as when Anjali and her mother help Mohan, the Dalit boy who carries away human waste from houses when Anjali gives up her beautiful clothes to wear Khadi, a symbol of India’s self-reliance and hope. My absolute favorite moment is right at the start when the freedom fighters ask each family to send one person to join the freedom movement and it is Anjali’s mother who responds to this call with great courage.
As we enter the 72nd year of freedom it would do us a lot of good to revisit our history. We need to remember the monsters we fought and what led us to that point. And most importantly we need to remember what freedom means, we easily forget that true freedom comes at a great price which is why we must be vigilant and protect it from every threat.
Meethil and Ahalya Momaya