Hi, Everyone! Today, March 17, 2014, I am posting what I call the Babarao-Savarkar deathbed scene from my novel Burning for Freedom.
Like so many other Savarkar scenes, it was ve-e-ery challenging to write this one; in fact I almost chickened out of doing it. It would have been only too easy to take a leap in the story—the story, after all, inevitably has several such leaps (as it begins in 1913 and ends in 1948) which I had to blend convincingly and was by then quite adept at it. I even had a suitable line or two drafted.
But my conscience began to bite at me. I was convinced that not to write this scene would be a terrible injustice to Babarao and Savarkar; plus one of the aims of B for F was to reveal the human and vulnerable side of Savarkar and this scene was the perfect, though difficult, opportunity.
So I got down to it. And here it is:
“Gajanan!” called out Savarkar.
“I want to go see Baba tomorrow.”
“But, Tatyarao, we are knee deep in checkmating another of the Nizam’s schemes,” Gajanan exclaimed.
“He is asking for me, Gajanan; to wait may be too late. You can take care of the office. Please get tickets for Prabhat, Keshu, and me. Vishwas can stay behind to be with Mai; she is unwell.”
There was no arguing with that.
February 5: They went straight from the station to see Babarao. One look at the skin-and-bones figure of his beloved brother lying supine upon the bed, and Savarkar’s heart squeezed painfully. He sat by the bedside chair and took Babarao’s hand in his own, gently.
“Baba!” he whispered. “Baba, I have come.”
Very tiredly, Babarao raised his eyelids. His eyes were sunk deep into his face. For a moment he gazed blankly at Savarkar—and then recognition dawned; a profound gladness suffused his face.
“Tatya … Tatya ….” His voice was a mere whisper, faltering and breathy. “Now … I can … die happy.”
Savarkar took a shuddering breath but quickly schooled his face into an impassive mask. Only his fingers clutching Babarao’s so convulsively betrayed the depth of his emotions. Keshu, Prabhat, and two well-wishers standing behind him faded from his consciousness.
“Baba, don’t talk; it bothers you. We can sit here in silence.”
“Tatya … let me … talk. Perhaps it is the … last time. Death is … so near.”
Savarkar blinked rapidly to quell the tears that threatened to spill over. “We have thumbed our nose at death several times, dared it to vanquish us—we had our life’s work ahead of us then. But now, now, beloved Brother, we have consolidated the Hindus to fight for their rights and the freedom of United Hindustan. We even have our own army! So now, don’t fight it, Baba. Open your arms and welcome death—it comes as a friend.”
Babarao sighed. “I know, Tatya, I know …. But I am sorry … leaving you alone … cannot be with you … till the end … till freedom.”
Savarkar tightened his grip on Babarao’s hand, but his words were calm. “Baba, we have lived by the principles of Karmayoga. We shall die abiding by them too. With life comes death. But don’t fear that you leave me alone—do I not have all the Hindus with me?”
“Oh, Tatya, do you … really think so?”
“Yes, Baba, I do. Hindus will fight with us to put the Crown of Freedom upon our Mother’s head.”
“United Hindustan … Tatya?”
“Oh, I do … hope so,” said Babarao, with a look of great satisfaction. “Tatya, quote … some lines … from Upon the death bed … please.”
“Certainly, Baba. It will give you much solace:
O Death! I give you leave to end
The script of my life here,
Squandered not I even a moment of my life,
So the day’s end brings no sorrow to me.
I have no fear, for what we sow here today
That blooms and bears fruit, so they say.
With hardship did I sow,
Choosing the best seeds,
Sowing them without expectation of fruit.
Heaven, hell, rebirth, captivity,
Release from the burden of human life—
All are but the consequence of one’s own actions.
Where the door of Death shall open,
Predetermined it is by us, by the down payment paid
By our deeds and actions along the path of Dharma.
O Death! So, I fear not the graveyard,
What is it but an unfamiliar, foreign land?
And to ease the travel in this land,
Have not I from Lord Krishna
An introduction to every house on the way?”
Savarkar’s voice petered out; they sat in silence, eyes saying all that the lips would not.
Babarao diffused the poignant moment. “All is … well, Tatya?”
“Baba, the Nizam is trying to consolidate his son’s position with the neighboring Hindus. I am working on squashing that goal. Gandhi’s statement that he would welcome the Nizam’s rule all over India, would even consider it freedom, has given a boost to the Nizam’s ambition, perhaps!”
Babarao rolled his eyes. In his depleted state, he could not express his disgust as he would like to. “Any more … tricks … from Gandhi?”
“Not since the Rajaji debacle. He has retired to his ashram—though in December he took a month-long vow of silence. That makes me nervous, Baba! At times like these he hatches his schemes! He is also threatening a fast, for many reasons—one being that he thinks people like Dr. Shyamaprasad put spokes in the political wheel by believing that Jinnah is hand in glove with the British!”
Babarao rolled his eyes again. “What did our … Mother do to … deserve him?” His gaze went beyond Savarkar. “Tatya, Tatya … is that … Prabhat?”
“Yes, Baba, I am here,” said Prabhat, coming forward. Silent tears were rolling down her cheeks.
“Don’t cry … silly girl. Death comes to … us all.” Babarao extended his free hand feebly.
“Baba, Baba, I don’t care about all—only you! I don’t want to lose you.”
She threw her arms around his neck and sobbed helplessly. Savarkar dropped Babarao’s hand and got up quickly. He walked blindly past everyone there to the yard. There he stood, oblivious to the cold evening air, gazing fixedly upon a flowering bush. His whole being was concentrated on one thing—control, control, control! Tatya, he admonished himself, you shall not—not—fall apart! Remember your oath—attachment to your brother shall not falter your steps! Karmayoga is the mainstay of your life. Attachment has no role to play. This body is just a vehicle to bear the soul. Baba’s death is his final offering in the holy pyre of our freedom struggle. His body will die, but his work is immortal. He dinned this in his head over and over, standing there until he was cold inside out.
Keshu had come looking for him. Savarkar paid no heed. Keshu touched his arm lightly. “Tatyarao, it is time to go in.”
“In? Oh!” Savarkar snapped out of his trance.
“You don’t want to get bronchitis again, Tatyarao. Shantabai has a hot meal ready.”
Savarkar stayed in Sangli for just three days; then it was back to work again.
* * *