Hi, Everyone! Savarkar’s Marseilles leap is my favorite subject of research, and fortunately, I have been able to ferret out all kinds of details about it—two of my favorites are: the actual location where the S.S. Morea was docked and the mapping out of Savarkar’s escape route—I am giving a link below to my articles that give particulars of Savarkar’s Great Escape (as I like to call it) and also the videos that I have made for it. I was not able to include this topic in my book Burning for Freedom. It was beyond the scope of it. I compromised by including it in the introduction. Here it is:
he day—July 8, 1910; the hour—early morning; the place—the harbor at Marseilles, France. As the fingers of dawn curled across the sky, a tiny figure wriggled out of the porthole from the belly of the SS Morea and took the historic leap into the ocean, the cry “Hail! Victory to Mother India!” on his lips. That was the twenty-seven-year-old Vinayak Damodar Savarkar devoted heart and soul from childhood to just one cause: India for the Indians!
By the early 1900s, Indians were brainwashed into being satisfied with their slave status under the British rule. In this ambience, Savarkar—a Chitpavan Brahmin Hindu with the blood of the warrior Peshwas flowing through his veins—was the first freedom fighter to proclaim that nothing less than total independence would do for India. Certainly, more drastic measures were required than the mewling of the Indian National Congress to the British government for mere concessions for India. Savarkar applied his considerable brilliance, intelligence, and charm to the problem. He established Abhinav Bharat, his secret revolutionary society, which spread surely and swiftly within India. In July 1906, at the age of twenty-three, he set off for London, ostensibly to become a barrister. In reality his goals were manifold: studying the British law to circumvent it in his mission; spreading patriotism in the hearts of the intelligentsia of India, the Indian youth studying there; contacting revolutionaries of other countries and making a common cause for freedom of all slave countries; and making the plight of India an international issue.
This young lion was extraordinarily successful in his mission. The British realized the danger Savarkar posed to their empire. But they had only enough proof to make a case against him for supplying arms to India. To doom him for eternity on that flimsy evidence, he had to be extradited to India. The laws there were molded, like putty, to quash the first sign of any threat to the British Empire. They had no grounds for it, though. Desperate, they tangled Savarkar in a concocted charge by using a speech he had given four years earlier in India! A warrant was then issued to extradite him to Bombay, India. He was charged with sedition, waging war against the King of England, and procuring and distributing arms in London and India. After a few gyrations by the courts in London, to circumvent Savarkar’s valid legal appeals that he be tried in England, an order was issued to execute the warrant. Now the Jaws of Hell—the judiciary system of India—could swallow him whole!
And here he was on this day making a final bid to escape just that fate. He swam single-mindedly until he reached the nine-foot high quay wall. At the second attempt—with only the grout between the dressed stone of the wall for toes and fingertips to grip!—he scaled that sheer wall. Incredibly, he had made it …! He now had a right to claim asylum in France. But no—he was not yet safe; his guards were chasing after him down the ramp to the quay. With no time to even catch his breath after that courageous, daredevil escape, he ran for his life—the guards hot on his heels. Seeing a French sergeant, he stopped and tried desperately to communicate his plight to him. But it was too late …! His guards swooped down upon him in French jurisdiction—quite, quite illegally—and dragged him willy-nilly back to the Morea—trampling all over the territorial sovereignty of France in the process.
His escape plan had failed, but in this failure was also success. Such gross miscarriage of justice would not, could not, be swept under the rug. An international hue and cry was raised. Savarkar’s heroic escape and the treachery of the British were exposed throughout the world. But the die was cast. Savarkar was now at the mercy of the British to do with him as they pleased. He was sentenced to a total of fifty years transportation to the Cellular Jail in the remote and dreaded Andaman Islands.
The British had hoped, no doubt, that this was the last they would hear of this Prince of the Revolutionaries. They could not have been more wrong. At sixteen, he had taken an oath to fight for the freedom of his beloved country—Mother India must be freed from the British stranglehold; her honor must be reinstated! And even under the most horrendous conditions, there was never a day, never a moment, that Savarkar swerved from his path.
He suffered within the walls of the Cellular Jail from July 4, 1911, until May 21, 1921; he was then transferred to the Indian mainland jails as the Andaman Penal Colony was closed down. Hard labor, even being yoked to the oil mill like a bullock, was his lot for almost thirteen long years before he was conditionally released—though not set free—from jail on January 6, 1924.
Throughout his life, Savarkar remained ever uncompromising of his principles and duty. He says in his poem, Upon the Death Bed:
Those for the essence of the welfare of the human race,
Only such deeds did I consider to be righteous.
Joyously have I borne this burden of my duty,
Ever true to my oath have I been.
He stood, unequivocally, for freedom and equality of all people. His ultimate political goal was a World Commonwealth of Nations. Savarkar believed that Hindus could work toward freedom and equality in the whole world. But first they needed to be free themselves.
Hail! Attaining freedom themselves—
To uphold the cause of love and equality,
For the protection of the good people—
The Hindus shall set free the world!
To this end he developed and published the concept of Hindutva in 1923—while still incarcerated—and later put forward his basis for a constitution for free India. The heritage and history of Hindustan is age-old, going back thousands of years before the birth of the three great monotheistic religions. The people of Hindustan should feel a sense of belonging to it; Hindustan should be their fatherland and their holy land. That is the crux of Savarkar’s Hindutva. As Savarkar puts it:
O Beloved Hindustan, you are
Our holy land! Our fatherland!
Our honor and our pride!
In 1937, Savarkar once again burst upon the political scene of India, free after twenty-seven years of British bondage. India was in dire straits; the political milieu then was one of Muslim appeasement, one of sacrificing Hindu rights. Injustice to anyone was intolerable to Savarkar. Undeterred by adverse publicity, maligning, or misrepresentation by his detractors, he fought to defend the rights of the Hindus; he fought to preserve the integrity of India, to reinstate the honor of his motherland without ripping her heart out or chopping off her arms and legs.
Burning for freedom, his heart beat but one refrain:
“O Goddess of Freedom,
Life is to die for you,
Death is to live without you!”
Savarkar: The Great Escape, Part I
Savarkar: The Great Escape, Part II
 Prime Ministers of the Maratha rulers wielding the actual power.
 To be referred to as Congress throughout the novel.
 Exile to a penal colony.
 Quote from the translation of Savarkar’s poem, Hark What the Future Portends.
 Age-old name of India. Meaning of Hindustan is “Land of the Hindus.”
 In Hindutva, perspective of Hindustan is pitrubhumi, “the Land of the Ancestors.” Fatherland is the closest English translation of that Sanskrit word.
In the freedom movement, perspective of Hindustan is matrubhumi—motherland—the Divine Mother who gives birth to and nurtures the Hindustanis.
 Quote from the translation of Savarkar’s poem, Beloved Hindustan.
 Quote from the translation of Savarkar’s poem, Hail to You!