Independence Day 1947 brings memories, both good and bad. After Jawaharlal Nehru had delivered his "Tryst with Destiny"speech at the Constituent Assembly and the following morning unfurled the Tricolour on the Red Fort (where earlier flew the Union Jack with its message of "Rule Britannia"), the huge crowd began to disperse. Most of them went towards Chandni Chowk, creating a big jam at the Fountain, recalled Lala Jagat Chand. Mercifully, there were very few cars and no scooters and vans or it would have been worse. There were virtual stampedes at Gauri Shankar Mandir and Gurdwara Sisganj because of free distribution of food,while outside Katra Neel saris were handed out to needy women until the stock ran out, leading to bitter feelings among those deprived of the free gift.
The Baptist Church held a special thanksgiving service but the British band that used to play outside it in the evenings was missing.This church had been destroyed in 1857 but was rebuilt to survive the second upheaval 90 years later.
The queues at Ghantewala’s shop, or rather the throng of sweet buyers, was composed mostly of the well-to-do who, however, showed their impatience by shoving and pushing to get as close to the outlet as possible and catch the eye of the harried shopkeeper. In Paranthewale Gali,all the shops (much more than now, since they have been taken over by sari emporiums) were crowded and the parantha-makers hard put to it to cater to the customers. Armed with big rolling-pins and working hard on the marble roller (chakla) were pehalwan-type men from the dacoit land of Morena. But even they started showing fatigue,with perspiration dripping from foreheads and their kurtas and dhotis wet with it, leading to irritating exchanges. Tau Mahamaya Prasad Sharma would talk about that big day right up to the late 1960s. He was a young man then and had now become wizened,with loose muscles and grey walrus moustaches. How many paranthas were sold at his and other shops was anybody’s guess. Groups of villagers from the nearby rural areas with dholaks and harmoniums came in decorated bullock carts, their finelyarrayed women lending softer tones to male baritone voices. Mushairahs and kavi sammelans were the order of the day. Connaught Place was all decked up as the most fashionable shopping centre with shopkeepers announcing gifts to lucky customers. Kashmere Gate saw illuminations at St James’ Church.The city hotels had prepared special menus and advertised their unique preparations. Besides, there were to be dances at the Standard Restaurant, above Rivoli Cinema,Davicos and at the Gidney Club.The Railway Club was getting ready for tambola and a dinner party.
Anglo-Indian railwaymen, including drivers of Express trains, engine firemen and station masters were so enthusiastic that they also announced a dance competition,just like the Posts and Telegraphs Department. People had already started smelling the sweet air of freedom and even housewives and children were excited about the advent of a new epoch. But beneath the surface of all-round exultation there were apprehensions too because of the creation of a new country (Pakistan) from the womb of Mother India.Viceroy Lord Mountbatten had advanced the date of this separation and many wondered whether Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was still alive after the aircrash in Japan and would make an appearance to add lustre to the Azadi he had sought and fought for with such vigour.
To tell you the truth, the enthusiasm of people on the first Independence Day was to be seen to be believed,which not even sectarian clashes could dim.Loudspeakers blared patriotic songs and young men sang all night. The dance at the Anglo-Indian club was just as great a success as the one at the P and T and the small one at the Railway Club. But earlier in the evening,the citizens were in a relaxed mood, with kites being flown and bets being laid. In the afternoon several langars were held,at which food and sherbet were served to hundreds. Gurdwara Sisganj and Gurdwara Bangla Sahib saw the biggest ones.At Roshnara Garden a friendly cricket match was played between Indians and Europeans but a sudden shower ensured a draw. At Fatehpuri and Jama Masjid, the Imams assured full support to the new government, for whose success prayers were also held in the temples and churches,with the Baptist Church in Chandni Chowk gaily decorated. At night Parliament House, India Gate, the AIR Building, Central Secretariat and Rashtrapati Bhawan (where a banquet was held to mark the event of Lord Mountbatten taking over as the first Governor General of free India after laying down the office of Viceroy) were so grandly illuminated that they could be seen for miles around in an unpolluted city then. Thus did the Red-Letter Day go down in the annals of history, despite an effusion of passion that led to violent incidents. Old-timers still talk nostalgically of the "Pyari 15 August" (with parbhat pheris or morning processions) when the sun rose on the first Independence Day to herald a new dawn amid shouts of "Inqilab Zindabad", "Bharat Mata ki jai" and "Kadam se kadam barhaiye ja" after the Armed Forces march-past, led by the bands of the three Services, while the Prime Minister saluted the Tiranga and released balloons and pigeons as symbols of peace.Planes flew overhead in "V" formation to register India’s arrival on the world scene as a neutral power for global welfare.Then the multitude present sang "Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak" in chorus to the rendering of the distinguished lead singers. The ceremony ended with three lusty shouts of "Jai Hind" by an overwhelmed Nehruji and an enthusiastic crowd encore.
But later violence erupted in Old Delhi. The looting and mayhem began and spread to Nai Sarak,Chawri Bazar and the Jama Masjid area before taking Daryaganj in its loop and also Delhi Gate, Turkman Gate and Ajmere Gate.The worst scenes were witnessed in Paharganj,where blood flowed,as probably during the time of Nadir Shah’s massacre of 1739, reminisced an old Mianji. Rampaging mobs of rival communities attacked each other with beastly hostility and, not content with body attacks, also resorted to arson and pillage.
The grave of Shiekh Ibrahim Zauq was among those vandalized in the cemetery, where many noblemen and women of Mughal days were buried. After Paharganj, Jhandewalan was affected and then Karol Bagh,where quite a few of the affluent were Muslim merchants,whose palatial houses were to be later acquired by refugees from Punjab and Sindh, leaving behind such reminders as Abdul Rahman Street. Regharpura and Dev Nagar saw more harrowing scenes.Beadonpura saw the Reghars coming out in fury. Beyond it, at Kikarwala Chowk,residents used to talk about the rioting up to 1976, when one happened to live in the house of Rama Devi and Contractor Chirangi Lal at Dev Nagar. Other parts of Delhi,like Sadar Bazar,Bara Hindu Rao,Kashmere Gate and Mori Gate up to Tis Hazari were also affected. But by and large New Delhi remained peaceful.It was there that well-heeled people heard open-mouthed about the bloody happenings.They could see the smoke rising from the burning buildings in Paharganj (something one witnessed from the old Statesman building in Barakhamba Road in the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi in November 1984). Then too terror rode on the swift wings of rumour.
The police and the troops from the Red Fort were pressed into service to crush the rioting and maintain law and order. There were British tommies among them, taking part in the flagmarches on the following days and making sour faces at the women peeping from the windows. What was supposed to be the happiest day in modern India’s history had turned out to be the most gruesome. In Purana Qila the refugees numbered well over 50,000 and health minister Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was among those sent by Prime Minister Nehru to oversee their welfare.One remembers all this even now, when Independence Day sleeps on the lawns of the Lal Qila after the Prime Minister’s speech.In other areas too,people treat it as a day of relaxation, with kite-flying from roof-tops the main recreation after a feast of chaat and chole-bhature, topped with juicy jalebis. The big shops close and only eateries open, with the clouds in the monsoon sky tinged with a silver lining and not the ominous shades of August 1947.