Author, Burning for Freedom

Author, Burning for Freedom
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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Savarkar, a hero for a British schoolboy, David Garnett . . . !

Hi, Everyone! David Garnett was a British schoolboy who had the opportunity to meet Savarkar.

The extent to which he held Savarkar in respect is evident in the fact that he was ready to commit what can most certainly be considered treason in a British boy . . . !

He was of significant help to Savarkar in London. It was David Garnett who had published Madan Lal Dhingra’s statement for Savarkar. The British police were taken aback at this, for they had gone to considerable pains to squash this telling statement. David Garnett  had even tried to arrange for Savarkar’s escape from the Brixton prison.

Had David Garnet been successful in freeing Savarakar—to annihilate whom the British had bent the laws of England and contrived new ones in India, so desperate were they to get him—one shudders to think what dire punishment he would have had to endure!

Here is what he says of Savarkar in his own words:   

“At my entrance there was some surprise. Nanu came forward and welcomed me and stopped a young man, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, and introduced me to him. He was small, slight in build, with very broad cheekbones, a delicate aquiline nose, a sensitive, refined mouth and an extremely pale skin, which was almost as pale as ivory on the forehead and cheekbones but darker in the hollows.

Soon after my arrival we trooped into the dining-room and Savarkar, after addressing the company in Hindi, stood up and began to read aloud. As I could not understand what he was saying, I looked about the room without paying much attention to him. The sight of those brown men, some sitting round a long table, others leaning against the walls, all listening intently to the staccato voice of the speaker, was very strange to me. When I was with Dutt or Mitter I could forget they were Hindus and I was an Englishman, but at this meeting I felt alone. My race and colour did indeed create a gulf between me and these brown men. But the consciousness of this gulf did not dismay me. On the contrary, I rejoiced in the sense of freedom which it gave me. In this company I could be myself and say whatever came into my lead. There was no question of my feeling shy and, at that age, I was always feeling shy, now I was delivered from that burden, simply because I did not know these people’s standards. Whatever I did, or was, would be strange to them. I felt exhilarated. I had embarked on an adventure of my own finding; there was nobody to guide me; nobody to feel ashamed of me. It was a new departure. . . .

Then I looked at Savarkar and thought that his was the most sensitive face in the room and yet the most powerful. I watched how he spat out his words, with almost convulsive movements. And, from looking at him, I became aware that he was actually reading aloud in English, not in Hindustani. His accent, his mispronunciations, the strange rhythm of his staccato delivery had deceived me. What a wool-gathering fool I was! But it was a relief to make the discovery for myself. I listened then attentively and made out that he was reading about a battle in which an Indian general called Tatia Tope had been defeated by English troops and Sikhs.

Savarkar was, although I did not know it, reading aloud a chapter from his extremely propagandist history; the Indian Mutiny called The Indian War of Independence of l857 by An Indian Nationalist, which was secretly printed a few months later. When he had finished his chapter, the greater part of the audience went into an adjoining room and someone put a record of Indian music on the gramophone. . . .

After India house was closed by the police, Savarkar went to live over a small and extremely dirty Indian restaurant in Red Lion Passage, where Dutt, who had quarreled with Mr. Pal, joined him. I arranged with the proprietor, a large old Jew called Jacobs, to have lunch there five days a week for four shillings a week, paid in advance, and forfeited if I did not turn up.

As a result I saw a certain amount of Savarkar and was more than ever struck by his extraordinary personal magnetism. There was an intensity of faith in the man and a curious single-minded recklessness which were deeply attractive to me. The filthy place in which he was living brought out both his refinement and also his lack of human sympathy, both characteristic of the high-caste Brahmin. The windows of the room which Dutt and Savarkar shared as a sitting-room, looked across the narrow, filthy alley of Red Lion Passage---one of the dirtiest slums in London. In the room opposite lived an appalling slattern with four young children. Often she was screaming, frequently drunk, sometimes one could see her through the open window, lying insensible upon the floor.

Dutt often spoke of her and her children with horror and pity. But Savarkar was indifferent to her existence and indeed oblivious to his environment. He was wrapped in visions. What was his vision then? I cannot say, but I believe it was that India was a volcano, which had erupted violently during the Mutiny and which could be made to erupt again, and that every act of terrorism and violence would beget further violence and terrorism, until Indians regained their manliness and their mother country her freedom. All the sufferings involved were but a fitting sacrifice to her.

Eventually Savarkar was persuaded to leave England and go to Paris, as another assassination, in which his younger brother was compromised, had taken place in his native city, Nasik.”

More of David Garnett’s reminiscence tomorrow.


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