Freedom at Midnight





FREEDOM AT MIDNIGHT by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. 

This is a book that has got rave reviews and tremendous fame across the world, a book which supposedly celebrates the phenomenon that is India.



PATKATHA
The book purports to be about how we become Independent, in which endeavour it fails magnificently. Instead, it is all about 2 “heroes” – : Mr. Louise Mountbatten and Mahatma Gandhi. The net effort is an extremely disjointed and disappointing effort that comes across as a work of crass writing. This is particularly because the book has pandered to western tastes and opinions by wavering all over the place, spending entire chapters on hinduism, the habits of maharajas etc. These have obviously nothing to do with the freedom struggle... in fact, there is even a whole page examining the defecation habits in India!!!!

  

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT THE BOOK  
it reveals aspects of Indian history that you didn’t know existed, namely:  
  • The personality, charisma and magic of Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi 
  • Direct Action Day in August 1946, which, for obvious reasons, is not common knowledge. What was the Action Day? Read the book! I want you to experience the same emotions that I did. 
  • The Indian Independence Act, 1947. Surprised? Read the book to find more! 
  • The British compulsions leading to our Independence 
  • The importance  of the maharajas in the Indepedence equation, and the british policy relating to them 
  • The communal situation as it existed in 1947 It also reveals an interesting point of view in relation to Hindu – Muslim relations  
  • It reveals the events leading upto the riots of 1947, and exactly how they came about, their causes and effects. It tells facts not known.  
  • The book also reveals a lot about the lifestyle of the English opressors in India. The author doesn’t regard them as oppressors, btw. That’s my take. Hey, maybe I am wrong: who am I to question the famous author duo? Maybe Independence was the worst thing to happen to us! 
  • It reveals a lot of the politico-legal situation in Pre-Indepedence India 
  • It details the governance of the Britishers 
  • It details the life of the Maharajas of India. Problem is, too much space has been given to this: an entire chapter, no less! 
  • It gives a fascinating, blow-by-blow account of the period from June 1947 leading upto Independence day 
  • It gives an idea of why we have succeeded as a nation, and why our enemy Pakistan did not. That, to my mind, is one of the biggest take-aways of the book 
  • It gives a fascinating close-up look at the personalities of the day: which no history book will reveal 
  • Kashmir: It gives a detailed blow-by-blow account of the Kashmir problem... the book is worth a read for this alone
  • The division of India has been gone into in considerable detail, and makes for enthralling reading  Not only that, a poignant picture has been quite successfully created by the authors that tends to give an overall picture of the impossible task before the map-maker. This whole part is dealt with very well, and gives us a glance at the hidden part of our independence story, as no history book has given in any detail about this aspect of the Independence saga.

  

THE TWO HEROES OF THE BOOK 
The book is all about Mr. and Mrs. Mountbatten till the period upto September - October 1947. The book starts with the events leading upto the appointment of Mr. Mountbatten to the post of Viceroy of British India, and goes on to detail his role in the Independence of our country. As you go through the pages, you find it tells a tale of Independence through the eyes of Mr. Louise Mountbatten. This isn’t such a bad thing, as gives a perspective which has not been revealed to us through our history books. You get to know a lot of events – small and big – as a result of this. It reveals the hidden part of history, like the personalities, the events not mentioned in history books as they were deemed unsuitable etc. {More later} 
The second Hero is our very own Mahatma Gandhi, who, like most westerners tend to, is eulogized. Throughout the book, the sceptre of Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi looms large over every page, every paragraph. Read the book… you will understand the Man Mahatma Gandhi much better. 
  
THE PROBLEMS 
The book has attempted to do too much too soon is the way I shall put it. A few observations should clarify the point:  
  
This is a book about India – and yet, more than 75% of the reference works are by western authors. That includes books about Hinduism – note that point: a book about India which uses, as a reference, books by western authors about its religions!!! 
  
The book details a lot of “facts” and facts {if you get my point} about Hinduism. No problem with that – but when this runs into pages and pages, you begin to wonder what the heck does this have to do with the basic story? For example, an entire page has been devoted to the "call of nature" style of Indians!!! What is the relevance of that to the topic? And, for the record, the style described therein is, well, obviously archaic and limited to a particular sect. But, the author makes it sound as if every hindu is the same. The passages on our religion are so obviously naïve and western in their tone, that they set me on the track of the references used. Mostly western books by western authors – in a book about India, written in India! Similarly, the whole chapter about the Maharajas is completely out of place in the book. Yes, they were important to the equation – but not their bedroom habits – in detail! 
The book comes across as a second – rate effort because of these digressions from the main theme. In doing so, the authors have attempted to play upto the misconceptions  regarding India, and make the book more “masaledar”. The whole episodes relating to Hinduism and Maharajas etc could have been curtailed. 
The book also downplays the roles of all the other Indian players, like Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, and making them sound like pawns running after Mountbatten. Yes, his role must have been vital – no doubt about that. But not to the extent stated.  



  "The british left with a debt of xxxxxxxxx pounds from a nation that they were supposed to have exploited".... a line that tells volumes about the attitudes of the authors 


MAHATMA GANDHI 

Mahatma Gandhi… the name is drilled into our head, our consciousness, our entire being since the beginning of schooling. Mahatma Gandhi… a great man, we are told. Mahatma Gandhi… the man who got us independence, we are told. Mahatma Gandhi… the man who defied the British, we are told. Mahatma Gandhi… the man who gave us Dandi Salt March, Quit India, Round Table, Fast Unto Death we are told. 
  
It is a matter of deep chagrin and discomfort that we are told little about the man himself, about how he wrought what he did, about his qualities, his frailties, his charisma. Our history is replete with stories about him… but none come close to giving us an understanding of the Phenomenon of Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. And this is where this book scores – despite its obvious pro-British bias and almost scandalous aspersions on various aspects of India. 
  
From the first page of the book to the last, the shadow of Mahatma Gandhi prevails on each and every page. Saying any more would be sacrilege – as I would very much prefer that each one of you Indians read for yourself and discover the facts. That is the redeeming point of the book. On the negative side, you have an imposing Mr. Louie Mountbatten  being presented as something of a cross of Moses, Jesus Christ, Manu, Chanakya and Bismark all rolled into one invincible person. On the other side, you have Mahatma Gandhi – the Phenomenon. 
  
The book delves into great detail about Mahatma Gandhi, his qualities, his specialties, his frailties and his style of operation. It gives the reader a fabulous insight into the man – which makes it a must read for all Indians, in my opinion for what it is worth! It delves with the amazing control he had over the Indian masses, their devotion for him, his regard for them and his control over them. It gives the reader some idea about how he became what he was. 
  
It also tells a story of increasing distances between The Mahatma and his protégés in later years in his life. The way the rift begins, and his increasing isolation are very convincingly covered. While most of these aspects are known to us, the presentation highlights the increasing isolation of India’s first son, and has been presented very painfully. It will bring a lump in your throat as well as a bit of anger at both The Mahatma as well as his protégés. Now that is some feat by the authors! 
  
THE ASSASINATION 
Of equal weightage is the detailed treatment of the plot to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi – how it was planned, the obstacles, the modus operandi, the motives, the main players, the actual execution, the investigation and the final result. This is given good exposure in the book, and gives us an insight into one of the closed chapters of our history. I will not say more: read the book for details! 
  
The most interesting part of this section of the book is that the main players have been extensively interviewed by the authors, which lends authenticity to the overall scenario. The detail provided is indeed exceptional, and makes for an enthralling read. Here, the authors are in their element. 

(The above is a edited reproduction from one of my earlier blogging efforts on www.mouthshut.com from 3 years ago and has been refreshed since I consider this book to be one of the best for Indian readers, and a must read. This disclaimer is in line with MS terms and conditions http://www.mouthshut.com/review/Freedom-At-Midnight-Dominique-Lapierre-review)

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