Mai Rang Dey…
by Dr. Sarabjeet Dhody Natesan, Associate Professor of Economics, School of Interwoven Arts and Sciences
In one corner of my cupboard in my room in Chennai is a prized possession. Not an ornament of gold, not a designer watch, not a diamond necklace, and surprisingly not even a book. It is a painting. Painted by and gifted to me by a dear friend, Iqbal, of our collective hero, Shaheed Bhagat Singh. For us, he was a superhero; our childhood made sure of that. He was an egalitarian. A brave man. An honest man. A man of vision. A man on a mission. There will never be another.
And to him our collective gratitude of sowing the seed of freedom and liberty in our minds. Perhaps no one else has invoked such charm, such love, such admiration as him. His quest for an independent India was born, when at the age of 12 he visited the Jallianwala Bagh hours after the massacre led by General Dyer. He brought back a handful of blood-soaked mud so as not to forget the gruesome sight and experience. Born to a Sandhu Jat Sikh family, he gave up his faith and became an atheist because he could not understand the open Hindu-Muslim hostilities in India at that time. From Adam Smith to Karl Marx to Hugo, to Dickens, his readings were wide and inspiring. His ideology was based not on vitriol and contempt but on knowledge and information. And at an age where most of us are unclear and unsure of what we are and what we want to be, he was ready to die for the nation.
Basant or spring in India is associated with the color yellow, a time when flowers bloom, when the earth is bathed in the colours of mustard and skies are blue and winters are receding. Yellow is the color of fertility, and in agrarian societies, the significance of spring cannot be overstated. It means the harvest of grains, of sustenance, and of life. It also means replanting and continuance of bounty and once again, of life. The aspirations of spring are happiness, bravery, and gratitude at having survived another harsh winter.
Yet, yellow is also the colour of sacrifice.
It is said often, that while marching courageously to the gallows at Lahore Central Jail, on March 23rd, 1931, Bhagat Singh, RajGuru, and Sukhdev raised ‘Inqulaab Zindabad’ slogans and sang, ‘Rang de Basanti Chola, mai rang de, rang de Basanti Chola’. Written in 1927, the words of this song were penned by Pandit Ram Prasad Bismil with 18 other revolutionaries and freedom fighters; Ashfaqullah Khan, Khatri, Thakur, Roshna, and others who were incarcerated in Lucknow Central Prison for the Kakori Train Robbery. This iconic song was written for the spring season, for the renewal of hope and metaphorically spoke of the aspirations of the multitude and their yearning for freedom. The significance of this song is immense. It united an entire nation. It spurred the freedom struggle afresh and it alluded to sacrifice of self, of service to the nation and also the glory of martyrdom, and yet made light of it, calling themselves, a highly determined group of freedom fighters, a band of joyful friends in search of justice, liberty and choice.
And its words left no one behind. It implored the eternal mother, mother of all, provider of all; to renew the colours of life and also poignantly, loss.
Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev were 23 years old and Rajguru a mere 22, when the trio was hanged to death on charges arising from the shooting of John Saunders and bombing the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi. Such was the palpable fear of a public outcry that the hanging was advanced by 11 hours. And three young lives were snuffed out because the mighty British Empire felt threatened. In doing this, it denied them the due process of criminal jurisprudence. They were not given an opportunity to defend themselves and the judgments were passed ex-parte. Reportedly, no magistrate at the time was willing to supervise the hangings as was required by law. The execution was supervised by an honorary judge, who also signed the three new death warrants because the original warrants had expired. All the while and till today, affirming our beliefs that governments, big and small are often scared and unable to deal with any kind of rebellion.
As we stand at the crossroads of destiny and history and as another 23rd March approaches, perhaps it is time to ask ourselves where our purpose lies. Reawaken our senses and make sense of this nation of ours, to reaffirm our faith in the secular, socialist, republic that we call India and our home? Or turn our youthful spring into an eternal winter wasteland, to tear apart the fabrics of our morality, thoughts, and being?
Once again, the Mai waits, desolate yet in eternal expectation, to stitch the tattered essence of India, to bind us all as one.
This time with a yellow thread.