Indian Summer

‘In the beginning, there were two nations; one was a vast mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swathe of the earth, the other was an undeveloped semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses.
Indian Summer
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'In the beginning, there were two nations; one was a vast mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swathe of the earth, the other was an undeveloped semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses.  The first nation was India and the other was England'.

'The years was 1577 and the Mughal emperors were in the process of uniting India…  The 100 million people who lived under its aegis were cosmopolitan and affluent.  In 1577, the average Indian peasant enjoyed a relatively higher income and lower taxation than his descendents ever would again…  Though governed by Muslims under a legal system loosely based on Sharia law, its millions of non-Muslim subjects – Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists were allowed freedom of conscience and custom'.

Thankful to Alex Tunzelman for these statements based on authentic references that she has glued together with beauty in her wonderful book on partition of India – Indian Summer, otherwise poor me, I would melt with guilt teaching Indian history to my kids where there are just tales of loot, arson and injustice attributed to Muslim rulers.

Tunzelman talks in depth about the personal lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru and  Mountbatten, with some details about the personality of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.  The personal lives of the key players have greatly influenced India's partition and Tunzelman has done a great job unveiling their secret lives.  

Gandhi strongly opposed untouchability and launched a campaign against it throughout India.  But Tunzelman has quoted instances where Gandhi ordered his wife Kasturba to empty the pots of guests Gandhi had at home. The woman would do it with great reluctance and disgust!  Gandhi condemned princely luxury, wore Khadi and adopted hand spinning on a wooden wheel.  He rejected western ideals of progress and technology, describing western medicine as 'black magic'.  He termed lawyers as 'leeches'.  Doctors, Gandhi believed 'violate our religious instinct by prioritizing body over mind and curing the diseases which people had deserved by their conduct'.  When Kasturba Gandhi was ill with bronchitis, her sons got penicillin for her from Calcutta.  But Gandhi did not let them give her the injection because he did not believe in germ theory.  Instead Kasturba's room was filled with people who sang devotional songs.  Kasturba died two days later and Gandhi said, "If I had allowed penicillin, it would not have saved her but meant bankruptcy of faith".

Gandhi though known as a champion of the rights of untouchables, opposed the grant of separate electorate to them by fasting at which Dr. B.R.Ambedkar was furious.  The brilliant lawyer saw nothing noble in Gandhi's fast.

When earthquake struck Bihar in 1934, about 20,000 people died.  When Gandhi visited the people, he told them, "This is a chastisement for your sins".  Closest supports of Gandhi were horrified to hear Mahatma blaming the homeless, bereaved victims..With these lacunae, however, Gandhi continued to be the most popular Indian after Buddha.

Jinnah was already an established politician when Gandhi began his political career.  Jinnah had started with Congress as a figurehead for Hindu-Muslim unity.  He had joined the Muslim League in 1913, confident that he would act as a bridge between the political parties.  But the emergence of Gandhi as a spiritual leader of Congress in 1920 began to elbow Jinnah out. Motilal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah together could have brought dominion status to India in the 1920s. Congress under the leadership of Motilal Nehru was fairly secular. Gandhi's spiritual style of leadership, though a source of inspiration to the millions but politically speaking, it was erratic. His lack of consistency hampered the chances of India gaining dominion status early. Jinnah called politics a 'gentleman's game' and did not believe in working up mob hysteria – so he parted the company with Congress and Gandhi.

Jinnah was a successful barrister, born in Karachi and called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn.  Tall and slender, a chain smoker who had been described as having a razor sharp mind and hypnotic smoldering eyes.  New York Times described him as "Undoubtedly one of the best dressed men in British empire".  His public speaking was rich with quotations from Shakespeare.  Jinnah was no fundamentalist.  He was liberal, moderate and tolerant.  He was influenced by the intellectual and economic aspects of European culture as well as the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).  He refused knighthood and Tunzelman calls him the most brilliant politician of his day.

He married a young Parsi girl who died very early, leaving him in the company of his brilliant dentist sister Fatima Jinnah who was a woman of intelligence and drive, greatly influenced her brother towards Islamic nationalism.  Jinnah took a brief sabbatical from politics but returned to fire up the Muslim League transforming a "scattered band of eccentrics into the second most powerful political party of India".

On the issue of religion, there was a split between Nehru and Gandhi too.  Nehru declared that "Religion filled me with horror".  But in spite of Gandhi's differences with Nehru, Gandhi urged people to follow Nehru as a leader especially when Subhash Chander Bose was perceived as a threat. 

Jinnah fought it all alone for Pakistan. He received setbacks while Mountbattens' favored Nehru, showed him in many instances secret papers of the plan that had been conceived to transfer power to India. Nehru and Krishna Menon drew up a new plan, Muslim League and Princes were not allowed to review the plan. Jinnah and Mountbatten could never become friendly with each other.

While Jinnah has been called the father of Pakistan, Churchill was its uncle. There is a mention of Churchill's vocal support to Jinnah and Pakistan through secret correspondence between the two leaders. However before Pakistan was born Churchill lost the seat of power to Attelee and Attelee did not outrightly support Pakistan. Many attempts at assassination of Jinnah were made, one by Khaksars at hotel Imperial, Delhi. Jinnah called himself the "soldier of Pakistan" while

Muslims  referred to him as the "Shahehshah". Though Jinnah demanded Pakistan early, he reviewed it many times and would have compromised on a united India had the safety of Muslims been guaranteed. Cabinet mission plan was rejected by Nehru so Jinnah went on with his demand for Pakistan.

The book gives a detailed account of rioting in Punjab, Delhi, Bengal and Lahore. There is discussion of mistrust between Sikhs and Muslims, burning of entire villages, loot, rape, arson and beheading -the ugly chapters that one wants to skip. 

Kashmir is reduced by Tunzelman to a mere chapter. The information is too condensed, possibly she has addressed bigger audiences in India and Pakistan and left off Kashmiris' to pen down their own history. Whatever little is written tells the reader how cruel the happenings have been pre- and post-partition. 

It takes a very tolerant society to endure what all Tunzelman has written especially about the leaders of India's freedom struggle. I have just touched the tip – the core is really disturbing. The fact that it is a widely researched book and not based on hearsay increases its value especially in the present times when leaders are being assessed through newer angles. That it is not banned in India is a great news! 

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